Open Letter To The United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour,
On Her Visit To Liberia
By Ezekiel Pajibo
July 15, 2005
Welcome to Monrovia. I am pleased that you have chosen to visit us. I hope that while you are here, and in addition to the many meetings you will be attending, you will find the time to enjoy the rain. Liberia is, after all, “a tropical rain forest.”
The Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE) since its inception in 1994 has been working on human rights issues within the Liberian context. CEDE has found the principle of the inseparability of human rights as core to the securing, protecting and promotion of human rights in Liberia. Thus while CEDE is beholden to the civil and political rights that makes its existence possible, CEDE does fervently believe that social cultural and economic rights are as equally important.
Key issues the Center is concern with while you are visiting our country and which we would like to appraise you of in order to seek your support include the following:
1. Ending the culture of impunity: Our nation has been making steady progress in its efforts to take stock of the past, to develop an informed analysis of the present and to contribute towards the conceptualization, formulation, implementation and monitoring of public policy measures that would safeguard our emerging democratic order and consolidate the gains made in the peace process thus far. However, there are visible threats to these endeavors. Principle among these is the culture of impunity that is ingrained within our corrupt governance order and practice.
CEDE believes that an important first step in ending the culture of impunity in Liberia is to have Mr. Charles Taylor, Liberia exiled leader, be surrendered by Nigeria to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to answer to the 17 count indictment against him including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan told Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch that that he is in support of having Mr. Taylor appear before the Special Court.
This policy of the U.N. Secretary General in our view has not been acted upon at the highest diplomatic level. We hope you will use your good offices to assist the global campaign to have Mr. Taylor appeared in Freetown so that his alleged victims would get justice and the respect for the rule of law is upheld in a region recovering from some of the worst atrocities ever committed since the end of War World II.
2. Misapplication of State Resources: In our post war circumstances, we are confronted with a myriad of issues – each of which is equally and deservingly competitive – in the midst of limited resources. In this circumstance, economic, social and cultural rights issues are more germane to our post-war peacebuilding and development efforts. Therefore, the powers that be need to be made mindful of the fact that the alleged misapplication of state resources including outright thievery constitute breaches of human rights principles. Inarguably, these breaches compel citizens to live in squalor, in unending cycle of poverty and with a hopeless future. The lack of efforts on the part of the National Transitional Government of Liberia to return dignity to the Liberian people is without doubt a violation of the rights of the Liberian people, who do not have access to safe drinking water; who do not have access to affordable and decent education; and who do not have access to health. The Government has not demonstrated any significant interest in responding to the 85 percent unemployment rate in the country. In fact, the government is reneging on its commitment to pay civil servants their deserved salary arrears and they are therefore currently on strike. Please convey to our government when you meet them that their human rights record is severely wanting in this regard and prompt and corrective measures should be taken to hold entrusted public authority accountable for the abuse of state resources including public funds.
3. Access to information: The work of civil society organizations and especially those working on human rights issues can only be enhanced when they have access to accurate information, research findings etc. We are in knowledge of the fact that the UNMIL mission in Liberia has been gathering mountains of information about our country that are inaccessible to members of the public. We hope that during your visit you will speak to UNMIL officials to make available to the public, information that would assist interested citizens and/or organizations to engage in public policy measures that would speak to the human rights, social and economic conditions existing in the country. For example the work conducted by UNMIL Human Rights Section on the Guthrie Rubber Plantation should be made public. As well, the investigation conducted by the UNMIL Human Rights Section on the October 28-31, 2004 civil disorder and violence in Monrovia should be made available to the public. After all, even the investigation commissioned by the NTGL to look into this event has been made public.
4. Of late, the Officer in Charge of UNMIL has stated in the press that UNMIL
does not have the mandate to prevent and or curtail the massive exploitation
of Liberia’s resources. With all due respect to the Officer in Charge,
we are in knowledge of the fact that one of UNMIL mandates is to “assist
the transitional government in restoring proper administration of natural resources.”
The operational words here are proper administration. We are dumbfounded therefore
when supposedly disbanded warring factions continue to control rubber plantations
in the country and are exploiting these resources thereby denying the state
a resource based that could otherwise be directed towards dealing with the massive
poverty condition in the country, the Officer in Charge would embrace a “see
no evil hear no evil” policy option. CEDE thinks that this is a cop-out
since at the core of the UN sanction regime on Liberia is to prevent warring
factions from having access to natural resources that are exploited and the
returns are employed to fuel conflict. The continuous occupation by LURD and
MODEL of two rubber plantations in the country constitute an imminent threat
to building just and durable peace in Liberia. Please confer with the Officer
in Charge and persuade him to robustly interpret this mandate in order that
Liberia’s natural resources will be sparred the current plunder and pillage.
There are many other things of concern to CEDE as you might imagine. I trust that you will hear more from other conscientious Liberian citizens. I am ready, willing and prepared to meet with you and discuss these ideas in detail, if you would pencil CEDE and its allied organizations into your rather busy schedule.
Meanwhile, thanks for taking up the time to read this letter, to visit our country and again I would like to say welcome to Monrovia.
Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE)