October 21, 1991
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On November 28, 1990, Liberia's warring factions signed a cease-fire agreement, theoretically ending 11 months of fighting that had ravaged the country.1 Although the widespread killing and brutality associated with the civil war have largely subsided,2 an Africa Watch investigative mission3 found that human rights violations against the civilian population persist, ranging from extrajudicial executions and torture to tight restrictions on freedom of movement and intolerance of dissent. Most of the abuses occur in the 90 percent of the country controlled by Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), but civilians are also victimized by the two other armed factions: Prince Johnson's break-away rebel group, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL); and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), former President Doe's army. The country remains divided among these three armed factions and the ECOMOG peacekeeping force.4 Only the interim government led by Amos Sawyer, which governs Monrovia but has no army, has not been responsible for human rights abuses.5
Africa Watch's findings include the following:
Liberia's conflict threatens the stability of the entire West African region. It has already spilled over into neighboring countries in the form of some 750,000 refugees -- a third of Liberia's pre-war population -- who have fled to Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Ghana, among other countries. Combat has been waged recently on the Sierra Leone border between the NPFL and the Sierra Leone military, which is aided by a Krahn-based Liberian resistance group called ULIMO (the United Liberation Movement of Liberia). Until recently, there was also fighting between the NPFL and Krahn fighters in Grand Gedeh, near the Ivory Coast, whose government is fearful of armed attacks extending to its territory. In several areas, the possibility of a new round of ethnic warfare and brutality remains quite real.
In September 1991, hopes were raised that peace may finally come to Liberia, and that free and fair elections would be allowed to take place. There is a danger, however, that if hopes for peace are allowed to overshadow concerns about human rights, the cycle of abuse will be doomed to repeat itself. Compliance with internationally recognized human rights standards must be an integral part of any eventual peace agreement.
The November cease-fire, signed in Bamako, was an important step in the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) initiative to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table. In Bamako, the 15 African heads of state who make up ECOWAS met with the three sides to the conflict -- the NPFL, the INPFL and the AFL.8 Prior to the Bamako meeting, Taylor had refused to participate in peace talks. The Bamako agreement was based on an ECOWAS peace plan that had been worked out by the ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee.9 The peace plan called negotiating an immediate cease-fire; organizing a meeting of political parties, interest groups and the warring factions to establish a broad-based interim government; and holding of free and fair elections under international supervision. The leaders of the warring factions were excluded from heading the interim government, and the interim president would be ineligible to run for president in the ensuing general elections.
The Bamako summit was followed on December 21 by a meeting in Banjul, the Gambia. At the conclusion of the talks, a joint statement was issued by the three warring parties announcing that an All Liberia Conference would be held within 60 days to form an interim government, at which point "said government take appropriate measures, with the assistance of ECOWAS, to begin disarming the warring parties."
The conference was not organized in the 60-day period, but it was decided at a February 1991 meeting in Lomé, Togo, that the conference would begin in Monrovia on March 15. However, Taylor distanced himself from the Lomé agreement by stating that he did not agree with all aspects of the final communique -- especially the decision to exclude the leaders of the warring groups from becoming interim president, despite the fact that this provision had been part of the November Bamako agreement.
Taylor also did not attend the All Liberia Conference in March 1991, citing fears for his security.10 An NPFL delegation went to the conference, but walked out a week later. The subsequent election of Amos Sawyer11 as president of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU) at the conclusion of the conference in April was conducted without the participation of the NPFL, which refused to recognize the legitimacy of the IGNU.
A series of meetings have since been held in Yamoussoukro, in the Ivory Coast. The meetings have focused on the question of elections, not only election logistics but also the need to disarm all warring factions and to confine them to their bases. At this writing, three such meetings have taken place in 1991 -- in June, July and September.
On September 17, the most recent Yamoussoukro meeting, Taylor agreed to disarm his troops under the supervision of an expanded peacekeeping force and to confine his fighters ("encamp" them) as part of the ongoing peace process. Taylor made his commitment to ECOMOG,12 provided that the composition of the contingent was changed to add troops from Senegal and reduce the Nigerian contingency. Until then, Nigerians had made up approximately 80 percent of the ECOMOG force, and Taylor has always considered them to be particularly hostile to the NPFL. The entry of Senegal13 is also important because the Francophone countries have been more supportive of Taylor. Meanwhile, a committee of West African states has been formed to help organize elections, which are due to take place in six to nine months.
In Grand Gedeh county -- the province of former President Doe and his ethnic group, the Krahn -- fighting was continuing between the NPFL and a Krahn resistance movement at least as recently as late July. Although NPFL authorities deny that there has been any fighting, more than 10,000 refugees fled to the area around Tai in the Ivory Coast between mid-July and early August.14 This latest wave of refugees from Grand Gedeh joined the 24,980 refugees15 who had already sought refuge in villages around Tai.
By all accounts, Grand Gedeh has been devastated by the fighting. A relief worker who was able to visit Grand Gedeh was stunned by the evidence of destruction and killing.
Testimonies given by the refugees indicate that the fighting in Grand Gedeh bore many of the hallmarks of last year's war, with the civilians terrorized by indiscriminate killings, house-to-house searches for Krahns and Mandingos (who are accused of having collaborated with the Doe regime), burning of villages and widespread looting.
The refugees, many still traumatized by their escape from Grand Gedeh just hours or days earlier, provided Africa Watch with details of the brutality of the offensive. The principal targets were the Krahn and Mandingo people. According to Obed, a Krahn student who fled on July 19:
Gbala, a 30-year-old woman, left Grand Gedeh in late July because of the NPFL attack.
A Krahn clan chief who arrived in Ivory Coast on June 10 explained why he left Liberia:
In June, a woman named Betty Kanah called the BBC in London to report on the fighting in Grand Gedeh.
The NPFL practice of searching for Krahn and Mandingo was discussed by Jackson, a 30-year-old Mandingo who had been recruited by the NPFL after his capture in September 1990.
In general, the two sides fighting in Grand Gedeh have executed captured combatants rather than taking them as prisoners of war. However, numerous refugees reported that the NPFL has seized civilians, usually women and children.
The following cases were reported to Africa Watch:
Saye, a 21-year-old Krahn from Zia Town, arrived in Ivory Coast in late July. He explained what happened to him after his capture by the NPFL:
Access to Grand Gedeh is virtually impossible, making it difficult to gather information about abuses being committed by the remaining Krahn forces. The composition of these forces is not known: many were formerly soldiers in the AFL, but others appear to be civilians who have formed ad hoc civil defense units. They, too, have been accused of serious abuses.
Thomas, 20 years old, fought with the Krahn forces in Grand Gedeh. He told Africa Watch that the Krahn forces rarely took prisoners:
Betty, the Krahn woman who called the BBC to report on the fighting, also discussed the armed resistance to Taylor:
When asked whether the NPFL fighters found by the Krahns are killed, she said: "Of course! If you come to kill me, I can surely kill you, too."
Since members of other ethnic groups living in the area are often suspected of being Krahn or Mandingo, some of them have also reportedly taken up arms. A woman interviewed by The Guardian in June stated that:
Incidences of arbitrary arrest and restrictions on civilians' movements are particularly evident at checkpoints when civilians attempt to travel to or from NPFL territory: to move between Monrovia and the interior of the country, a special pass must be obtained from the NPFL. Liberians civilians have a particularly difficult time obtaining these passes. Taylor's tight control over movement to or from his territory has led to accusations that he is holding the civilian population hostage.
The interim government in Monrovia does not require Liberians to have passes to enter or leave the capital, so anyone can theoretically come to the city. NPFL authorities permit their fighters to travel freely to Monrovia -- which they often do, although they must come unarmed.
Many civilians attempting to travel to Monrovia complained of beatings, detention and harassment by fighters. Some have been forced to turn back. A 38-year-old man from Cape Mount described what happened the first time he tried to leave NPFL territory:
M., a Liberian professional who had lived in Monrovia since 1956 but was caught behind Taylor lines in the war, managed to get himself and his family to Monrovia in July. He described the abuse that civilians face at the checkpoints and his own efforts to reach Monrovia:
Out of desperation, some Liberians attempt to make it to Monrovia on bush roads; others arrange to pay fighters significant sums of money to take them on these roads. Both options present serious risks: without a fighter "escort," civilians run the danger of being caught; with an "escort," there is always a chance that they will be turned in and accused of spying for the "enemy."
The following cases were reported to Africa Watch:
James, an economist who arrived in Monrovia on July 17, said he had managed to avoid the fighters while he lived in NPFL territory by staying on a small rice farm. Otherwise, the local people were harassed by the fighters, who took their property and food, and made them carry loads. He went on:
Without any semblance of the rule of law, civilians often fall prey to arbitrary abuses by the fighters, many of whom are young, undisciplined and unpaid. Among the many cases witnessed by and reported to Africa Watch are the following:
In late March, the NPFL began an incursion into Sierra Leone. Many Liberians who had crossed into Sierra Leone in July 1990 to escape the war in Liberia were again compelled to flee for safety. Several thousand -- reports indicate at least 3,000 -- went to Dier island, at the mouth of a river leading to the ocean, and then on to Sulima Island, an island between Sierra Leone and Liberia. They were largely Fanti fishermen, originally from Ghana, who had lived in Cape Mount before seeking refuge in Sierra Leone.39
Some Fanti in Monrovia approached the interim government about the refugees stranded on the island, pointing out that they were in need of medical care, food and water, and were exposed to the danger of attack by the NPFL. The interim government agreed to supply gas for some fishing vessels -- special Fanti canoes -- which could go to the island and ferry the refugees out. The convoy went to the island, and two canoes were sent in -- but never came back. The convoy saw people on the island setting up machine gun posts, and went back to Monrovia.
Two days later, one of the canoes was released with a ransom note to the interim government: the commandos wanted U.S. $1,500 for each of the eight captured crew members; $6,500 for each of the two canoes; 20 bags of rice; one carton of sugar; one carton of mackerel; one carton of sardines; six bottles of Gordon's gin; and 20 cartons of cigarettes.
Before a part of the ransom could be collected and sent to the island, the NPFL had shot three of the captured crew members and severely damaged one of the canoes. It was reported, although Africa Watch has been unable to confirm this independently, that some 20 other Fanti people were also killed at that time on the island. The Fanti who brought the ransom food and money were themselves arrested, subjected to "tabey" and beaten, but later released.
Dissent is not tolerated in NPFL territory, creating fear and uncertainty among the civilian population. Open criticism of Charles Taylor or the NPFL fighters is dangerous, and only one newspaper, The Patriot, is allowed to publish. According to Archbishop Michael K. Francis: "You are not allowed to speak freely. No one dares to speak up. The thing is, the gun is there, young fellows with guns."40 Personal letters are also frequently confiscated by fighters at checkpoints.
Time and again, civilians expressed fear of the fighters. A man from Bong County who travels back and forth into Nimba County commented:
In Kakata, a Kpelle man discussed why people are afraid to criticize the NPFL:
Civilians who have spoken out have suffered reprisals. Manny, who arrived in Monrovia in late July, described what happened to a friend of his who criticized Taylor.
The following incidences were reported to Africa Watch:
In March, ECOMOG conducted its first in a series of confidence visits into Taylor territory. The visits were seen as a first step toward opening the roads and ports throughout the country. Visits were conducted to Prince Johnson's base and AFL positions as well. In some areas of the interior, ECOMOG was greeted warmly by the local population. Afterwards, a number of people were accused of being overly enthusiastic and suffered reprisals.
In July, about 16 Liberian journalists from Monrovia were invited by Taylor to visit the interior. The journalists were prevented from interviewing civilians along the way and were themselves harassed by NPFL fighters. Describing the experience in The Inquirer, a leading independent newspaper in Monrovia, T. Budu Kaisa wrote:
After ECOMOG's arrival in Monrovia in late August 1990, nationals from the countries participating in the contingent -- Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Gambia -- were targeted by the NPFL. Taylor publicly threatened to kill civilians from countries participating in ECOMOG.
Many of these foreign nationals had lived in Liberia for years, and sometimes decades. Hundreds -- if not thousands -- were rounded in late August and early September 1990 and sent to detention camps in the interior, allegedly for their own protection. An unknown number of the men -- at least scores and possibly hundreds -- were killed by the NPFL in August and September.
In March 1991, Taylor announced that the foreign nationals were to be freed. Efforts are currently underway to repatriate them to their countries of origin. Many, however, want to go back "home" to Monrovia, not Lagos or Accra. Like Liberian civilians, they are finding it very difficult to get a pass to Monrovia. Since most of their money and belonging were taken during their detention, they do not have the means either to pay fighters to take them on the bush roads, or to pay the inevitable bribes at the checkpoints.
There were three principal detention centers: the Slokum Mission and the Saa Philip Joe Mission, both on the outskirts of Kakata; and the Flamingo Logging Camp, in Grand Bassa county.
In interviews with Africa Watch, West Africans who remain at Saa Philip Joe Mission49 stated that there had been close to 400 detainees, and about 76 remain. Of those who left, some were repatriated, but most either went to Kakata or Monrovia, via the bush roads. During their detention, they were not permitted to leave the camp, and were severely flogged and sometimes jailed for short periods if they tried to do so. Overcrowding was also a serious problem. The male detainees were forced to work for their guards, doing such tasks as cutting the grass and cleaning. Children were also forced to cook, make the fires, do the washing and fetch water.
G., a Ghanaian who had lived in Liberia for 10 years, explained why he and the others remained at Saa Philip Joe Mission:
Similar conditions prevailed at Slokum mission. There had been over 1,000 held there -- some 700 Nigerians, 200 Ghanaians, about 25 Sierra Leoneans, and some Guineans. While most have relocated, almost 40 remain. They reported that many of them had tried to escape, but none had been successful. Before the releases, overcrowding had been a serious problem, with some 108 people sleeping on the floor of a church. "In some places, more than 200 people had to sleep," a Ghanaian woman commented. "You could barely open the door."51 A Nigerian journalist who was brought to Slokum in September 1990 explained: "We have been kept here. They took all our clothes, everything we had. Except our lives."52
J., a Ghanaian student whose father and three brothers were taken in August 1990 by Taylor's forces and never heard from again, explained:
T., formerly a teacher's assistant in Monrovia, described the punishment which many of the detainees suffered:
Mike, a Nigerian who had lived in Liberia for 18 years, was taken from the Nigerian Embassy in Monrovia on August 26, along with 1,800 other foreign nationals.
In late August 1991, it was reported that a spokesman for the Liberian Red Cross announced that Taylor had agreed to free 800 West African nationals, and that arrangements were being made for them to be repatriated. Taylor has refused to allow them to leave via Monrovia; instead, they are to leave by road to the Ivory Coast or out of the port of Buchanan.56
Other groups mistaken for Krahn or Mandingo have also been targeted in NPFL territory, particularly the Grebo and the Vai. Anyone who served or cooperated with the Doe government is also liable to suffer abuse.
The Grebos are in a particularly difficult situation. Since many are from Grand Gedeh, the NPFL assumes they are Krahn. The Krahn, on the other hand, believing that the Grebo collaborated with the NPFL, view them with hostility. John, a Grebo who left Liberia for the Ivory Coast in April 1991, explained: "Once the Taylor groups sees on your card that you're from Grand Gedeh, they assume that you are Krahn." He continued:
Frederick, a 27-year-old Grebo, told Africa Watch that he had tried to travel to Monrovia on two different occasions and was sent back both times:
The majority of the Vai people are Muslim, like the Mandingos, and are sometimes mistaken for Mandingo. During the war, the Mandingos, who were accused of having collaborated with the Doe regime, were hunted down and killed by the NPFL. Hundreds died and thousands fled the country.
Although Charles Taylor is reported to have given assurances to the Muslim community in February, many Muslims continue to fear reprisals from the NPFL. A Vai woman told Africa Watch:
Another Vai man interviewed by Africa Watch stated:
According to a man who travels frequently in Taylor territory:
The simple fact of being related to a former official of the Doe regime has been used as a pretext to threaten, arrest or mistreat civilians. A relief worker noted:
There are also concerns for the families of those with positions in the interim government. The family of at least one official has been threatened by NPFL fighters, including threats to burn their town. In March, the official received a letter from his family that stated: "we are living in the shadow of death because of you."63 Some relatives of interim government officials have changed their names to hide their identity.
Various sources pointed to the case of Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, National Chairman for United Nimba Citizens in America, as a reason for fearing such repercussions. In September and October 1990, Weh-Dorliae was interviewed on foreign radio programs, including the BBC, and expressed support for the interim government and criticized Taylor. Later in October, his home village in Nimba County, Mehnla, was partially burned down by the NPFL. In March 1991, when Weh-Dorliae returned to Monrovia for the All Liberia Conference, his village was attacked again. His brother, John, who had been detained by the NPFL from approximately October 1990 until April 1991, has been threatened with reprisals if his brother continues to speak out. As a result, Weh-Dorliae has decided not to make further public statements.64
An educator from Nimba County, a Mano, who left Liberia in May 1991 out of fear for his security, commented on the situation faced by former officials.
There is no adequate system in place for civilians to lodge complaints against NPFL fighters. Despite recent statements by NPFL officials promising to discipline fighters, most people continue to be afraid of repercussions if they complain. In addition, there is a general sense that complaints are futile, since those responsible for investigating the complaints are themselves often implicated in the problem.
However, there are some signs that NPFL authorities are sometimes willing to listen to complaints.
There have been some instances in which notoriously abusive commanders have been replaced. In the first few months of 1991, for example, the commander of Harper was replaced.68 Similarly, a middle-level commander in Bomi named Kuttor was replaced in July after international nongovernmental organizations complained to Taylor about the commander's repeated harassment of their relief convoys.69 On the whole, however, civilians behind Taylor lines do not feel confident that abusive officials are being sufficiently disciplined. On the occasions when action is taken, it is usually against a middle-level fighter, not the senior commanders.
A Kpelle man who travels between Ivory Coast and Nimba County explained that the lack of a chain of command contributed to the confusion. If a civilian decides to lodge a complaint, it is often difficult to know who to approach.
Africa Watch has heard many reports about special problems faced by women, particularly rape. Information about specific cases is difficult to obtain, because the shame associated with rape makes it difficult for women to talk about their experiences. Even their relatives have trouble finding out what happened. One man interviewed by Africa Watch said that his cousin, a woman named Della, was picked up by NPFL fighters in late July on her way from the market, and was forced to spend three days with a fighter before she finally escaped. "When I asked her what happened, she would just cry and wouldn't want to discuss it."71
In some areas of the interior, reports indicate that young women ask doctors to admit them to the hospital to get them out of situations where they are being forced to have sexual relations with fighters. Fighters also often harass women to extort sexual favors, according to a number of relief workers interviewed by Africa Watch.
Prince Johnson's INPFL, which controls only its base in Caldwell, is responsible for cases of killings, arbitrary arrest and physical abuse of civilians, including women in the vicinity. Prince Johnson is not accountable to any other authority; there are no procedures in place for bringing him to justice. The interim government, lacking any troops, is effectively powerless to intervene since its authority is not recognized by Johnson. Johnson himself has been variously described as erratic, mentally unstable and psychotic. He has set up his own checkpoints to guard his base and often institutes a curfew in Caldwell.
It was Johnson who first broke the cease-fire: within days of the agreement, Johnson sent his fighters to attack the AFL at the Ministry of Defense, killing five soldiers and capturing a lieutenant. Johnson was quoted as saying:
Johnson is responsible for a number of cases of summary executions at his base in Caldwell, including the following:
It is difficult to confirm reports of other recent executions in Caldwell, but Africa Watch has been told of the following cases:
In February 1991, a five-man committee, known as the Wise Men, was established to mediate between the interim government and Johnson, who they believed had to be brought into the peace process. All were members of the Interim Assembly of the Interim Government. The chair of the committee was A.T. Nah, and the other members were Johnson Gwaikolo, Ishmael Campbell, J. Khankon Toe and Henry K. Marvie.
A meeting finally took place in February at the Ducor Hotel between Johnson and his lieutenants, and members of the interim government, including President Sawyer. When Johnson was ready to leave, as a goodwill gesture, he suggested that the Wise Men escort him back to his base, rather than the usual ECOMOG escort. They agreed and, soon after arriving at the base, the five men were taken hostage and subjected to abusive and humiliating treatment. Henry Marvie told Africa Watch what happened:
No investigation or prosecution was ever launched.
Civilians living in Caldwell are also subject to Johnson's erratic and abusive behavior. One man who had lived in Caldwell from October 1990 until late July 1991 told Africa Watch that he had fled because the tension was too great.
Many observers have expressed concern about the orphanage on Johnson's base, which houses about 172 children. Visitors to the orphanage have reported that the children were recently moved to a smaller building which is overcrowded and surrounded by barbed wire and guards. According to a visitor: "The children are very withdrawn, they don't react like normal children -- they're not inquisitive, open or cooperative."85 Johnson does not allow the orphans to go to school in Monrovia, claiming that they would be kidnapped.
According to both Liberian and foreign relief workers, Johnson is using the children as human shields. "As long as they're there, nobody will attack his camp," one relief worker noted.86
In many respects, Johnson's orphanage is a military operation. Credible reports indicate that Johnson conducts periodic recruitment campaigns in the orphanage, and that all the children over 14 years old enlist.
Until early 1991, Johnson repeatedly showed the children a video made by the INPFL of the interrogation, torture and murder of former President Doe. The video was widely described as horrific.
The Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) remains on its base at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia and at Camp Schiefflin, just outside the city. The Army, which is dominated by Krahn, was closely associated with Doe's reign of terror. Civilians in Monrovia and Taylor territory are particularly fearful of these soldiers, and rumors are rife in both areas of Krahn soldiers conducting secret executions and terrorizing the population.
Because of the AFL's past conduct, the general population is extremely mistrustful of its soldiers. Most Liberians agree that the composition of the army must be changed to reflect the national character and its range of ethnic groups. However, the question then arises as to what will happen to the current Krahn soldiers. One observer noted:
Although many accounts are difficult to confirm, soldiers are alleged to have been involved in looting, beatings and general harassment of civilians. Among the incidents documented by Africa Watch are the following:
Soldiers are also illegally occupying homes in Monrovia, particularly in the Sinkor area. The AFL presence in Sinkor, and the absence of electricity, makes it particularly dangerous at night.
On July 21, 1991, the AFL established a board of inquiry to investigate allegations that AFL soldiers were harassing of civilians. According to General Hezekiah Bowen, commander-in-chief of the AFL, the board will be led by AFL Inspector-General Willie Dennis and will include two members of the ECOMOG peacekeeping force.90
Recently, it was reported that Lt. Henry Shar, an army officer, had been "dishonorably discharged" from the AFL for alleged looting, and that the Justice Ministry will prosecute him.91
The civil war forced more than 750,000 Liberians to flee the country; most have sought refuge in neighboring countries.92 According to the U.S. State Department's Refugee Bureau,93 as of July 1991 there were an estimated 227,500 Liberians in the Ivory Coast, 342,000 in Guinea,94 6,000 in Ghana, and smaller numbers in Nigeria, Gambia and Mali. There had been some 125,000 Liberians in Sierra Leone, but the recent incursion reduced that number to 10,000. Liberians continue to leave their country because of continuing insecurity, though in much smaller numbers.
Until recently, Liberians refugees were not turned back from neighboring countries and in most cases, they were welcomed by the local population. There are no refugee camps in Guinea or the Ivory Coast, and the refugees often live in local villages, (in some cases Liberians now outnumber the original inhabitants of the village). However, the Ivory Coast government is becoming stricter about new arrivals: most Liberians who come to the Ivory Coast now are considered "tourists," with the exception of those who are fleeing actual combat, such as those who escaped Grand Gedeh in July. This policy is linked to the government's efforts to reduce the number of refugees eligible for assistance, which they contend was inflated due to widespread fraud, while raising the level of rations offered to refugees.95 The government is also trying to encourage as many refugees as possible to return home. Under the new policy, many of the recent arrivals are not eligible for assistance in the Ivory Coast. A relief worker in Danane explained the effect of this policy on the refugees:
However, officials in the Ivory Coast are not using force to persuade the refugees to leave. An official in Danane expressed some of the government's ongoing concerns:
According to a number of people interviewed in Danane,98 a disturbing incident took place in early July. The interim government sent representatives to Danane to collect names of those who wanted to be repatriated to Monrovia. The authorities in Danane asked for the list, which contained 1,500 names, and reportedly gave a copy to Taylor. All those on the list are now afraid to return to Liberia.
Some refugees cross back and forth across the border, particularly around the areas of Danane and Tabou in the Ivory Coast. A number of refugees interviewed by Africa Watch around Danane said they go back to their villages and farms in Nimba County, but leave their families in Ivory Coast. A young Gio woman who left her home in Nimba County in June explained the fear that keeps refugees from returning home:
Liberians continue to leave their country in search of security and food. A refugee worker in Danane discussed why Liberians continue to leave:
The question of repatriating the hundreds of thousands of refugees who wish to return to Liberia will be an important issue in the pre-electoral period. However, any repatriation effort must take into account the security needs of the refugees, so they are able to resettle on their farms and villages and secure a productive life.
The U.S. does not recognize any government in Liberia, neither the interim government of Amos Sawyer, nor the administration of Charles Taylor. It maintains a policy of neutrality, and endeavors to maintain ties with all factions. The justification for this position is that the United States recognizes countries, not governments, and that the American Ambassador will present his credentials only to a unified government that has been chosen through free and fair elections.101 This position surprises many Liberians, who argue that the interim government was duly elected in the All Liberia Conference in March-April 1991.
Paralleling the U.S. policy of "neutrality" is the alarming U.S. silence in the face of continuing human rights abuses. In testimony on July 16, 1991, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen, barely mentioned human rights violations in discussing Liberia. The only comment in his testimony that touched on the subject was the following: "Most tragically, horrific human rights abuses have been perpetrated by the combatants on the civilian population of all ages and ethnic groups."102 American Embassy representatives in Monrovia are taking a similar "hands-off" approach to human rights abuses.
The Bush Administration has been trying to dismiss Liberia as a mess, calling for "an African solution to an African problem." This contrasts markedly with the past U.S. policy of supporting the cruel and corrupt regime of President Doe, while minimizing his government's egregious human rights abuses. During most of the 1980s, the Reagan and Bush Administrations spent half a billion dollars in foreign aid for Liberia, making it the largest recipient of U.S. aid in sub-Saharan Africa. The massive infusion of American money served to prop up Doe's regime, despite the overwhelming evidence that Doe was vicious, unreliable and had no intention of keeping his promises about instituting democracy. Blaine Harden, a former Washington Post correspondent in Africa who covered Liberia in the mid-1980s, discussed the U.S. relations with Doe.
This close association with the Doe regime should have dictated a close involvement with post-Doe Liberia. Instead, the United States has done a complete about-face, and Liberia is now considered virtually irrelevant to the U.S. This shift, and the accompanying silence about ongoing human rights abuses, is bewildering to many Liberians.
An editorial in The Washington Post pointed out this shift in U.S. policy:
To its credit, the U.S. has been the largest donor to the Liberian relief effort, providing more than 60 percent of the international contribution. According to a State Department document published in July, U.S. assistance has totaled $131.8 million, including: $112.1 million in food for peace; $12 million for refugee programs in the neighboring countries; $4.8 million in A.I.D. grants to international organizations and private relief groups; and $2.8 million in Economic Support Funds to assist ECOMOG's humanitarian assistance activities.105
The U.S. has a special responsibility toward Liberia, given both the long-standing historical ties and the role played by the U.S. in setting the stage for the current crisis. Part of this responsibility involves increasing international attention to the human rights situation: European governments and international agencies have long regarded Liberia as a "U.S. problem," and look to the U.S. to take the lead in focusing world attention to Liberia's plight. Referring to U.S. policy on Liberia, President Amos Sawyer expressed the hope of many of his countrymen when he stated: "It's not often that one gets a second chance."106
Many Liberians are pinning their hopes on elections -- under international supervision -- as the only possible solution to the current political and military stalemate. However, meaningful elections cannot take place until citizens are free from fear of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, physical abuse and general harassment. A key step in this process is disarming and "encamping" the various armed forces. But none of the parties to the conflict will disarm while they feel vulnerable. A process must be devised to ensure the security of the combatant forces, while guaranteeing the safety of the civilian population. The international community has a clear role to play in breaking this stalemate and paving the way for free and fair elections.
In addition, Africa Watch believes that accountability for past abuses of human rights should be a goal of the new government of Liberia if it seeks to promote respect for human rights. This should be pursued regardless of whether the perpetrators of such abuses are members of the current government, the armed forces, the Doe government or the insurgent factions.
Africa Watch calls on all combatant forces, particularly the NPFL and the INPFL, to:
In addition, Africa Watch calls on the international community, notably the United States, to:
Africa Watch is a nongovernmental organization created in May 1988 to monitor human rights practices in Africa and to promote respect for internationally recognized standards. Its Chair is William Carmichael; its Vice Chair is Alice Brown; its Executive Director is Rakiya Omaar; its Associate Director is Alex de Waal; its Research Associates are Janet Fleischman and Karen Sorensen; its Associates are Ben Penglase and Urmi Shah.
Africa Watch is part of Human Rights Watch, an organization that comprises Americas Watch, Asia Watch, Helsinki Watch and Middle East Watch. The Chair of Human Rights Watch is Robert L. Bernstein and the Vice Chair is Adrian DeWind. Aryeh Neier is Executive Director of Human Rights Watch; Ken Roth is Deputy Director; Holly Burkhalter is Washington Director; Susan Osnos is Press Director.
1 The ceasefire was broken within days of the agreement, when Prince Johnson attacked the AFL. Nevertheless, the cease-fire largely held in Monrovia and most of the interior during 1991, except for NPFL military actions in Grand Gedeh and along the Sierra Leone border.
2 See also: Africa Watch, Liberia: Flight From Terror, Testimony of Abuses in Nimba County, May 1990; and "Liberia: A Human Rights Disaster: Violations of the Laws of War by All Parties to the Conflict," October 26, 1990.
3 The mission was conducted in August 1991 by Janet Fleischman, research associate of Africa Watch. She traveled to Liberia, visiting both Monrovia and NPFL-controlled territory, and to refugee areas in the Ivory Coast.
4 ECOMOG, or the Economic Community Monitoring group, comprises five countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. They entered Liberia as a peace-keeping force on August 24, 1990, but soon took on an offensive role against Charles Taylor's NPFL. The purpose of ECOMOG was to neutralize Taylor's troops, install the interim government and organize free elections.
5 Even the ECOMOG peacekeeping force was accused of abuses during the war. Concerns about ECOMOG centered on its bombing of heavily populated civilian areas and abuses by its soldiers, including looting and harassment of civilians.
6 Young fighters are quite common in NPFL territory. Africa Watch saw armed fighters at checkpoints who were no more than 10-12 years old; relief workers who travel around the interior have reported seeing fighters as young as 6.
7 President Doe, an ethnic Krahn, had surrounded himself with members of his own ethnic group, providing economic and educational opportunities for them at the expense of the rest of the population, and permitting Krahn military and police to commit egregious abuses against civilians. Doe's government was particularly hostile toward the Mano and Gio ethnic groups, because of an abortive coup attempt in 1985, led by Thomas Qwiwonkpa, a former general from Nimba county who was a Gio. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Doe's soldiers engaged in bloody reprisals against real and suspected opponents, targeting mostly Gios and Manos. These events helped set the stage for Taylor's December 1989 attack in Nimba County, and the subsequent brutality of the Liberian army's counterinsurgency campaign, which targeted Gios and Manos.
8 Amos Sawyer was also in Bamako, but the interim government was not a party to the agreement.
9 In early August, a meeting was held in Banjul at which the peace plan was elaborated. A Standing Mediation committee had been formed earlier in 1991, composed of the heads of state of the Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Togo and Mali.
10 Taylor's security concerns were not wholly unjustified. In September 1990 when former President Doe left his heavily guarded mansion, he was captured and tortured to death by Prince Johnson. Representatives of both the Nigerian and Togolese governments made special trips to Taylor's headquarters in Gbarnga to assure him that they would guarantee his security in Monrovia, but to no avail.
11 Sawyer had been chosen to head the first interim government in late August 1990 at a meeting of Liberian groups in Banjul; Taylor did not participate in that meeting for reasons that remain unclear. The interim government was installed in Monrovia in mid-November, just before the Bamako summit.
12 Press reports indicate that Prince Johnson has refused to disarm his fighters as long as he is excluded from the peace process.
13 The Bush administration deserves credit for encouraging Senegal to join ECOMOG. President Bush met with Senegalese President Abdou Diouf in Washington in September and committed the United States to support the Senegalese troops.
14 According to a census carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 10,077 new refugees arrived in Tai between July 15 and early August.
15 Figure from Africa Watch interview with Fofana Braihima, Sous Préfet of Tai, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
16 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
17 Africa Watch interview in Daobly, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
18 Africa Watch interview in Daobly, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
19 Africa Watch interview in Tai, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
20 "Witness Views Taylor-Led Attacks, Libyan Role," BBC World Service, Focus on Africa Program, June 6, 1991. Reprinted in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, June 11, 1991.
21 Africa Watch interview in Tai, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
22 Africa Watch interview in Daobly, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
23 Africa Watch interview in Ponan, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
24 Africa Watch interview in Ponan, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
25 Africa Watch interview in Tai, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
26 Africa Watch interview in Tai, Ivory Coast, August 15, 1991.
27 "Witness Views Taylor-Led Attacks, Libyan Role," BBC World Service, Focus on Africa Program, June 6, 1991. Reprinted in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, June 11, 1991.
28 Mark Hubband, "Bloodshed goes on for Liberians," The Guardian, June 6, 1991.
29 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
30 It is fairly common for NPFL fighters to charge civilians with "reconnaissance," a blanket charge that means they are suspected of spying on the NPFL, usually in the service of ECOMOG.
31 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 23, 1991.
32 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 23, 1991.
33 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
34 "Tabey" is a form of torture frequently used by the NPFL. It involves tying the hands and elbows of the victim behind his back in such a way as to force the chest to protrude. It causes considerable pain and can result in nerve damage and paralysis of the hands.
35 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 23, 1991.
36 Africa Watch interview in Kakata, Liberia, August 22, 1991.
37 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
38 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 21, 1991.
39 Africa Watch interview with James Holder, Minister of Commerce in the Interim Government, August 18, 1991; and interview with two Fanti fisherman involved in the rescue, Monrovia, Liberia, August 18, 1991.
40 Africa Watch interview with Archbishop Michael Francis, Monrovia, Liberia, August 21, 1991.
41 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
42 Africa Watch interview in Kakata, Liberia, August 22, 1991.
43 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 21, 1991.
44 Africa Watch interview in Kakata, Liberia, August 22, 1991.
45 Africa Watch interview in Kakata, Liberia, August 22, 1991.
46 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 21, 1991.
47 Africa Watch interview in Kakata, Liberia, August 22, 1991.
48 T. Budu Kaisa, "Inside Taylor's Camp," The Inquirer, July 12, 1991.
49 Africa Watch interviews at Saa Philip Joe Mission, August 22, 1991.
50 Africa Watch interview at Saa Philip Joe Mission, August 22, 1991.
51 Africa Watch interview at Slokum Mission, August 22, 1991.
52 Africa Watch interview at Slokum Mission, August 22, 1991.
53 Africa Watch interview at Slokum Mission, August 22, 1991.
54 Africa Watch interview at Slokum Mission, August 22, 1991.
55 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 21, 1991.
56 Klon Hinneh, "Taylor Says He'll Free 800 Foreign Nationals," Associated Press, August 29, 1991.
57 Africa Watch interview in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 16, 1991.
58 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 18, 1991.
59 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
60 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
61 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
62 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 13, 1991.
63 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
64 Africa Watch telephone interview with Yarsuo Weh-Dorliae, National Chairman for United Nimba Citizens in America, October 9, 1991.
65 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
66 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
67 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
68 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 17, 1991.
69 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 17, 1991.
70 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
71 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
72 "Cease-fire 'Short-Lived'; Johnson Attacks," BBC World Service, Focus on Africa Program, November 30, 1990, reprinted in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, December 3, 1990.
73 Africa Watch telephone interview with Gabriel Williams, editor of The Inquirer newspaper in Monrovia, October 4, 1991.
74 Africa Watch telephone interview with Gabriel Williams, editor of The Inquirer newspaper in Monrovia, October 4, 1991.
75 Liberia: Johnson on Killings at Caldwell: Alleges 'Plot' By Minister and Others," AFP, October 8, 1991, reprinted in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, October 10, 1991.
76 Klon Hinneh, "Rebel Leader Executes Loyalists for 'Betrayal,' Robbery," The Associated Press, August 1, 1991.
77 "Liberia: INPFL Still in Peace Plan: Executions Confirmed," Radio ELBC, August 2, 1991, printed in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, August 5, 1991.
78 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 18, 1991.
79 "INPFL Executions," West Africa, 12-18 August, 1991, p. 1336.
80 "Interim Vice President's Resignation Accepted," Monrovia Radio ELBC, August 14, 1991. Reprinted in FBIS August 15, 1991.
81 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
82 "Vengeance Killing," West Africa, 25 February-3 March, 1991, p. 275.
83 Africa Watch interview with Henry K. Marvie in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
84 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 20, 1991.
85 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 18, 1991.
86 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 18, 1991.
87 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 19, 1991.
88 "Liberia: paper reports cabinet minister flogged by armed men," AFP July 16, 1991. Reprinted in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, July 18, 1991.
89 Africa Watch interview in Monrovia, Liberia, August 23, 1991.
90 "Liberia: Army to Investigate Cases of Civilian Harassment," AFP, July 22, 1991, printed in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, July 24, 1991.
91 "Civilian Harassment," West Africa, 5-11 August, 1991, p. 1295.
92 There are also hundreds of thousands of displaced persons within the country. Monrovia has swollen to almost double its pre-war size. Current estimates put the population of Monrovia at 800,000.
93 Testimony of Princeton N. Lyman, Director of the Bureau for Refugee Affairs, before the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, July 16, 1991.
94 The UNHCR estimates that an additional 100,000 refugees have entered Guinea from Sierra Leone, making the total number of refugees over 400,000.
95 In fact, the rations are being returned to their previous levels. The refugees are now entitled to 9.5 kilos of rice per person per month, up from 5 kilos. In May 1991, the rations had been decreased to 5 kilos.
96 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 13, 1991.
97 Africa Watch interview with Dibonan Koné, secrétaire général de la préfecture de Danane, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
98 Africa Watch interviews in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 13, 1991.
99 Africa Watch interview in Gbaleu, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
100 Africa Watch interview in Danane, Ivory Coast, August 14, 1991.
101 Africa Watch interview with Charles Gurney, U.S. State Department desk officer for Liberia, September 26, 1991.
102 Testimony of Herman Cohen, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, July 16, 1991.
103 Blaine Harden, Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990, pp. 238 and 247.
104 "Liberia: Back to Africa," The Washington Post, July 7, 1991.
105 Liberia Refugee Crisis: Fact Sheet, Department of State, Bureau for Refugee Affairs, July 1991.
106 Africa Watch interview with Amos Sawyer, President of the Interim Government of National Unity, New York, October 1, 1991.