ALJA Makes Peace Proposals for War-Torn Liberia
(A Statement)

The Perspective

July 9, 2001

We, the Officers and Members of the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), are becoming increasingly alarmed that Liberia is drifting back into another round of brutal and bloody civil war, as fighting between government and rebel forces spreads from Liberia's northern territory of Lofa.

The insurgency has caused the "destruction of lives and property and the internal displacement of over 450,000 Liberians," according to a recent letter from President Charles Taylor to the United Nations Security Council. Human rights abuses being perpetrated by opposing forces, including the slaughter of defenseless people, are reportedly escalating. There are also reports that males, including children and the elderly, are being conscripted into the military, and those who resist are likely to be killed or incarcerated as rebels or rebel supporters. With starvation and epidemic diseases likely to increase as refugees cramp in displacement centers with little or no food and medical means, international humanitarian organizations are warning of a possible humanitarian catastrophe. The widely publicized plight of some 156 Liberians on a ship stranded at sea for three weeks with limited food and water, after being denied entry in several West African countries, reflects the hell the growing number of Liberian refugees are enduring, particularly in the West African sub-region.

As the internationally blacklisted and increasingly paranoid regime in Monrovia struggles in desperation to hang on to power, while the armed rebellion intensifies, the possibility of another complete breakdown of law and order in Liberia is becoming increasingly likely.

In his letter to the Security Council, Taylor requested the Council to grant a limited waiver of the arms embargo to permit the Liberian government to purchase arms, in order to defend the country. We call on the Security Council to deny Mr. Taylor's request for a limited waiver of the arms embargo on Liberia. To lift the embargo at this time would make the U.N. an accessory to the perpetuation of the state of terror in Liberia. Permitting the brutal and barbaric regime to purchase arms would keep Liberia on an unending path of death and destruction. Instead of requesting the Security Council for permission to rearm for war, Taylor should work toward having the U.N. and the international community help facilitate a process for peace and reconstruction for the war-torn country.

Strongly convinced that a continued state of war would only drag Liberia further into the abyss, we call on President Taylor and leaders of armed groups fighting in the country to consider the need to begin a process of dialogue, aimed at restoring peace to the country. There are reports that a coalition of dissident groups joined forces calling themselves the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Other reports have it that ULIMO-K, the second largest faction during the Liberian civil war, also has been engaged in armed hostilities from neighboring Guinea. We wish to remind Mr. Taylor and the other warlords, including Alhaji Kromah, Roosevelt Johnson and Charles Julu, that they would be held accountable for the lives of defenseless people trapped in combat zones or areas controlled by their murderous armed gangs. As the international community makes positive strides regarding human rights protection, we are hopeful that, in the fullness of time, perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia would be made to account for their conduct.

As bitter experiences from the civil war has shown that there can be no military solution to Liberia's problems, ALJA herewith makes the following recommendations, aimed at peacefully ending the state of terror in Liberia and creating the condition for the building of a wholesome functioning society:

- We appeal to the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to convene a Liberian peace conference at the earliest possibility, so as to enable the Liberian government and the dissident factions to seek a peaceful end to their differences. We hope the U.N. and ECOWAS would draw upon their experiences in finding a peaceful end to Liberia's civil war by instituting appropriate actions aimed at preventing a prolonged state of war or another complete breakdown of law and order in the country. As was the case when the Liberian civil war began, it would be another tragic mistake for the international community, particularly the U.N., to remain less engaged until the country disintegrates in bloodshed.

- We urge the U.N. and ECOWAS to develop a comprehensive mechanism that would create a pre-electoral enabling environment that would induce the anti-Taylor groups to feel sufficiently safe and confident enough to pursue the peaceful path, and subsequently, safely participate in national elections, expected to be held in 2003.

- ALJA calls on the UN and ECOWAS, as well as members of the international community seeking for a peaceful end to war in the Mano River Union Basin, to intensify their efforts to convene a peace summit between the heads of state of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which make up the Mano River Union sub-regional organization.

- We congratulate the European Union (EU) for its efforts in helping bring about an end to the campaign of death and destruction in Liberia and the Mano River Union Basin. We hope that the EU would continue to play a more active role in the search for peace in the West African sub-region, and for good governance in Liberia. We appeal to the UN and the EU to prevail on the government to allow for more international involvement in the affairs of Liberia, so as to get the country from the course of death and destruction and begin the process of lasting peace and progress.

- We call on the Liberian government to allow for the reorganization of the military and paramilitary under international supervision, in keeping with the Abuja peace accord, which brought an end to Liberia's civil war. The Taylor government's refusal to allow for the reorganization of the military and paramilitary, and infesting the security forces with former combatants of Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) armed faction, is a recipe for disaster as the state of terror in the country manifests. Most of the NPFL ex-combatants are responsible for the barbaric killings during the civil war, including splitting of the stomach of pregnant women to determine the sex of the fetuses. Failure to expose the ex-combatants to basic military and paramilitary training, and other special programs aimed at de-traumatizing and enabling them to respect the sanctity of human life, is a terrible mistake that underscores the continued state of death and destruction in Liberia. For example, there are reports from Monrovia that Liberia's police director Paul Mulbah has apologized after police from the force's Special Operation Division publicly flogged more than 50 bus drivers and some passengers July 2nd in Monrovia. The victims, some of whom were reported seriously wounded and needed urgent medical treatment, were beaten when they refused to pay bribes to pass police checkpoints. In June, the assistant military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia was shot and wounded by security forces when he broke through a checkpoint, according to the Liberian government's account of the incident. Since the civil war ended in 1997, Liberia has lost an opportunity for the restoration of lasting peace because Taylor has thrived on the state of anarchy.

- As the search for peace in Liberia begins anew, we call for the Interfaith Mediation Council, comprising the Liberian Council of Churches and the Liberia National Muslim Council, to play an active role in the peace process under the auspices of the U.N. and ECOWAS.

- In order to avoid some of the mistakes during the war, in which warlords were allowed to dominate or control the affairs of the country, we call for the full participation of political parties and relevant interest groups in the search for peace. Civic institutions can never be fully restored and functional as long as the country remains under the absolute control of Taylor and other warlords vying for power, who have already fought a seven-year war of mindless destruction and atrocities. We urge the Liberian government, through pronouncements and other actions, to encourage and support the full participation in the peace process of the Interfaith Mediation Council, political parties and interest groups in the country. The government's demonstrated support is important because the general Liberian population has been silenced or paralyzed by fear due to the prevailing state of insecurity in the country.

- In order to achieve total reconciliation and reunification in the country, ALJA joins Liberia Watch for Human Rights and others in urging Mr. Taylor to be sincere with himself by dropping the charges of treason against all opposition politicians and faction leaders. We also join in calling on the Liberian leader to grant executive clemency to 13 convicts the government charged had plotted to overthrow it in 1998.

- As a step toward restoring an atmosphere of academic freedom, we call on authorities of the University of Liberia to lift the suspension and other measures of punishment imposed on a group of students for their reported involvement in peaceful rallies on the university campus in March. Police and soldiers of the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit raided the campus while students were rallying to raise funds for the legal defense of four journalists who were imprisoned by the government on false charges of espionage. The Liberian government and the university authorities should take appropriate steps for the return of 15 university student leaders who reportedly fled to Ghana in May for fear of their lives. We remind the government of its obligation to protect academic freedom, as well as all other basic rights of the Liberian people, in keeping with the Liberian Constitution and all international conventions or agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Liberia is signatory.

- ALJA re-echoes its call to the Liberian government to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law, human rights, free press, and good governance. We call for an end to politically motivated murder and secret disappearance of people, arbitrary arrest and detention, and brutal suppression of press freedom and dissent. There must be an end to rampant corruption and mismanagement in the government, and widespread looting of Liberia's resources.

Possible agenda for political discussions could include the following:

1. Issues raised by the international community, particularly the European Union, regarding the need for an independent human rights commission, the revamping of the current judiciary, the establishment of a Truth Commission, and investigation into unchecked corruption.

2. A review of the political landscape aimed at democratizing political institutions. This includes a new look at the Elections Commission and restructuring it to conform to democratic standards.

3. A review of financial institutions to ensure probity and accountability, and the repeal of the Strategic Commodities Act, which gives the president the sole power to execute, negotiate and conclude all commercial contracts and agreements with any foreign or domestic investor for designated commodities, including timber, gold, oil and diamonds.

4. Modalities on how the military and paramilitary would be restructured to reflect geographic or ethnic balance, and oriented toward protecting the interests of the country and its people.

5. A review of Liberia's relations with her neighbors, with the hope of establishing better understanding and good neighborliness. This includes tackling demands by human rights groups to expel all foreign mercenaries from Liberia's security structures, and preventing the country from being used as a base for subversive activities against neighboring countries.

We hope Mr. Taylor would be rational enough to yield to the growing demand for peace in Liberia and the Mano River Union Basin. Like dictator Samuel Doe against whom he launched his armed rebellion in 1989, Taylor could be violently removed from power if he continues to remain insensitive to the plight of the Liberian people and spread anarchy in the West African sub-region, in order to loot diamonds and other resources. The intensifying armed rebellion could cause the lives of thousands of people, including Taylor's, as was the case with Doe. With U.N. sanctions in effect for his reported involvement in arms and diamond smuggling with Sierra Leonean rebels, a belligerent Taylor could become the first sitting African head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, with an international warrant of arrest issued against him. As if it is already not a shattering disgrace that the President of the Republic of Liberia and many senior officials of the Liberian government are ordered confined like prisoners to the territorial limits of Liberia, and their names published worldwide as international criminals. We hope Mr. Taylor notes developments regarding former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is now facing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, ALJA thanks the Nigerian government for the humanitarian gesture to accept the 156 Liberian refugees, including 78 children, stranded at sea for three weeks. We also thank Archbishop Michael Francis and the Roman Catholic Church of Liberia for introducing human rights education as part of the curriculum for Catholic schools in Liberia. We hope the example of the Catholic Church would be adapted by the government for the national curriculum. We also congratulate international soccer star, George Oppong Weah, for being a source of positive influence for Liberia on the international stage. He has been an embodiment of Liberian national pride at a time the image of Liberia, which once commanded high respectability within the world community, is very tarnished, as the country is being treated as a criminal state. Weah's sacrifices to take the Liberian national soccer team, The Lone Star, to the World Cup, among others, would always be well noted, whether or not Liberia qualifies for the World Cup. He is a national hero. We appeal to him to reconsider his decision to resign as leader of the national team. We remind Weah that working for the common good of Liberia would sometimes turn out to be a very painful exercise, as he is experiencing since Liberia's 2-1 loss to Ghana.

ALJA is committed to working for the attainment of peace and good governance in Liberia.

Signed: Gabriel I.H. Williams, Secretary

Approved: Isaac D.E. Bantu, Acting President

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