Human Rights Developments
The widespread killing and brutality associated with Liberia's civil war14 have subsided since the November 1990 cease-fire. However, the human rights situation in Liberia continues to be marked by abuses ranging from extrajudicial killing and torture to restrictions on freedom of movement and intolerance of dissent. These violations are particularly evident in the ninety percent of the country controlled by Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), but civilians are also victimized by Prince Johnson's Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) and by former President Samuel Doe's army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). The country remains divided among these three armed factions and the ECOMOG peacekeeping force.15 Only the interim government led by Amos Sawyer, which governs the capital of Monrovia but has no army, has not been responsible for human rights abuses.
Civilians in NPFL territory, which covers all of Liberia except the capital, no longer face the atrocities of all-out war. Nevertheless, they suffer the capricious actions associated with a military occupation _ arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, confiscation and destruction of property, and restrictions on freedom of movement and expression. Underlying these problems is the perception among NPFL "fighters" that they are a law onto themselves. Many of them are young, undisciplined and unpaid. While security in a given area depends largely on the discipline exercised by the local commander, individual fighters have considerable latitude to arrest, detain, extort, threaten and sometimes injure civilians.
Incidents of arbitrary arrest and restrictions on civilians' movements are particularly evident at NPLF 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. Liberian civilians have a particularly difficult time obtaining these passes. Many civilians attempting to travel to Monrovia complain of beatings, detention and harassment by fighters, and some have been forced to turn back. 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. In June, for example, a twenty-year-old man paid a fighter to take him from Kakata to Monrovia. The fighter turned him in to NPLF authorities at Mt. Barclay, in the buffer zone between NPFL territory and ECOMOG-controlled Monrovia, claiming that the man had been engaging in "reconnaissance."16 The young man was jailed for about two days before being released because another fighter happened to know him. He was detained again almost immediately by the same fighter who had arrested him, but managed to escape with the assistance of a woman fighter.
Ethnic conflict, one of the tragic legacies of the Doe regime, remains a live issue, particularly in Grand Gedeh county, which is populated largely by the Krahn ethnic group. As recently as late July, fighting continued between the NPFL and a Krahn resistance movement. Civilians were subjected to abuses by the NPFL reminiscent of the fighting in 1990, including indiscriminate killings, targeting of Krahn and Mandingo people, burning of villages and widespread looting. These violations were particularly evident in July during an NPFL offensive on Zia Town, on the eastern border of Grand Gedeh county. Although difficult to document, human rights violations have also been attributed to the Krahn resistance.17
Prince Johnson and the INPFL remain armed on their base at Caldwell, on the outskirts of Monrovia. They have been responsible for summary executions, arbitrary arrest and physical abuse of civilians in the Caldwell area. In late July and early October, Johnson ordered summary executions of at least six and possibly up to nine fighters and civilians. The interim government, lacking any troops, is effectively powerless to exert control over Johnson, since he does not recognize its authority. ECOMOG has avoided using force against Johnson, since it would lead to renewed fighting.
The AFL soldiers remain armed in their base at the Barclay Training Center and at Camp Schiefflin, and are themselves responsible for abuses against civilians in Monrovia, including looting, beating and harassment of civilians. Civilians are particularly fearful of these soldiers, who were closely associated with Doe's brutal reign. On June 5, for example, AFL soldiers attacked Sando Wayne, an assistant minister of the interim government _ beating him, breaking his arm and knocking him unconscious _ apparently because he was driving one of Doe's old cars.
Liberia's conflict has already spilled 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. According to the U.S. State Department's Refugee Bureau,18 as of July 1991 there were an estimated 227,500 Liberians in the Ivory Coast, 342,000 in Guinea,19 6,000 in Ghana, and smaller numbers in Nigeria, Gambia and Mali. There had been some 125,000 Liberians in Sierra Leone, but after a March incursion by the NPFL, the number of Liberian refugees there was reduced to 10,000. Liberians continue to leave their country because of ongoing insecurity, though in much smaller numbers. There are also hundreds of thousands of displaced persons within the country. Monrovia has swollen to almost double its pre-war size, with an estimated population today of at least 800,000.
Combat has been waged recently on the Sierra Leone border between the NPFL and the Sierra Leone military, which is allied with a Krahn-based Liberian resistance group known as the United Liberation Movement of Liberia (ULIMO). Until late July, 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 into its territory. In several areas, the possibility of a new round of ethnic warfare and brutality remains quite real.
Throughout the year, the Liberian factions took part in a series of meetings to discuss peace and elections. Much of the groundwork was laid in November 1990 with the cease-fire, signed in Bamako, which was based on an ECOWAS peace plan.20 The cease-fire was followed by a meeting of the warring factions in Banjul, Gambia, in December 1990, and then in Lomé, Togo, in February 1991. In Lomé, it was decided that the All Liberia Conference would begin in Monrovia on March 15.
Taylor did not attend the All Liberia Conference, citing fears for his security.21 An NPFL delegation went to the conference, but walked out a week later. In April, at the conclusion of the conference, Amos Sawyer was elected president of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). The NPFL did not participate in the voting and 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 logistics but also the need to disarm all warring factions and to confine them to their bases during the campaign and balloting. Four such meetings took place in 1991 _ in June, July, September and October. At the September 17 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, provided that the composition of ECOMOG was changed by adding Senegalese troops and reducing the number of Nigerian troops. Until then, Nigerians had made up approximately eighty percent of the ECOMOG force, and Taylor has always considered them to be particularly hostile to the NPFL. Senegal and the other Francophone countries of West Africa have been perceived as more supportive of Taylor.
On October 30, a sixty-day timetable was agreed to for disarmament, beginning November 15, with elections to follow in six months. The agreement included a provision for opening roads, ports and airports so refugees and displaced persons will be able to register to vote. Meanwhile, a committee of West African states has been formed to help to organize elections.
A potential obstacle to peace is Prince Johnson's reported refusal to disarm his fighters so long as he is excluded from the formal peace process. Johnson has been kept out of the process since INPFL withdrew from the interim government in August after the government publicly condemned Johnson for executing at least four and possibly six fighters and civilians in Caldwell. Johnson now wants to participate in the peace talks as part of a separate entity.
The Right to Monitor
The human rights movement in Liberia is extremely weak. Two human rights groups formed in Monrovia during 1991: the Liberian Human Rights Chapter and the Association of Human Rights Promoters. Although neither group is obstructed by the authorities in Monrovia, their activities appear to be limited. In late November, the Catholic Church in Monrovia reportedly formed a Justice and Peace Commission which intends to monitor human rights. There are no known human rights groups operating in NPFL territory.
The frailty of the Liberian human rights movement is both a legacy of the severe repression of all independent activity under former President Doe and a reflection of the chaotic and devastated condition of the country today. The situation is aggravated by the tight restrictions on freedom of movement between Monrovia and the NPFL-controlled interior. It is extremely difficult for Liberians in Monrovia to obtain passes from NPFL authorities to travel to the interior to gather information, and it is equally difficult for civilians in the interior to visit Monrovia to report information.
In August, a representative of Africa Watch was able to obtain a pass from the NPFL to undertake fact-finding in the interior. However, NPFL authorities did not permit a delegation from the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights to travel to the interior in September. Accordingly, the attitude of the NPFL authorities toward international human rights monitoring remains inconsistent.
The United States does not recognize any government in Liberia _ either the interim government of Amos Sawyer or the administration of Charles Taylor. The Bush Administration maintains a policy of neutrality, and endeavors to maintain ties with all factions. The justification for this position, according to the State Department, is that the United States recognizes countries, not governments, and that the U.S. ambassador will present his credentials only to a unified government that has been chosen through free and fair elections.
A troubling aspect of this policy of "neutrality" is that the Bush Administration has apparently interpreted it to justify U.S. silence in the face of continuing human rights abuses. In testimony on Liberia on July 16, before the House Subcommittee on African Affairs, Herman Cohen, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, barely mentioned human rights violations. His only comment touching on the subject was to say, "Most tragically, horrific human rights abuses have been perpetrated by the combatants on the civilian population of all ages and ethnic groups." He did not elaborate or attribute responsibility for particular abuses.
In September, Vice President Quayle used his visit to Nigeria and the Ivory Coast to send a strong signal of support to the ECOWAS peace process, stating "we believe that ECOMOG is the appropriate vehicle to resolve this conflict." However, none of the vice president's public statements mentioned human rights in Liberia.
By glossing over the tragic human rights situation in Liberia, the Bush Administration has squandered an opportunity to encourage improvements by specifically condemning particular abuses. For example, Charles Taylor's NPFL should have been criticized for ongoing indiscriminate killing of civilians, arbitrary arrest, and restrictions on freedom of movement and expression. The Administration should also have expressed concern over indiscriminate killings and other violent abuses during the fighting in Grand Gedeh county over the summer. Similarly, Prince Johnson and the INPFL should have been criticized for summary executions, arbitrary arrest and harassment of civilians.
U.S. Embassy representatives in Monrovia are taking a similar "hands-off" approach to human rights violations, refraining from investigating or publicly protesting abuses. Although Embassy representatives assert that their ability to monitor developments in Taylor territory is undermined because they are usually unable to obtain NPFL permission to travel in the interior, a considerable amount of information is available in Monrovia itself, and Embassy officials have on occasion been able to enter the interior. U.S. officials should use even this limited access to investigate and publicly condemn particular cases of abuse. Moreover, the very fact that U.S. officials are often prevented from traveling in the interior should be publicized, since it reflects the kind of controls that are exercised by the NPFL.
The United States has a special responsibility toward Liberia, given both the long-standing historical ties between the countries and the role played by U.S. support for the abusive Doe government in setting the stage for the current crisis. That responsibility is heightened by the tendency of European governments and international agencies to regard Liberia as a "U.S. problem" which the United States should take the lead in solving.
However, the Bush Administration has been trying to distance itself from the Liberian disaster, calling for "an African solution to an African problem." This contrasts markedly with the past close U.S. involvement in Liberia, particularly the policy of supporting the cruel and corrupt regime of President Doe while minimizing its 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 money served to prop up the regime, despite overwhelming evidence that Doe was vicious, unreliable and had no intention of keeping his promises about instituting democracy.
To its credit, the United States has taken steps to help rebuild the nation that its abusive client destroyed by becoming the largest donor to the Liberian relief effort; the United States currently provides more than sixty percent of the international contribution. According to a State Department document published in July, U.S. assistance since the Liberian conflict erupted has totaled $131.8 million, including $112.1 million in food for peace, $12 million for refugee programs in neighboring countries, $4.8 million in Agency for International Development grants to international organizations and private relief groups, and $2.8 million in Economic Support Funds to assist ECOMOG's humanitarian assistance activities.22
In a statement on September 25, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed support for "regional efforts to bring about disarmament and free and fair elections in Liberia." Toward this end, he announced that the United States would immediately grant $3.75 million in military aid for fiscal year 1991 to support the ECOMOG participants in the peace process who were "in the most dire financial circumstances,"23 as well as $500,000 in peacekeeping funds to ECOWAS. On October 3, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler reported that the United States was providing an additional grant of $3.3 million to ECOWAS "to help defray expenses of the ECOMOG peacekeeping force in Liberia, in connection with Senegal's recent decision to contribute troops." The United States encouraged Senegal to join ECOMOG when President Bush met with Senegalese President Abdou Diouf in Washington in September and committed the United States to provide financial support to Senegalese troops.
We welcome the recent U.S. efforts to give momentum to the peace process as the mechanism most likely to curtail human rights abuses in Liberia. However, U.S. silence about ongoing human rights abuses suggests a danger that hopes for peace will be allowed to overshadow public concern about respect for human rights. To avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, human rights issues must figure prominently in U.S. policy toward Liberia, and compliance with internationally recognized human rights standards must be an integral part of any eventual peace agreement.
The Work of Africa Watch
Throughout the year, Africa Watch followed developments in Liberia, trying to alert the press and public about human rights concerns. In April, Africa Watch published Academic Freedom and Human Rights Abuses in Africa. The report details human rights violations against the academic community in fourteen African countries, including Liberia. Although the University of Liberia is currently in ruins, having been destroyed during the fighting in July 1990, the chapter on Liberia discusses the attacks on the university throughout the 1980s under the Doe regime.
In August, an Africa Watch researcher traveled to Liberia _ both Monrovia and territory controlled by the NPFL _ and to refugee areas of the Ivory Coast. The purpose of the mission was to document the human rights situation in Liberia since the November 1990 cease-fire _ also the time of Africa Watch's last comprehensive report on human rights in Liberia. Since the cease-fire, international press attention to Liberia has waned dramatically. In October 1991, Africa Watch published a newsletter based on the mission, "Liberia: The Cycle of Abuse, Human Rights Violations Since the November Cease-fire," which documents abuses by the three warring factions _ Charles Taylor's NPFL, Prince Johnson's INPFL and the AFL _ and discusses the role played by the United States.
In addition to the newsletter, Africa Watch published articles on Liberia in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution on September 28, in the October 14-20 edition of West Africa, and in the November-December edition of Africa Report.
The war in Liberia began in late December 1989 and gathered momentum throughout most of 1990. The conflict began in Nimba County, in the northeast, where Charles Taylor's forces attacked. The Liberian army responded with a brutal counterinsurgency campaign, killing civilians indiscriminately, burning villages, looting and raping. The victims were primarily members of the Mano and Gio ethnic groups. Doe's government was particularly hostile toward these groups because Thomas Qwiwonkpa, a former general from Nimba county who led an abortive coup in 1985, 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, an ethnic group closely related to the Gios. As war resumed in 1989 and 1990, all sides to the conflict committed egregious human rights abuses.
ECOMOG, or the Economic Community Monitoring Group, includes forces from five countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. ECOMOG entered Liberia as a peace-keeping force on August 24, 1990, but soon took on an offensive role against Taylor's NPFL. ECOMOG sought to neutralize Taylor's troops, install an interim government and organize free elections.
It is fairly common for NPFL fighters to charge civilians with "reconnaissance," a blanket charge which means that they are suspected of spying on the NPFL, usually in the service of ECOMOG.
The composition of these forces is not definitively known. Many are former soldiers of the AFL, but others appear to be recent recruits from the civilian population.
Testimony of Princeton N. Lyman, director of the Bureau for Refugee Affairs, before the House Subcommittee on African Affairs, July 16 1991.
The UNHCR estimates that since July an additional 100,000 refugees have entered Guinea from Sierra Leone, making the total number of refugees in Guinea over 400,000.
The plan called for organizing a meeting of political parties, interest groups and the warring factions to negotiate a cease-fire and to establish a broad-based interim government. The leaders of the warring factions were to be excluded from heading the interim government, and the interim president would be ineligible to run for president in the ensuing general elections.
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.
Liberia Refugee Crisis: Fact Sheet, Department of State, Bureau for Refugee Affairs, July 1991.
According to the announcement, the United States would provide $1 million to Senegal, $1 million to the Ivory Coast, $500,000 to Ghana, $500,000 to Guinea, $500,000 to Sierra Leone and $250,000 to Gambia.