We Applaud UN Sanctions on Liberia

The Perspective
May 5, 2001

After seven year of civil war, which produce one of the most horrendous legacies in Liberian history, resulting in the deaths of more than two hundred thousand people mostly women, children, and the elderly - who became expendable and innocent victims of a senseless war, justice is yet to prevail, while men and women who perpetrated this war that brought such untold suffering to the Liberian people, have taken on new identities, new images and have been enthroned with new titles. Even after three years of failed democratic rule under the Taylor regime, the country has plunged deeper into the abyss than it has ever been in its 153-year history.

How Liberia has reached such bottomless pit, is clearly a manifestation and characteristics of the regime. Driven not by service, nor by any degree of social responsibility to the welfare of the Liberian people, the Taylor regime has become the bane of the West African sub-region, which has been mired in crisis and an unending cycle of violence since his ascendancy to power as the "democratically elected" president of Liberia.

Liberia's newly acquired pariah status is specifically rooted in its role in supporting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, an offshoot of Taylor's erstwhile National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The UN Panel of Experts Report findings have determined that the regime in Liberia has played a crucial and critical role in fueling the ongoing crisis in Sierra Leone. Its illicit trade in the sale of blood diamonds for guns has been a pivotal factor contributing to the armed insurrection.

In its findings, the UN Panel's report of December 2000, reported that Liberia provided the RUF "rebels with weapons, training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and a safe haven for retreat The volume of diamonds Liberia smuggled from Sierra Leone ranged from $25 million to as much as $125 million a year, more than enough to sustain the RUF. Liberia was exporting far more diamonds than its own mines yielded."

While there were no disagreements on the findings of the Panel's report, the 15-member Security Council differed on how sanctions were to be applied. Thanks to Great Britain and the United States, who favored more comprehensive sanctions that would have had a real biting effect on the Taylor regime. Others, including France and China, picking and choosing selective sanctions, not only took "teeth" out of the sanctions regime, but were engaged in the politics of self-interest. France, which is a major importer of Liberian timber, buying over 37% of Liberian timber, disingenuously argued that since the timber industry constitutes a major revenue-generating source of the Liberian economy, it would hurt "ordinary" Liberians if sanctions were imposed on this industry. But what France and others advocating limited or selective sanctions have deliberately ignored, is that Liberian timber has been used as "wood of war" in fueling the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Based on the UN Panel's report and other credible reports coming from such organizations as Global Witness, Greenpeace, etc., it has been well-documented that revenues generated from Liberia's timber has been used as an even more valuable means for trafficking arms, than the widely reported "blood" diamond.

The UN, an unwieldy organization with its own unique political culture of deferring to the wishes of principal members wielding enormous influence, combined with behind-the-scene maneuverings of ECOWAS - the Economic Community of West African States ­ of which Liberia is a member, the Security Council unanimously decided on 7 March to impose sanctions on Liberia in response to evidence of Liberian government involvement in arms and diamond trafficking with RUF rebels. But this was to be based on conditionality: that Liberia would be granted a two month reprieve to put its house in order by severing ties with the RUF. The sanctions, which include a travel ban on government and military officials and their spouses and a 12-month ban on diamond imports from Liberia, was imposed on Friday, May 4, and will take effect on Monday, the 7th of May because there is not enough evidence that Liberia has complied with the Resolution.

According to Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the UN, the Security Council had decided to impose the sanctions in order "to bring peace to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We have a policy on that, that policy is to force the RUF to stop fighting."

By all accounts available so far, Liberia did not comply with the UN demands, despite its own self-proclamation that it has done so based on its own self-verification process that has not been vetted by any independent, monitoring mechanism. And based on independent accounts, the Liberian government has not proved that it has stopped supporting the rebels.

The Security Council Resolution 1343 upon which the sanctions are based, calls on Liberia to expel all RUF members, cease financial and military support for the RUF, stop importing uncertified Sierra Leonean diamonds, and take other measures such as freezing RUF funds.

A recent UN team, which visited Liberia a few weeks ago, was not encouraged by what it saw and what the Liberian government reported as complying with UN demands. Most Liberians and democratic minded people across the globe, support the UN sanctions on Liberia. Therefore, Taylor needs to know that the civilized world will not tolerate his uncivilized behavior and for that matter, any other leader who is bent on destabilizing the West African sub-region.

ECOWAS, the organization to which Liberia belongs, and whose interest it has championed, in its own report filed by its mission it had sent to Liberia a month ago to investigate its compliance with the Security Council demands, expressed "dismay over the untidy handling of the expulsion of members of RUF." While the government claimed it had expelled the notorious Sam "Mosquita" Bockarie and declared him persona non grata, ECOWAS found this not to be the case. The Liberian government still provides sanctuary to Bockarie and other RUF rebels.

On other compliance requirements, Liberia is still a far cry away from satisfying UN demands. For example, the travel ban with its loopholes has permitted Liberian government officials who are resident aliens or possessing American "Green Cards" to visit the United States. The ban also does not clarify which category of government official would be affected by the banning order. Even where it perfunctorily states that this applies to "senior civilian and military" officials, lower-ranking officials could get by easily. This seems to be the case also with the much-despised "blood" diamonds, which lies at the center of West Africa's destabilization. The certification mechanism that the UN is requiring again suffers from a lack of enforcement. RUF still maintains its diamond strongholds in Sierra Leone, and continues to use Liberia as a smuggling entrepot, while Taylor's "inner circle" have reported to be using sophisticated, shady, underworld and criminal characters as their new middleman in this game. As someone observed, "The players have changed, but the goalposts remains the same."

The evidence is overwhelming that Taylor and his government has not complied with UN Resolution 1343. We therefore applaud the Council for using its political judgment and moral conscience to impose sanctions on Liberia. The majority of Liberians who have bore the brunt of this war, including peaceful and democratic-minded people across the globe, support the UN sanctions. Taylor needs to know that the civilized world will not tolerate his uncivilized behavior any longer. The UN must now ensure that these sanctions are enforced. This is the challenge.

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