Africa Balks at UN Sanctions Against Liberia

The Perspective
Jan 29, 2001

When the Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) visited the West African region a few weeks ago to confer with leaders of that region on the unending conflict within the region, it came at no surprise that not much emerged out of the visit by way of political action by him or that body (OAU) to help change the war dynamic within the region that has caused untold suffering for thousands of people, uprooting them from their homeland and turning them into refugees.

Instead, the Secretary General engaged in what was naturally expected, expressing niceties and pleasantries with African leaders, but failing to confront these leaders on the nature and cause of the war and the devastating effect this is having on the region. Not wanting to "bite the hands that feed" him, the Secretary General followed that usual tradition, defending Africa, and coming to the defense of African leaders and countries such as Liberia named in the UN Panel of Experts report as being principally involved in the illicit trade in diamonds for guns and supporting the RUF rebels of Sierra Leone. Countries such as Burkina Faso, Gambia, among others, were mentioned as being involved in the illicit trade of "blood diamonds".

But beyond the tradition and symbolism, the visit itself couldn't have been better timed. Saying that "sanctions would hurt Liberia", the Secretary General was not only setting the tone, but framing Africa's position on the subsequent debate of the UN panel report at the UN Security Council.

While most members of the Security Council have called for the imposition of sanctions on Liberia, Africa has balked and has called for the postponement of the debate. Mali which sits on the Security Council has initiated this drive and has requested the council to postpone the debate until ECOWAS makes a presentation on the current situation on the region. Last year, Mali also abstained during a UN vote against blood diamonds from Sierra because Liberia was named as a conduit for diamond smuggling causing terrors for that country's 5.6 million people. Always finding frivolous reasons, Mali couldn't endorse the sanctions because Liberia's President Charles Taylor "has done well" in releasing UN peacekeeping hostages, hostages he captured through his remote control of the RUF rebels.

Now, Mali would be looking for another reason through ECOWAS, whose current chair, Alpha Konare, is also president of Mali. While ECOWAS has recently agreed to deploy a 1,600-man force to monitor cross border attacks from rebels on the Liberia-Sierra Leone-Guinea border, it is campaigning in favor of Charles Taylor, the man who is destabilizing the sub-region, against the threatened UN sanctions. This "African solution to African problems" is not only tantamount to addressing the symptom rather than the cause of the problem, but would only fuel the continued destabilization of the West African region without attacking the problem as the UN Panel report has attempted to do.

This is another cleverly veiled hypocrisy that is in the making! This is the hallmark of Africa's lack of courage to call a "spade a spade" when it comes to dealing with fellow African leaders, and being quick in finding external scapegoats for its self-inflicted problems. This, for example, was evident in July, 2000, when the OAU Committee on Rwanda made its report recommending reparations:

1. We begin by drawing immediate attention to the title of our report, Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide. This tragedy never had to happen. It is of course true that there would have been no genocide had a small group among the Rwandan governing elite not deliberately incited the country's Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority, but this terrible conspiracy only succeeded because certain actors external to Rwanda allowed it to go ahead. Of these, the most important was the United Nations Security Council. Its members could have prevented the genocide from taking place. They failed to do so.

2. As a direct result, as many as 800,000 Tutsi and many thousands of anti-government Hutu were murdered. Hundreds of thousands more, including women and children, suffered unimaginable suffering and suffer still.

3. As one of its main recommendations, the Panel calls for a significant level of reparations to be paid by those who failed to prevent or mitigate the genocide. The case of Germany after World War Two is a precedent here. The Panel calls on the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish a commission to determine a formula for such reparations and to identify which countries have an obligation to pay them.

4. The United States had the influence within the UN Security Council to ensure the authorization of a military mission that could have prevented the genocide before it was launched. Even once the genocide began, a serious military mission could dramatically have reduced the magnitude of the slaughter. But the US made sure that no such force would ever reach Rwanda, even after it was known beyond question that one of the 20th century's greatest tragedies was unfolding.

5. Even today, the nature of the international betrayal of Rwanda is hard to believe. Weeks into the genocide, the Security Council, led by the US, actually voted to reduce the inadequate military mission that had earlier been authorized for Rwanda. Later, once a new mission was finally authorized, American stalling tactics ensured that not one single additional soldier or piece of equipment reached Rwanda before the genocide had ended.

6. The French government had unrivaled influence at the very highest levels of the Rwandan government and Rwandan military. They were in a position to insist that attacks on the Tutsi must cease, and they chose never to exert that influence.

7. During the genocide, French troops in "Operation Turquoise", a military mission driven by the French government, played a critical role. They allowed much of the unrepentant political and military leadership of the genocidalist government, as well as a large part of the Rwandan army and other armed militia members, to escape across the border into Zaire. The presence of these forces in Zaire significantly contributed to the conflict that now consumes central Africa.

8. Others named by the Panel who failed Rwanda in its time of greatest need include: the government of Belgium, the Secretariat of the United Nations, and the Roman Catholic church. Of those named, the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Prime Minister of Belgium have all apologized for their responsibility. Neither the French government nor the Catholic church has ever apologized or accepted responsibility...

But again, we ask: where was the conscience of Africa when the 800,000 Tutsi were killed? Where is the conscience of Africa when over 60,000 people have been killed in Sierra Leone and children including babies amputated among thousands. Where was the conscience of Africa when about 250,000 people were killed in Liberia, a country with a population of 2.5 million people. Yet not one African country is on record for condemning Liberia's criminal gangsters in their campaign of terror and plunder.

The Western countries that were blamed in the OAU Panel report and were asked to pay reparations for complacency are all supporting sanctions against Liberia to bring the terrors that engulfed the West African sub-region to a close. But African leaders are opting for "African solution" that led to the death of over 800,000 Tutsi.

The UN sanctions will do justice to the masses of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans seeking justice in the wilderness.

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