Open Letter To Members Of The United Nations Security Council
November 13, 2002
Amnesty International welcomes the continued attention by the United Nations Security Council on transfers of military assistance to Liberia, including in particular the role that the trade in illicit diamonds has played in those transfers. We recognize that the implementation of Security Council resolutions in relation to Liberia has had an important impact on the security situation in Sierra Leone which has resulted in a very significant improvement in the human rights situation in that country.
The human rights situation in Liberia, however, continues to deteriorate. Continuing armed conflict threatens the stability and security of its neighbours, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and, if not effectively addressed, will have potentially disastrous consequences for the protection of human rights of civilians in all three Mano River Union countries.
As the Security Council considers the latest report of the Panel of Experts on Liberia (S/2002/1115), Amnesty International wishes to draw the Security Council’s attention to the continuing grave human rights situation in Liberia and two related areas: the links between the timber trade and military transfers; and the need to strengthen the role of the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL).
Continuing human rights abuses
Armed conflict between government forces and the armed opposition Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) continues. Both sides are responsible for serious human rights abuses.
Liberian government forces and militia fighting on behalf of the government continue to commit with almost total impunity - extensive human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention. There is insufficient training for government forces in international human rights and humanitarian law and standards. Government forces are ill-disciplined and government-allied militia, including up to 1,500 former combatants of the Sierra Leonean armed opposition Revolutionary United Front (RUF) now in Liberia, operate without a chain-of-command structure or other system of accountability. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees by police and other security forces are routine.
The LURD is also responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. During the last two years, Amnesty International has documented human rights abuses against unarmed civilians by the LURD such as deliberate and arbitrary killings, torture, including rape, abduction and recruitment of children under 18 years as combatants. It is, however, difficult to obtain independent information about recent human rights abuses by the LURD.
The Panel of Experts acknowledges that lifting the arms embargo without adequate reform of the security sector would leave the civilian population even more vulnerable to human rights violations government security forces and government-allied militia.
Amnesty International believes that, given the widespread nature of human rights abuses in Liberia, the provision of arms, ammunition and other forms of military assistance - whether direct or indirect to any party to the conflict in Liberia can reasonably be assumed to contribute to human rights abuses against civilians in Liberia. It therefore supports the recommendation of the Panel of Experts that the ban on the sale or supply to Liberia of “arms and related matériel of all types”, including technical training and assistance, remain in force.
We also believe that effective measures should be taken to prevent arms, ammunition and other forms of military assistance reaching the LURD. The Panel of Experts reports have identified that arms are reaching the LURD through neighbouring countries, including Guinea. This is in violation of Security Council resolution 1343 (2001) which prohibits the provision of all military assistance to Liberia. It therefore supports actions taken by the Security Council to prevent military transfers to the LURD.
Effective controls on the timber trade
Previous reports of Panels of Experts on both Sierra Leone and Liberia have made an explicit link between the Liberian timber industry and the arms trade.
Amnesty International is seriously concerned about reports that revenue from the timber industry, and the activities of individual timber companies, facilitate the acquisition of arms and ammunition or other military assistance which can reasonably be assumed to contribute to serious human rights violations by government security forces and government-allied militia. Timber is one of the prime sources of government revenue and over half the government’s budget is allocated to military expenditure.
Amnesty International therefore supports the recommendation of the Panel of Experts that the results of the current audit to be carried out by Deloitte and Touche, over a limited period of 120 days, should be made public and followed by a more sustained financial audit by an international auditing firm. This longer-term audit should be fully independent and verifiable and its findings made public.
Strengthening the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL)
Amnesty International welcomes the appointment on 18 September 2002 of Abou Moussa as Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, as well as the Secretary-General’s recent extension of the mandate of the UN Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL) until 31 December 2003.
In his first report pursuant to Security Council resolution 1408 (2002) regarding Liberia (S/2002/1183), the Secretary-General acknowledged that UNOL still lacked the appropriate capacity to provide independent confirmation of claims by the government of Liberia regarding its compliance with the demands contained in Security Council resolution 1343 (2001).
The impending arrival of Abou Moussa in Liberia offers an important opportunity to strengthen UNOL. In addition to playing a role in monitoring compliance with Security Council resolutions, its human rights mandate should be substantially strengthened. Amnesty International believes that an effective human rights component within UNOL must include a sufficient number of human rights monitors, including experts on abuses against women and children, with a strong mandate to monitor actively the situation throughout the country and to prepare regular, detailed reports to the Security Council. In addition, UNOL’s activities should include the provision of human rights advisory services, in close cooperation with local human rights organizations, to provide technical support and training to the judiciary, judicial institutions and the Liberian security forces.
Amnesty International hopes that the Security Council, through its continued attention to the transfer of arms, ammunition and other forms of military assistance to Liberia, will accord the highest priority to the protection of human rights in Liberia and more widely in the Mano River Union countries.