Liberians Ready to Oppose Taylor
November 11, 2000

Liberians in the United States and other parts of the world will meet on December 2, 2000, to map out strategies for challenging President Charles Taylor's grip on power in 2003 when the next election will be held.

Under the theme "Liberia for Democratic Change Conference," the conference is slated for the University of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Organizers say the Conference will "take the first steps in creating a political movement to participate meaningfully in the 2003 presidential and legislative election in Liberia as a way of bringing about needed changes in the country through democratic means. Discussion will center around issues of public policy----identifying the political, social and economic problems which Liberians face in their daily lives and coming up with practical solutions to those problems".

Conference organizers want to focus on lobbying activities involving foreign governments, with the aim of rendering the 2003 elections free and fair, and to craft "workable public policy solutions for post-Taylor Liberia," according to conference release. The release said:

"Consideration will be given to the steps which should be taken to get the Liberian government to respect the constitutional right of political parties to operate without molestation by security forces, including withdrawing the use of threats to prevent Liberian political figures outside the country from returning to Liberia to engage in lawful political activities".

Other objectives, the release said, include lobbying "the United Nations to speed up the establishment of the war crimes tribunal to try Foday Sankoh and to expand the mandate of such a court to include Liberians who are complicit in the RUF's human rights abuses".

Organizers also want "to put into effect a mechanism to monitor the enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the Clinton administration banning travel to the United States by officials of the Liberian government and their immediate family. Consideration will be given to lobbying for additional sanctions".

But Liberians are organizing at a time when hopes of democratization under Taylor are fading. Former US President Jimmy Carter has shutdown a Carter Center branch in the country that since the elections was engaged in pro-democracy projects. In a letter to President Taylor, Mr. Carter said he was "very disappointed about the course of events in Liberia over the last three years, especially given the hopeful opportunities that were present after your election in 1997 following a terrible seven-year civil war. Since then, and in consultation with your government, the Center has tried to work with civil society groups, the media, government officials, and others to strengthen respect for human rights and the rule of law, in the hope that this would help consolidate peace and reconciliation in Liberia."

Members of the country's Parliament recently charged the President with plans to create a one-party state and to single-handedly rule the country which emerged from a 7-year war that left 250,000 killed and most economic infrastructure in ruins. The charge came after the President instructed his cabinet and other officials not appear before Parliament without his authorization. The President's cousin, in charge of Forestry, one of the few income-generating entities, had refused to appear before Parliament and answer questions regarding the printing and enforcement of bill which many members consider illegal.

The President has also charged key Opposition figures out of the country with treason, threatening to arrest them if they return home. Mr. Taylor has also vowed to ban American and British observers in any future Liberian elections.