A Call For "Biting" Sanctions on Liberia

By George H. Nubo

The Perspective

February 12, 2001

Having escaped near-death twice at the hands of "ex-combatants" - former rebel soldiers of the NPFL, now used as extension of the Liberia national security network to harass and intimidate political opponents and critics of the government - Mr. D. Conmany Wesseh, Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), offered his views on the issue of sanctions being currently debated by the UN Security Council and other national issues, in an interview with the Managing Editor of The Perspective (TP), George H. Nubo. Below is part I of the interview:

TP: Based on the recommendations of the UN Panel of Experts, the United States and Great Britain are pushing for sanctions against Liberia. Do you think that the sanctions will hurt the common man than the Taylor government officials?

Wesseh: I think we must look at what the sanctions say. What are the sanctions. I think if you have a blanket sanction on a country irrespective of what it's going to do to women, children, and old people and the general society, then something is fundamentally wrong with the sanctions. I think that sanctions are meant to bring to book a dictator, a violator of human rights, a government that has nothing in common with the international laws and practice, international standards, then I will support those sanctions. The sanctions have to be selective, they have to be targeted (especially targeted), so that it can get the intended purpose. The sanctions must be directed at those who have committed the offenses that you want to see corrected. And make sure that they are applied where they would hurt. From what I know so far, sanctions against Mr. Taylor and his officials, sanctions against people who are known violators of human rights, people who are involved in the abuse of our environment, people who are involved in economic crimes, I think those sanctions ought to be applied. That's where I stand on sanctions.

TP: The UN threatened sanctions include a ban on the importation of timber from Liberia. The sanctions include a ban on take-off and landing of aircrafts, and a ban on diamond and timber import from Liberia. According to the Liberian Foreign Minister, Monie Captan, timber accounts for 30% of the Liberia budget. Do you think those sanctions are appropriate?

Wesseh: I think there are more that can be very biting on individuals and groups. Let's talk about those that are to be applied now. On timber, who are the beneficiaries of the timber trade? There is a direct link between a number of groups that are involved in the timber and the flow of arms, small arms and light weapons that are the choicest weapons of the violence in our country. The benefit from the timber trade does not come to the ordinary people When I see JFK Hospital [the largest hospital in the country] functioning, our hospitals functioning, if I see our schools functioning properly, if I see roads and highways, if I see basic things like water running, the question of electricity - those basic things, if they are operating - then I'll say well, it's true that the 30% [from] timber is still triggered down to the people. But I still don't see that happening. I don't also see the question of what happen to flights in and out. I don't think it refers to Sabena coming to Liberia, as it is about flights registered under Liberia name, Liberian flag, that are known to be involved in the arms trade, that are known to be involved in a number of illicit activities including the movement of drugs and precious stones across continents. It is those flights, those airplanes that are never seen in Liberia. They are not resident aircrafts in that country, they never need to come around. They are registered and the money made from the fees become the preserve of people in authority. Those are the things I think the sanctions are directed against.

TP: The sanctions, once imposed, some Liberians want for conditions on lifting the sanctions to be broadened to include freedom of the press, the reopening of Star Radio, good governance, etc. What is your stance?

Wesseh: Exactly! That's our view. We believe very strongly, many of us share that view. It is not enough for Mr. Taylor to come on the radio or even take steps about expelling the RUF fighters and leaders from Liberia or saying that all planes registered under the Liberian flag should be grounded wherever they are, or that his accounts abroad should be investigated to see whether he has been receiving money from diamonds Even if he has done all of those things and did not practice good governance, show total respect for human rights in Liberia, show that there are no political prisoners in detention in Liberia, and that there is no Liberian whose future is threatened as not to want to return to Liberia. There are people over whom treason charges are hanging, we have a rubber stamp legislature, we have courts that do not function, we have people going around the country who can go to anybody's house or office and destroy things, kill people, and go without investigation or go with impunity. He [must be] held accountable for his actions. We should have a sanction arrangement that would stop these situations that are pervasive in the country. Once he can do this, then we will say yes he is committed to certain degree of peace, because we have internal peace and regional peace.

TP: Over the years, Liberia has been accused of fueling the war in Sierra Leone and the Liberian government has consistently denied the allegations and has asked the international community to provide any proof they have that would authenticate the allegations. Could you comment?

Wesseh: If you are in this business of international relations, if you find yourself having being declared, and you think you're going to go through legality - the legal question of proof as the only defense you have - I think you are in bad business. I think what the Liberian government officials, Mr. Taylor and his officials, are hitching their argument on is about proof more than anything they demonstrate to show that they are in fact not involved in what they have been accused of. Mr. Taylor has admitted more than once that he is a very good friend of Foday Sankoh and that Sam Bockarie, one of the fighters of the RUF, has been in Liberia. He has not denied that Foday Sankoh and a number of the RUF fighters were first commanders in his war efforts in Liberia. They were trained with his men in Libya and have been fighting in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has not denied that. He has not denied that prior to the attack of the RUF in Sierra Leone that he publicly announced that because of the support that Sierra Leone was giving to ECOMOG, providing base for ECOMOG planes to fly from Sierra Leone to come to Liberia on operation that the war would extend to Sierra Leone. He had not denied that! The most recent pronouncement by the government that they have broken relations with the RUF is a confirmation that there has been a relationship between the RUF and Liberia. I don't know what else Mr. Taylor wants for the international community to prove. I think the burden is on Mr. Taylor and his men.

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