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The Role of the International Community

Diplomatic missions, although still few, began to reopen in Liberia. In 2000, there were a dozen or so missions or embassies in Monrovia, including those of Burkina Faso, Egypt, the European Union (E.U.), Ivory Coast, Libya, the Netherlands, Taiwan, and the United States (U.S). Most international donors were wary about giving direct assistance to the Taylor government, conditioning this on improvements in microeconomic reporting, fiscal discipline, and respect for human rights. Most foreign aid was given through international relief organizations or local civil society groups.

The international community remained concerned by evidence of Liberian support for Sierra Leonean rebels by a flow of diamonds-for-arms through Liberia. It focused on pressuring the Taylor government to withdraw its support to the Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which was subject to a U.N. embargo on trafficking in arms and diamonds, its primary source of wealth. The link between the Taylor government and the RUF dated back to the Liberian civil war when Taylor headed the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The NPFL and RUF provided military and other support to each other through the years in a relationship that continued after the election that brought Taylor into office. Charges were subsequently made that the Taylor government was facilitating arms transfers to the RUF in return for Sierra Leonean diamonds. Over the last two years, official annual diamond exports by Sierra Leone dropped to half, to U.S.$30 million. In the same period, diamond exports by Liberia-a country that possesses relatively few diamond fields-rose to U.S.$300 million.

In late July, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering delivered a blunt warning to President Taylor that Liberia would be subjected to sanctions if it did not halt support to the RUF. Several days later, at U.N. Security Council hearings on Sierra Leone diamonds on July 31, the U.S. again threatened sanctions against Liberia and Burkina Faso for illegal diamond and arms trafficking which it said was fueling the war in Sierra Leone. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, stated that the U.S. had evidence showing that President Taylor and senior RUF leaders had personally taken large commissions for facilitating illegal diamond and arms transfers. In October, the U.S. acted on its threats by imposing a visa ban on President Charles Taylor and senior members his government. U.S. President Bill Clinton noted: "[t]he absence of any positive response from the [Taylor] government leaves little choice but to impose these restrictions," and added that the policy would not be reviewed until Liberia ended its support for the RUF.

The E.U. also took a strong stance regarding the Taylor government. In July, following U.K. allegations that President Taylor was selling weapons to the RUF in return for diamonds, the E.U. suspended approximately U.S. $50 million in aid to Liberia as a signal to the Taylor government to cut its support to the rebels in Sierra Leone. The only government that generously gave direct aid to the Liberian government in 2000 was the government of Taiwan, in return for Liberia's diplomatic support at the U.N.

United Nations

The U.N. Department of Political Affairs retained a small U.N. Peace-Building Support Office (UNOL) following the withdrawal of the U.N. observer mission in July 1997, to serve as a focal point and coordinate post-conflict U.N. peace-building activities in Liberia as well as to provide advisory services to the government in defining post-conflict priorities, to raise international funds for Liberia, and to coordinate and liaise between the government and the international community. This unit remained under the leadership of Representative of the Secretary-General Felix Downs-Thomas and maintained a low profile. It was not prominent in raising human rights issues. A U.N. Security Council arms embargo against Liberia since 1992 remained in place, but there was little evidence of its effective enforcement.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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