Background Briefing

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Liberia’s first armed conflict began in 1989 when rebel leader Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) launched a rebellion to unseat then President Samuel K. Doe. The conflict, which lasted from 1989 to 1996, ended with an internationally brokered peace accord that included a general amnesty to all faction fighters. The transition from war to peace envisioned under the accord was never finished due to incomplete implementation of the peace accords, particularly regarding the need to restructure the security forces prior to elections. Instead, the 1997 elections, which Taylor went on to win, were conducted in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation.

As president, Taylor enrolled thousands of fighters from his former faction in the country's police and army, which resulted in continued pillage and human rights abuses and, ultimately, a return to civil war in 1999. During Liberia’s second armed conflict, two rebels groups—the Guinea-backed Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Ivorian-backed Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL)—launched their own bid to unseat President Taylor. In August 2003, as the rebels threatened to take over the capital Monrovia, Taylor was granted political asylum in Nigeria on the condition that he not meddle in the political affairs of Liberia or elsewhere in West Africa.3

In August 2003, Liberia’s warring factions signed an internationally brokered peace agreement in Accra, Ghana. The accord installed a broad-based interim government—the National Transitional Government of Liberia—which was dominated by the country's three former armed factions and tasked with guiding Liberia towards elections in 2005.4  Since August 2003, several factors have contributed to a marked decrease in human rights abuses and political instability and helped establish the conditions for the 2005 elections to take place. These include the departure of Charles Taylor into exile, the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in September 2003, and the subsequent deployment of about 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,000 civilian police to Liberia.

[3] There is debate about the existence of a written agreement detailing the terms of President Taylor’s asylum in Nigeria.  Human Rights Watch was told by a U.S. State Department official on June 9, 2005 that a written asylum agreement exists. The terms of the asylum, including “not meddling in the political affairs of Liberia or West Africa,” are consistently referred to by members of the international community, including the United Nations, the Economic Community of West Africa, and the United States.

[4] The official name of the peace agreement is Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Liberia, Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and political parties (hereafter referred to as the “CPA”). 

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