Exiled Journalists Warn Taylor Against Cancellation of the 2003 Elections
January 21, 2002
The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) views with grave concern recent reports from Liberia quoting President Charles Taylor and some officials of his regime as threatening to abort the 2003 presidential and general elections. The threats, coming out of Liberia even before the election process commences, indicate that creating an atmosphere for credible elections would be tougher than expected. With some members of the ruling party-dominated legislature announcing plans to introduce a bill to extend Taylor's stay in power beyond 2003, the months ahead will be crucial in determining peace and continued instability in Liberia.
In view of the dangers contained in the pronouncements of Mr. Taylor and some of his acolytes, we must alert Liberians and the international community about plans to further hijack the democratic process in Liberia. We also strongly condemn Mr. Taylor's threats to effect the arrest of some aspiring candidates residing in the United States, who contemplate returning to Liberia to contest the elections.
Mr. Taylor's threats, which were reportedly made while he was presiding over his first cabinet meeting of the year, once again underscore the warlord-turned president of Liberia's blatant disregard for the Liberian Constitution, democratic norms, and the rule of law. We would like to serve notice on Mr. Taylor and his followers that the days when they determined the agenda in Liberia via the AK-47 and drugged child soldiers are over. That they have miserably failed Liberia and plunged the country into greater mess is all too obvious. Accordingly, any attempt to abort the democratic process would be their undoing.
In view of the foregoing, ALJA is appealing to all well-meaning and peace-loving Liberians to unite and marshal their resources to defeat the forces of tyranny. The alternative to inaction is that Taylor's Liberia would prevail, and this entails continued plunder of Liberia's resources, hunger, death and destruction, regional and international isolation.
We would, therefore, also appeal to all Liberians aspiring for political office in the pending elections not to be intimidated by Mr. Taylor's threats, even though such pronouncements from this murderous criminal cannot be taken lightly. Our appeal is against the background that no matter what Taylor does, his morally bankrupt regime would eventually crumble under the weight of the unspeakable crimes that have been perpetrated against the Liberian people and humanity in general.
We find it absurd and astonishing that Taylor, who escaped from prison in the United States to spearhead a murderous brand of civil war to seize power, would try to portray as criminals qualified, respectable or dignified Liberians residing in the United States, who want to assume leadership responsibilities in Liberia, through peaceful, democratic means.
After five years of presiding over a brutal and bloody reign of terror, Taylor and his gang have begun a fight in desperation to hang on to power, as a way of avoiding possible arrest and prosecution for the hundreds of thousands of people they killed in their quest to take power and plunder resources.
We wish to serve Mr. Taylor notice that it is in his interest to begin urgent dialogue to negotiate his future and a peaceful transfer of power. Anything less would cause more trouble for him and his gang than they can ever imagine. Efforts would be made to ensure that the international community suspends all normal diplomatic intercourse with the regime as the government of the Republic of Liberia. More so, Mr. Taylor could be the first sitting African head of state to be indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, with the issuance of an international warrant of arrest.
ALJA is calling on the international community, particularly the United Nations, the European Union, and the Economic Community of West African States, to take urgent steps to engage the Taylor regime and seek further clarification on the recent course of events in Liberia relative to the 2003 elections. We would urge the international community to take a firm position to withhold recognition to any government in Liberia beyond the 2003 election schedule that does not have a democratic mandate to govern, and also to freeze all of Liberia's assets abroad until a government established through free and fair democratic election is seated.
If Mr. Taylor thinks that he can continue to disregard the will of the Liberian people and the international community with impunity, he would find out in due course that he has made a terrible mistake. It would, therefore, serve Mr. Taylor well to provide an atmosphere for credible elections, and this entails restructuring the elections commission, the Supreme Court, the state security apparatus, among others. There should also be a free media environment, meaning the re-emergency of banned media institutions, to ensure a free flow of information to the general public.
The Liberian despot's attempt to use the armed rebellion in northern Liberia as a pretext to abort the 2003 presidential and general elections and continue to maintain a strong grip on power, shows how he has thrived on anarchy. While Taylor and some of his officials have been warning about possible cancellation of the elections and declaration of a state of emergency, an assistant superintendent (governor) of Bomi County recently said in a press interview that 15,000 vigilantes have been mobilized in the county to help the government's army fight against the rebels. These developments are clearly intended to cause more chaos and further entrench the despot in power.
As one of the examples of the escalating state of chaos in the country, latest reports from Gbapolu County, which borders Bomi, indicate that government soldiers are engaged in forced labor and harassment of defenseless people, and widespread looting of property. Many residents in parts of the county have reportedly fled their towns and villages and are hiding in the bush from armed thugs, members of Taylor's armed faction during the civil war, which was elevated to become Liberia's military and paramilitary forces after the then rebel leader came to power. Lacking adequate professional training before being transformed into the state military and paramilitary forces, those armed thugs have been engaged in widespread abuses of human rights around the country.
In another recent radio interview to underscore their determination to abort the elections, one Representative Sando Johnson of Bomi County said, "we will fight if the need arises, for we are all commandosŠ" Considering the fact that Taylor's commandos were involved in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of defenseless people during the civil war, there is no question that this so-called Representative Sando Johnson is a murderer who, like many others in Taylor's rebel army, were awarded government positions when the warlord became president of Liberia. Amid widespread allegations of murdering his vice president two years ago for allegedly plotting to overthrow him, Taylor appointed another commando, Moses Blah, to replace the deceased as vice president of Liberia. This group of well-known murderers, including Taylor himself, has been threatening in recent times to take up arms and return to the bush to fight and defend their turf. With these kinds of people in power, there is no wonder that Liberia has become one of the most lawless countries in the world and a base for regional destabilization.
In what appears to be part of the regime's new pattern of witch-hunt to suppress dissent, commando Sando Johnson and other criminal collaborators have also begun to publicly accuse critics of the regime and rights activists in the country as dissident supporters. Commando Johnson has named noted human rights lawyers Tiawon Gonglo and Benedict Sannoh as supporters of dissidents involved in the armed rebellion in northern Liberia. In view of the Taylor regime's record of secret disappearances and murder of perceived enemies, the allegations could endanger the lives of the lawyers and their families.
Despite the hell, which they are enduring, we call on the Liberian people to remain hopeful. Liberia will survive Taylor and his gang, and the country will get back on the course of peace and progress.
Meanwhile, ALJA welcomes the setting up of the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, to try rebel leader Foday Sankoh and others culpable of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We hope that the mandate of the court would be extended to also indict Taylor for his role in Sierra Leone's brutal civil war as the primary sponsor of the notorious Revolutionary United Front rebels.
Strongly convinced that a continued state of war would only drag Liberia further into the abyss, ALJA calls on Mr. Taylor and leaders of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) fighting in northern Liberia to consider the need to begin a process of dialogue, aimed at restoring peace to the country. We strongly condemn the LURD's armed insurgency. While we may appreciate that the rebellion is in response to the depraved and uncivilized conduct of Taylor's regime, nothing justifies the unspeakable degree of death and destruction Liberia and its people continue to endure in the contest for power and resources between certain individuals. It would be a mistake to regard those seeking to violent remove Taylor from power as liberators. From their past activities, it is clear that those involved with the LURD, a coalition of former armed factions during Liberia's seven-year civil war, cannot be any better than Taylor if they came to power. It is obvious that the hands of all of Liberia's past and present warlords are stained with the blood of hundreds of thousand of people killed in the contest for power.
Mindful that Liberia's problems would only be resolved through peaceful means, we urge Mr. Taylor and the other warlords to give peace and democracy a chance. After years of turmoil, it has become very clear that political misrule and war would really benefit no individual or group. It is therefore imperative that an all-Liberian conference is convened at the earliest possibility for Liberians to dialogue and begin to find urgent solutions to the terrible state of affairs prevailing in the country.
We hope that for once, Mr. Taylor and the other political leaders involved in the struggle for power would suppress their personal egos and allow the common interest of Liberia and its people to prevail. While Taylor's role in the destruction of Liberia and his lack of leadership qualities are unprecedented, it is fair to note that he is not the only one responsible for the country's problems. There can be no question that some of the political leaders share responsibility for the country's current state of affairs. The challenge now is to learn from our past mistakes as a people, and change our mindset and focus. Otherwise, the mere replacement of Taylor would not end the state of death and destruction. In the 1980s, most Liberians thought that military dictator Samuel Doe was the worst leader Liberia ever had, a situation that propelled Taylor to national leadership with the aid of some of the very politicians. During the 1997 general elections, suspicions and mass confusion amongst many of the political leaders, and the splinter of political parties, contributed to the loss of a glorious opportunity to wrest Liberia from marauding thugs who are still in control and continue to wreak havoc on the country. Selfishness, greed, corruption, opportunism, and sycophancy characterize Liberian political leadership, resulting to very serious lack of public confidence. We can only hope that the 2003 elections would not create another stampede for the presidency, where the blind ambitions of individuals would supercede the national interests.
In another development, ALJA will be issuing a statement within a week to announce the date for the holding of an international conference, principally aimed at discussing the affairs of Liberia and the role of the media. The conference is scheduled to be held at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C.
Dated this 20th day of January, 2002
Gabriel I.H. Williams
Isaac D.E. Bantu