Liberia's Undeclared War - Murder, Mayhem, and Abductions
The West Turns a Deaf Ear to the Appeals of Liberia's Civilians Position Statement
(Position Statement Issued To The United Nations Security Council On April 28, 2003)
The war in Liberia, which began in 1989, officially ended in 1997. With free, internationally monitored elections, Charles Taylor, former National Patriotic Front Leader, won with an overwhelming majority. The people declared that they were tired after 7 years of war, and only wanted peace and stability returned to the country. However, 6 years have passed and there is little peace, and even less stability in Liberia than there was during the brutal and devastating civil war.
After the war ended, President Elect Taylor invited his Liberian political opponents and adversaries to return home and help rebuild the country. However, when former Deputy Speaker of the Interim Legislature (1995-1997) and war colleague Samuel Dokie, his wife, and members of their family were savagely murdered in 1997, many of those who had considered returning to Liberia, decided to remain in exile.
With Liberian Presidential elections scheduled for October of 2003, there are numerous candidates who have made known their desire to run for this position. But, Taylor has said that those Liberians who have not resided in Liberia within the last 10 years will not be allowed to run for office, even though the Liberian Constitution has no such mandate. Taylor’s government has also muffled free speech, and infringed heavily on its citizen’s human rights. There have been closures and burnings of radio stations, threats, intimidation, and arrest of media personnel, and anyone else for that matter, who appears to be willing to demand governmental accountability. As a result, many of those wishing to run for the upcoming Presidential elections have also remained outside of the country.
While it has been six years since the end of the civil war, and six years of President Taylor’s leadership, the country remains crippled and crumbling. If you visit Liberia, you will find it is without running water, electricity, or many of the infrastructures common in other African countries. Several banks have gone out of business, taking local and international resident's money with them. There are large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP's) who are marginally supported by international and local Non-Governmental Organizations. Schools are currently closed, educators and government workers are rarely and poorly paid, and Illiteracy is above 70% (higher for women). Over the last six years Liberia has experienced a rapid decline in health, social, and welfare services. Diamond and timber mining seem to be the major exports, with a handful of government officials and internationals holding most of the rights to these lucrative businesses, while much of the population are proclaimed to be amongst the “poorest of the poor” by UN standards.
Liberia, although not officially at war, is under attack by a multi-ethnic warring faction, who call themselves, Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). It is reported that this small rebel group began fighting in 1999, in order to overthrow the Taylor government, and open the country to free and fair elections in 2003. It now appears however, that LURD is also victimizing and abusing innocent Liberians, and creating an atmosphere of hysteria, and fear among the civilian population - who have become weary of ever living a normal life, where they can begin to rebuild and secure a future for their children. Once again, Liberian civilians are being harassed, murdered, robbed of their meager possessions, and abducted in the name of peace.
On Wednesday April 9, 2003 at 2:55 pm, the semi-rural area of Jahtondo Town, (about 13 miles West of the capital city of Monrovia) was attacked by LURD rebels. The IMANI HOUSE clinic was closing for the day, OXFAM was conducting a water and sanitation training workshop in our gazebo, and an emergency food distribution by the Seven Day Adventist group, ADRA was taking place nearby. There were also a large number of Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) who had fled fighting in their villages, as well as many residents, and marketers, collecting food rations or participating in other activities when these attacks took place.
This LURD attack was especially brutal, killing and wounding several people, reportedly burning an elderly person in their home, and stealing the food that was intended for the displaced. As IDPs, aid workers and civilians fled the fighting, LURD troops proceeded to hunt down, and abduct at gunpoint, five staff of IMANI HOUSE, two visiting teenagers, and a number of others. These unwilling hostages, were then forced to carry loads of looted food and materials, including those taken from ADRA, the clinic and other surrounding facilities, into unknown destinations miles away from the capital city of Monrovia. In April, The World Food Program (WFP) asked the Liberian Government to offer protection to NGO’s who distribute food in Liberia because several other attacks by LURD had taken place, with very similar results, and little resistance by government forces. These attacks are especially tragic given the poor condition of many IDP’s who are mostly women and children.
To date four IMANI HOUSE members, as well as many others are still missing. Although, the head nurse at the clinic escaped from LURD soldiers, as did her driver a few days later, both have said that they neither saw, or heard any news of the other captives whereabouts or well being.
It is not clear why LURD has begun kidnapping civilians. What is clear however is that LURD, a warring faction that claims to be fighting for the rights of the Liberian populace, has become a serious threat to the human and civil rights of the people (both local and international) of Liberia. They must discontinue their aggressive activities which are further destroying what little stability the majority of Liberians have.
It must be noted here that, LURD forces, and those who took part in this attack and other assaults on civilians or aid workers, are in direct violation of International Humanitarian Law. Under Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions  ratified by Liberia in 1988, which aims to protect victims of non-international armed conflict, “taking of hostages” (article 4.2.a), and stealing of “food-stuffs” (article 14) are strictly prohibited. Additionally, medical units, medical personnel and innocent civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities, should under no conditions be the object of attack (articles 11.1, 13.2, and 13.3). Consequently, each soldier in breach of any of these legal instruments can be persecuted and convicted for their offences “on the basis of individual penal responsibility.” Clearly, international humanitarian law will be upheld in all circumstances and doubters should pay close attention to the fate of members of rebel and government forces who have been indicted through the war crimes tribunal in neighboring Sierra Leone.
IMANI HOUSE, Inc., and Concerned Citizens, have prepared this Action Statement to ask that the situation in Liberia be given your URGENT ATTENTION. We are calling on the Liberian Government,the U.S. Embassy and other Embassies in Liberia, The U.S. State Department,the United Nations Security Council, those who have diplomatic or business ties with Liberia, and individuals and organizations who care about human rights and the dignity of life, to speak out against the actions of this Undeclared War On Our Citizens.
Specifically, we are calling on the aforementioned institutions to demand:
· That LURD discontinue attacks and abductions of innocent civilians
· That those abducted be safely released immediately
· That media in all developed countries begin to publicize these atrocities
· That the United Nations intervene in Peace Keeping efforts and hold the Government of Liberia and LURD accountable for their abuses of international humanitarian law regarding the treatment of civilians and other non-combatants
· That LURD and the Liberian Government come to the negotiation table and cease all hostilities in the country
· That President Charles Taylor restore civil liberties to Liberia, follow the Liberian Constitution, and allow all Liberian nationals, who desire, the right to run for public office including the Presidency
· That free and fair elections be held as scheduled in Liberia, in October of 2003.
We are also asking those who care about the dignity, future, and the rights of all people to pursue peaceful fulfilling lives, to write to their local and national political representatives, sign our petition (on our website: WWW.IMANIHOUSE.ORG), and create an awareness campaign among your community and friends, regarding the tragic situation in Liberia.
Bisi Iderabdullah (Mrs.)
Executive Director and Founder of IMANI HOUSE, Inc.,
Human Rights Activist