Justified Sanctions, Endorsed Plunder

The Perspective
March 9, 2001

At last, the UN Security Council has imposed the much awaited and deserved sanctions on Liberia. The sanctions will cover diamonds from Liberia, banning the bloody stones in whatever way and form they enter and leave Charles Taylor's hands. The movements of Liberian officials and their criminal counterparts will also be monitored within 2 months. Undoubtedly, the UN action is one giant step in telling the despicable Liberian regime and its international criminal partners engaged in the trade that the end is near. We can only hope that the UN adds teeth to enable it to bite.

On a sad note the Security Council conceded to French and Chinese demands to drop the ban of Liberian timber, one of the most attractive products fuelling the wars in West Africa. The sanctions, among others, stipulate that:

"...All States shall take the necessary measures to prevent the sale or supply to Liberia, by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and spare parts for the aforementioned, whether or not originating in their territories;

"...That all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent any provision to Liberia by their nationals or from their territories of technical training or assistance related to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of the items in subparagraph (a) above;

"...That all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of senior members of the Government of Liberia and its armed forces and their spouses and any other individuals providing financial and military support to armed rebel groups in countries neighbouring Liberia, in particular the RUF in Sierra Leone, as designated by the Committee established by paragraph 14 below, provided that nothing in this paragraph shall oblige a State to refuse entry into its territory to its own nationals, and provided that nothing in this paragraph shall impede the transit of representatives of the Government of Liberia to United Nations Headquarters to conduct United Nations business or the participation of the Government of Liberia in the official meetings of the Mano River Union, ECOWAS and the Organization of African Unity."

Taylor's Foreign Minister immediately expressed relief at the scope of the sanctions regime, saying the sanctions are more magnanimous than anticipated. When criminals see vindication in imposed punishment, the message is that only they see the actual dimensions of their crimes.

The sanctions are however significant steps aimed at curbing the mischief of a man, Taylor, who admits he is "the most mischievous man in Liberia", or perhaps in the whole of West Africa. But regrettably, economic interests of two Security Council members have determined their sense of fairness and justice in other areas such as the much-needed ban on Liberian timber. Despite the insistence of London and Washington that Liberian timber is one of the products encouraging West Africa's disintegration, attracting criminal gangs from Asia and other parts of the world, China and France demanded the timber trade, now depleting Liberia's rainforest, be left alone because they are benefiting from the withering of the few remaining forests in West Africa. According to The Washington Post, China insisted that if Washington wants a ban on timber, it must also accept a ban on Liberian rubber. The comparison of rubber with timber is criminal and absurd. The former, which has been crucial in Liberia's economy, is an investment product, a renewable product, planted and replanted by man for decades. The latter in this case is not. Criminals are simply cutting down and shipping trees without any regards or concerns for the environment or the helpless Liberian population. There is no re-planting of trees, only a high speed plundering game that benefits Taylor, his family and cronies. Many Liberians, including university students and human rights organizations, have unsuccessfully pleaded to have their timber outlawed since proceeds are used to enhance their suffering. But the powerful dimensions of money can be seen in the fact that despite criminal Liberia's recognition of Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, Peking believes money is more important than nationalism. Liberia can go on with recognizing Taiwan as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people once its forests are disappearing into Communist China.

We are nonetheless gratified that Washington has reportedly accepted the Chinese challenge of banning Liberia's rubber export if that means Peking leaving Liberian forests alone. Therefore, we hope that Peking will abandon its demand on timber, taking steps to ensure that Liberia's forests do not continue to cause horrors in West Africa. On the other hand, France, which imports about 37% of Liberia's looted timber, also opposed the timber ban. France's opposition is however not surprising. From the onset of Liberia's war, because of its economic and therefore political designs, has seen Taylor as a redeemer, not an insane destroyer and thief he is. The accused son (on corruption charges) of former French President Francois Mitterand was a frequent visitor to Taylor's rebel headquarters where he allegedly cemented business deals with the looting rebel chief. Nevertheless, we now hope that humanity will force Peking and Paris to see the evils of their policy in quickening the disappearance of the rainforest despite warnings of the global climatic implications of this plunder. We hope that international environmental organizations can now intensify their campaign to tell France and China that by opposing Liberia's timber ban, they have opposed a chance to give Liberia's future children a more human chance for better life and endorsed acts that pose greater dangers to the environment globally. By sanctioning the destruction of their economy, France, known for its stringent anti- refugees policies, must have no excuses in opening its doors to fleeing Liberians seeking a better life.

More interestingly, the Chinese and French opposition to the timber ban tells us more about the forces that propel the UN and the world community in general, regarding global justice. If the diamonds creating havoc in West Africa were entirely destined for Paris and Peking and not South Africa, or Belgium, etc., we believe the sanctions would have been killed on the altar of national economic interests. This is a disturbing and hypocritical face of countries, by their permanent membership on the UN Security Council, expected to safeguard the interests of humanity everywhere.

However, what remains to be seen is whether the sanctions' reinforced arms embargo on Liberia will be effective and implemented to the letter. There sits the destructive Burkina Faso, without an arms embargo, prepared to continue sending arms to the RUF via Liberia. Blaise Compaori, who has been accused consistently as one of the key sponsors of rebellions in West Africa, is not touched by the sanctions and can therefore use his country as conduit to fee Taylor and the RUF, something he has done for more than a decade. Libya, with its billions of dollars and rising political interests in Africa and arguably outside the reach of the UN, is determined to protect its new African colony - Liberia. Former Soviet states such the Ukraine, anxious to cash in on the bloody stones and with limitless instruments of dearth to sell, are also waiting.

Thus, the litmus test of the sanctions' usefulness will be judged in how fast the RUF rebels crumble and disarm their child soldiers. Landlocked and without arms and ammunitions, they rely on Liberia for their military and therefore economic lifeblood. They have no access by land or sea to another country within the region. At war with Guinea, Liberia is the only outlet state that has sustained them over the years. It was Taylor who created them and it's Taylor who has maintained them.

The crucial aspects of the sanctions include practical steps needed to ensure that diamonds from Liberia are not sold under cover. This brings in several questions. How will the Council ensure that Liberian officials, many now allegedly with homes and savings in South Africa and elsewhere, are deprived of their lucrative trade? Many of Taylor's criminal operatives are foreigners with foreign passports, a good number Liberians with American passports. How will their criminal activities be monitored? Without blacklisting some of the men named in the UN Panel of Experts report, it will be difficult monitoring their movements and deadly transactions. Referred to as members of "Taylor's Inner Circle", men such as the Dutchman Gus Kouwenhoven, known as the Godfather of Liberia for his entrenchment in the country's decay and evil politics, must be black listed by international security units and monitored. Taylor's many diamond smugglers, including Liberians with American passports, will become useful in bursting the sanctions. Simply put, the Liberian dictator, a man who found his way out of an American prison, is capable of finding his way out of the sanctions if he is not vigilantly monitored. This is the UN's challenge to be monitored. If Unita's Jonas Savimbi, under UN sanctions for years but is still dancing around the world selling the stones and buying arms, is any example, then we have cause not to dance with joy.

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