Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Developments

During most of 1992, Liberia remained divided as it had been since the November 1990 cease-fire: the Interim Government of National Unity (ignu) governed Monrovia, backed by the West African peace-keeping force (ECOMOG), while Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (npfl) controlled the rest of the country. The United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ulimo), a rebel group made up primarily of soldiers from former President Samuel Doe's army, launched incursions against the npfl from neighboring Sierra Leone. However, the situation changed dramatically on October 15, when the npfl attacked Monrovia, ending two years of an uneasy peace and plunging the country back into war.

Elections were originally scheduled for April 1992, but were twice postponed and then cancelled. At no point had the minimum conditions for holding elections-disarmament and encampment of all warring factions-been remotely accomplished. Additional obstacles to free and fair elections were that ECOMOG troops were prevented from deploying in many parts of the country controlled by the npfl, and that one-third of the population remained as refugees in neighboring countries.

In early 1992, there was some hope of a political settlement. Roads between Monrovia and npfl territory were opened and ECOMOG troops were permitted to conduct inspection tours of npfl areas. In January, the Interim Elections Commission was sworn in, composed of three representatives of the National Patriotic Reconstruction Assembly Government (nprag-the npfl's governing body) and two from the ignu. On March 16, the ad hoc Supreme Court was sworn in, composed of three judges named by the nprag and two by the ignu. In April, the University of Liberia re-opened. This progress was reversed as the warring parties continued to commit human rights abuses, and ultimately all-out war returned.

In January, Prince Johnson, the leader of a break-away rebel group called the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (inpfl), held two Liberian journalists in incommunicado detention and subjected them to abusive treatment. Also in January, Johnson executed at least four of his commandos, in connection with his opposition to new bank notes issued by the ignu in early January.Johnson forbade anyone to enter Caldwell (the area outside Monrovia where his troops are based) with the new currency, which he reportedly discovered some of his fighters confiscating and holding.

Taylor, too, objected to the new currency, and tried to prevent people from entering his territory with it. Many npfl fighters manning the checkpoints used the currency restrictions as yet another excuse to harass and conduct extensive searches of civilians traveling through the area. Those found carrying the new bank notes faced reprisals, including detention, beating and confiscation of property.

The security situation in npfl-controlled territory continued to present problems for civilians as well as international relief agencies working there. A series of incidents took place in late 1991 and early 1992 involving the confiscation of relief vehicles, the detention of foreign and Liberian workers at checkpoints, accusations of spying, and general harassment of relief operations. In general, the ability of relief organizations to operate, like the safety of civilians, depended largely on the whims of the local npfl commanders.

The principal source of tension in the npfl-controlled territory during 1992 involved alleged ulimo infiltration. Since the latter part of 1991, the npfl used the ulimo threat as a means of controlling the population in its territory, and Taylor often cited this threat as justification for his refusal to disarm his fighters and confine them to barracks. Civilians were arbitrarily denounced for spying for ulimo, and faced a range of penalties, from harassment and detention to extrajudicial execution.

For the most part, civilians had little or no recourse against the npfl fighters. However, on one occasion in Buchanan, the population rose up against the npfl. Rumors began circulating in mid-March about a possible ulimo attack on the city. On March 22, six bodies were found in a nearby river, including some young men who had been arrested for being ulimo sympathizers. npfl authorities responded by arresting four fighters and taking them to Taylor's capital, Gbarnga, although reports indicate that they were released shortly thereafter. The following day, the local population began to demonstrate against the npfl, calling for it to leave. The city was effectively shut down, and Taylor himself travelled to Buchanan in an attempt to pacify the people.

Efforts to implement peace agreements continued throughout the year. The Yamoussoukro IV peace conference, held in the Ivory Coast in October 1991, yielded a plan for the deployment of ECOMOG forces, the disarmament and encampment of the warring factions, and elections. However, implementation of the agreement quickly stalled, due to Taylor's refusal to allow ECOMOG forces to enter his territory.

In April, a mini-summit of West African states was held in Geneva. The participants re-affirmed their commitment to the Yamoussoukro IV accords, and established a new timetable for ECOMOG deployment. They also reiterated the need to set up a buffer zone near the Sierra Leone border to separate npfl and ulimo forces.However, just after signing the accord, Taylor announced that he had been forced to sign and indicated that he was not prepared to disarm or encamp his fighters.

On April 30, ECOMOG began its long-awaited deployment in npfl territory, with the aim of disarming all factions and establishing an atmosphere in which free and fair elections could be held. Always problematic, the deployment took a serious turn for the worse in late May, when six Senegalese soldiers were apparently captured during a gun battle with the npfl in Lofa County and executed, reportedly by having their throats slit. As a result, all ECOMOG troops were withdrawn from Lofa Country to Monrovia, and the Senegalese government announced that a commission would be formed to investigate the killings. At a summit of West African states in Dakar in late July, economic sanctions against the npfl were proposed, which would have given Taylor one month to comply with the peace process before an economic blockade would be mounted.

Meanwhile, mounting insecurity was apparent in Monrovia. A series of grenade attacks in late spring and early summer were launched, leaving at least eight dead and sixty wounded. Responsibility for the attacks was never established. Growing frustration with the Interim Government, based in part on mounting economic hardship, the stalled political negotiations and reports of corruption, came to a head in mid-August, when fuel shortages led to anti-ignu demonstrations in Monrovia.

The cease-fire was finally broken in August, when ulimo launched an attack against the npfl. Skirmishes between the two rebel groups had occurred sporadically since late 1991, especially near the Sierra Leone border. After refusing to participate in the peace talks held in Benin on August 17, ulimo launched an offensive from Sierra Leone to the outskirts of Monrovia. The npfl forces were routed and at least 30,000 displaced persons streamed into Monrovia. Civilians reportedly were targeted by both sides during the conflict, with fighters looting in villages, stealing from fleeing refugees, and executing those suspected of sympathizing with the opposing faction. Taylor has accused ECOMOG of supporting ulimo.

ulimo's political agenda is unclear. Officially, ulimo leaders state that they are a group of displaced Liberians who seek to liberate Liberia from npfl occupation. They claim to seek peace and democracy for the country, and deny that they will engage in reprisals against any ethnic group. However, many observers remain skeptical about ulimo's real intentions, because of its links to the deposed Doe government and the number of former army soldiers in its ranks. The leader of ulimo is generally recognized to be Raleigh Seekie, who had been deputy minister of finance under Doe. Additional support is provided by a largely Mandingo group based in Guinea, the Muslim Redemption Movement (mrm), headed by Alhaji Kromah. Tensions exist among the different ulimo factions, and the infighting culminated in June with the execution of General Albert Karpeh, a leading member of ulimo and chair of its military section.

The ulimo offensive forced ECOMOG to announce the withdrawal of all its forces to Monrovia. However, the 580 ECOMOG soldiers stationed in small groups up-country were prohibited by Taylor from leaving. Until early September, the soldiers were effectively being held hostage; they were disarmed, prevented from leaving their sites and prohibited from receiving supplies or communications from Monrovia. The ECOMOG soldiers were finally allowed to return to Monrovia in late September, due to the intervention of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. However, during their return to Monrovia, many of the soldiers were humiliated, beaten, and had their weapons, vehicles and personal belongings confiscated by the npfl.

After the ulimo incursion, security in the western counties worsened. On August 26, a convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc) was attacked in Bomi; one Swiss national was injured and one Liberian was killed. On August 31, an ECOMOG soldier was also killed in a skirmish with npfl fighters at the Po River Bridge. This was soon followed by other attacks by the npfl and ulimo on each other, sometimes leading to the involvement of ECOMOG. In one incident on October 2, the npfl and ulimo were skirmishing near ECOMOG positions in Brewerville, when ulimo reportedly disappeared behind ECOMOG lines, leaving ECOMOG to fight the npfl; three ECOMOG soldiers and as many as 50 npfl fighters were reportedly killed.

Meanwhile, Taylor began a crackdown in his territory. According to npfl radio broadcasts, some npfl officials were executed, and others were prevented from leaving the country. There were also reports that local officials were harassed for not participating in Taylor's campaign to recruit young men into his army. A particularly egregious action occurred on September 28, when the npfl reportedly massacred an unknown number of civilians-estimates range from thirty to 300, but no one has yet been able to conduct a full investigation-and burned houses in Klay, in Bomi County. The npfl denied responsibility.

The fighting took a far more serious turn on October 15, when the npfl launched an offensive against Monrovia. In the early morning hours, the npfl attacked ECOMOG positions around the city as well as the Camp Schiefflin barracks of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), former President Doe's army.

At the end of November, ECOMOG remained in control of Monrovia, but fighting continued in and around the city. Prince Johnson's base at Caldwell is under ECOMOG control, and Johnson is in ECOMOG custody. npfl artillery shells and rockets have been hitting Monrovia daily, threatening civilians and destroying parts of the city. Heavy fighting near the Spriggs Payne airport has caused civilian casualties, and led to the temporary closure of the facility on several occasions.

Approximately 200,000 refugees from the suburban areas of Monrovia have flooded into the central city to escape the fighting. Some reports indicate that civilians are also being pushed behind Taylor lines into the country's interior. The lack of water has become a serious problem, since the npfl controls the city's water processing plant at White Plains.

For its part, ECOMOG has conducted bombing raids in Taylor territory, including the port of Buchanan and targets in Gbarnga, Kakata and the Firestone Plantation in Harbel. Precise information about the targets and casualties are not available, although npfl officials report that many civilians have been killed and wounded. ECOMOG contends that any civilian casualties are unintentional and the result of collateral damage. One particularly disturbing incident took place on November 16, when ECOMOG apparently bombed the Catholic Relief Services (crs) warehouse in Buchanan, destroying large quantities of rice and blended food.

Meanwhile, ECOMOG has approved the re-armament of the AFL, and has apparently allowed the AFL and ulimo to help patrol the streets of Monrovia. Although it is difficult to confirm serious attacks against civilians, it seems clear that the presence of these factions has heightened tensions among many city residents, who fear a resurgence of the kind of brutality and ethnic violence associated with these soldiers in the past. On November 21, the AFL publicly executed Private Tarwaley Mannie, who was convicted by a Court Martial Board of the murder of a civilian he believed to be a rebel in late October. General Hezekiah Bowen, chief of staff of the AFL, announced that the execution was an example of what would happen to soldiers caught looting or killing. An additional armed group, what is known as the "secret army" or the "black berets"-a fighting force of approximately 500 men trained in Guinea and organized by the ignu-has also arrived in Monrovia, and is patrolling the streets. Given all these armed combatants, the command and control situation is very unclear.

On the weekend of October 31, Archbishop Michael Francis announced that five American nuns had been shot by the npfl. It is possible that four Liberian student nuns were also killed. The nuns were based in Gardnersville, a suburb of Monrovia, and were members of the Precious Blood order. Although the nuns represented a tiny fraction of those killed during the Liberian conflict, their death helped to elevate the level of international attention to the resurging war.

The ecowas leaders met again in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 7, and issued a communiqué calling for: a cease-fire effective midnight November 10, and the subsequent encampment and disarmament of all warring parties; the appointment by the Secretary General of the United Nations of a special representative to help implement the ecowas peace plan; and the imposition of sanctions.

On November 19, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing an arms embargo against Liberia; the ECOMOG force is exempt from the embargo, subject to future review. The Security Council resolution also requested the Secretary General to send a special representative to Liberia to evaluate the situation and report back to the Security Council. The special representative, Trevor Livingston Gordon-Somers, who works for the United Nations Development Program (undp), was appointed the following day, and is scheduled to leave for Liberia in early December.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights groups are permitted in Monrovia, although they are often precluded from operating in the area controlled by Charles Taylor. A new monitoring organization, the Catholic Faith and Justice Network, emerged in 1992 under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Monitoring is also part of the program of the Center for Law and Human Rights Education, which was formed at the University of Liberia Law School. There are no known human rights organizations in the area controlled by the npfl.

U.S. Policy

The U.S. government in 1992 continued its policy of not recognizing any government in Liberia-neither the Interim Government nor the nprag. The U.S. also remained committed to supporting ecowas and its peace plan.

The U.S. is the largest donor to the Liberian relief effort. From the beginning of the conflict through July 1992, U.S. relief assistance totaled $203 million, approximately $60 million of which was sent during fiscal year 1992. For the past three years, the U.S. has provided only humanitarian aid to Liberia, since other assistance is prohibited by the Brooke Amendment, which suspends aid to countries that have failed to repay their loans to the U.S.

In addition to humanitarian assistance, the U.S. has provided a total of $8.6 million to ecowas for peace-keeping, and $18.75 million in Foreign Military Financing (fmf) and Department of Defense Drawdown (dod) authority to ecowas member states to support ECOMOG.

A waiver of the Brooke Amendment was included in legislation that authorized the U.S. to provide limited assistance for "nonpartisan election and democracy-building assistance to support democratic institutions in Liberia" as well as assistance for repatriating refugees, and demobilizing and retraining troops, pending certification by the President that Liberia was making progress toward democratization. The legislation was signed by President Bush in April. In September, after conditions in Liberia began to deteriorate and the President was unable to make such a certification, Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger used his discretionary authority under Section 451 of the Foreign Assistance Act to make $2 million available for ecowas, to support their peace-keeping efforts, and $1.3 million for the International Negotiating Network of the Carter Center, to promote programs about peace, democratization and conflict resolution.

On August 1, immediately after the ulimo offensive, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher named ulimo as the party responsible. Given that the U.S. usually refrains from directly naming any of the warring factions, this was a positive and important step.

After the npfl attack on Monrovia, State Department sources indicate that the U.S. engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts to encourage a cease-fire and negotiations. However, the administration did not issue any public statements until an npfl rocket fell near the U.S. Embassy on October 29, when the StateDepartment then announced that it would hold Charles Taylor "personally liable for such dangerous incidents."

The U.S. issued a far stronger statement on October 31, expressing outrage at the killing of the five American nuns. While not publicly blaming any of the warring parties, sources at the State Department privately acknowledged that they had reason to believe that the npfl was responsible and were pressing for an investigation.

On November 5, to demonstrate U.S. displeasure with the continued practice of Burkina Faso of providing military aid to the npfl, the administration recalled its ambassador, Edward P. Brynn, and informed the Burkinabe government that its ambassador-designate to Washington would not be welcome. The U.S. action fell short of breaking off diplomatic relations, but showed that the U.S. held the government of Blaise Compaore responsible for exacerbating the Liberian conflict and named Libya as the source of some of the arms.

The U.S. policy of supporting ECOMOG lost some credibility after the BBC broadcast remarks made by Herman Cohen, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, on November 11. After an off-the-record briefing given at Harvard University on November 4, Cohen was taped as saying: "ecowas is unfortunately no longer a neutral party....They are now one of the combatants. I think the next step-and we are discussing this in Washington-will be U.N. intervention to provide a neutral party to try and bring about a political solution." Cohen tried to clarify his position the following day, when he told the BBC: "I think it must have been a slip of the tongue....We have not changed our policy. We still believe in what the West African countries are trying to do, which is to bring about a non-violent, democratic solution to Liberia." BBC officials apologized to the U.S. administration for permitting "use of information that was somewhat misleading."

The U.S. stepped up its attacks against the npfl in an unusual post-session hearing held by the House Subcommittee on African Affairs on November 19. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Leonard Robinson described the npfl as "essentially an internal army of occupation, sustaining an environment of brutality and coercion and prolonging the misery of the Liberian people." While noting that none of the warring factions is blameless for the renewed fighting, Robinson stated that "no factor much as the intransigence of the National Patriotic Front." He went on to list the recent record of the npfl, including responsibility for the murder of the five American nuns.

Robinson also declared strong U.S. support for ECOMOG. He refused to criticize the conduct of their bombing raids, saying only that the U.S. has expressed its concern about civilian casualties and "ECOMOG has assured us that such collateral damage is unintentional." In conclusion, Robinson warned that "no one who comes to power in Liberia through force or fraud can expect normal relations with the United States."

The Work of Africa Watch

Africa Watch continued to monitor the human rights situation in Liberia. Staff wrote articles that appeared in West Africa, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution and Reconstruction which updated and analyzed the ongoing human rights abuses.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page