(New York, November 5, 2003) – The government of Guinea violated the United Nations arms embargo on Liberia and supplied weapons that Liberian rebels used to commit atrocities, Human Rights Watch charged in a briefing paper released today.
“It’s appalling that Guinea — a current member of the Security Council — has flouted the arms embargo on Liberia,” said Lisa Misol, arms researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council must hold Guinea accountable for this major breach.”
The briefing paper, "Weapons Sanctions, Military Supplies, and Human Suffering: Illegal Arms Flows to Liberia and the June-July 2003 Shelling of Monrovia," documents the bloody assault on Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. The Guinea-backed rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), fought forces loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor. In the final offensive in July, LURD indiscriminately shelled civilian areas. Scores of people were killed, and at least 2,000 more — overwhelmingly civilians — were injured.
Human Rights Watch investigated the supply of the mortar rounds fired by LURD, which accounted for many of the casualties, and found that the rebel offensive was possible only because fresh arms supplies arrived through Guinea. Guinea’s Ministry of Defense ordered mortars and other ammunition from Iran and arranged their onward transport to LURD.
“Guinea has blood on its hands,” said Misol. “By supplying munitions to the Liberian rebels, it not only breached an arms embargo, but also became complicit in egregious violations of the laws of war.”
One of the areas of central Monrovia hit worst in the shelling was the U.S. Embassy compound, where thousands of displaced people sought refuge. The U.S. government traced some of the mortar rounds to Guinea, which is a recipient of U.S. military aid. Human Rights Watch called for a suspension of U.S. and other military assistance to Guinea, in light of its longstanding ties to LURD and reports that arms continue to flow across the Guinea border for use by the rebels—despite the embargo.
On Thursday the Security Council will discuss a report by a U.N. panel of experts investigating sanctions-busting in Liberia. The panel repeatedly has raised suspicions about Guinea’s role in the Liberian civil war. In the briefing paper, Human Rights Watch directly implicates Guinea’s Ministry of Defense in illicit arms supplies to Liberia.
The former government of Charles Taylor and a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), both of which like LURD have a dismal human rights record, also were able to obtain weapons despite the arms embargo, often with the help of regional allies. In August a flight carrying an arms shipment for Taylor’s government was intercepted in Monrovia. The seized container was recently opened, and more than 22 tons of small arms and munitions were found.
“The Liberia example shows that arms embargoes are only as good as their enforcement,” Misol noted. “Liberia’s fragile peace depends on a reinvigorated response to sanctions-busting on all sides.”
A peace deal for Liberia was signed in August after Taylor left for exile in Nigeria. A transitional government of national unity took power in Liberia on October 14. The warring factions have committed to disarm, but skirmishes have broken out and the potential for renewed hostilities remains.