Human Rights Developments
Liberia remains a divided country plagued by the proliferation of warring factions. All the factions are responsible for serious human rights abuses against the civilian population, sometimes based on the civilians' ethnic affiliation or their perceived support for another faction, but often simply as a means of sowing terror. A characteristic of the Liberian civil war has been that civilians suffer the most, and are killed in far greater numbers than combatants. The lack of protection for civilians from abuses by all sides and the profound distrust among the warring factions remain obstacles to lasting peace.
There was considerable fragmentation and inter-factional fighting during 1994. The Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG), a coalition government, was formed on March 7, 1994, replacing the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU); it governed the capital, Monrovia, backed by the West African peacekeeping force (ECOMOG). Two of the principal rebel factions represented in the coalition continue to dominate much of the country. Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), claimed to control 60 percent of the country prior to its split in August. The United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), made up primarily of soldiers from former President Samuel Doe's army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), controlled at least three western counties, but it also split along ethnic lines in March, pitting the Krahns against the Mandingos. A new faction, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), comprising former AFL soldiers from the Krahn ethnic group, controlled areas of the southeast.
A peace agreement signed in July 1993, known as the Cotonou accord, was believed to be Liberia's last, best hope. The accord stipulated that concomitant with disarmament, a five-person Council of State elected by all the factions would take power from the interim government until elections were held. A thirty-five-member transitional parliament would include thirteen members from the NPFL and the interim government, and nine from ULIMO. Between August 1993 and February 1994, political wrangling prevented the LNTG from being seated. In February 1994, it was agreed that David Kpomakpor, a lawyer representing IGNU, would chair the LNTG, with Dexter Tahyor of ULIMO and Isaac Mussah of the NPFL as vice chairs. Finally, in mid-May, Dorothy Musuleng Cooper was named Foreign Minister.
An important element of the plan involved the creation of a U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to help supervise and monitor the agreement, in conjunction with ECOMOG. The plan also provided for an expanded ECOMOG force, under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to be composed of African troops from outside the West African region. By early 1994, some 800 Tanzanians were deployed in Kakata, and 900 Ugandans were in Buchanan.
In early August, the AFL demanded the right to join the LNTG, saying it should replace the defunct IGNU as the third signatory to the Cotonou accord. The next day, a six-point "statement of intent," calling for an end to hostilities and for cooperation with international peacekeeping efforts, was signed by the AFL, the ULIMO Krahn faction, the LPC, and the LDF, and Tom Woewiyu of the NPFL, but not the main NPFL faction.
On September 12, a supplementary agreement to the Cotonou Agreement was signed in Akosombo, Ghana, that allies the AFL with the NPFL and ULIMO in a new ruling council charged with disarming the warring factions and leading the country to elections in October 1995. The new council replaces the previous Council of State. The agreement was widely criticized by various members of Liberian civil society as giving too much control to the warring factions. At this writing, no progress has been made in its implementation.
On September 15, a coup attempt was made by troops under the leadership of former AFL chief Charles Julue, who briefly took over administrative offices but were forced out by ECOMOG forces. Julue and some eighty others were taken into custody by ECOMOG. Approximately twenty-eight are being charged with various offenses; seventeen, including Julue, are being charged with treason and are expected to stand trial beginning in late November.
Human rights abuses continued throughout the country by all the warring factions. By mid-September, renewed fighting and attacks on relief workers and other noncombatants, including the capture by NPFL forces of forty-three U.N. observers and six NGO staff who were later released, had forced all relief organizations to recall their staff members to Monrovia. All the fighters continued to act with impunity in their territory, subjecting civilians to a range of abuses, from harassment and detention to arbitrary execution. For its part, the NPFL attacked civilians in its war against the LPC in the southeast, and in the inter-faction fighting that broke out in August. In October, UNICEF reported that about 500 orphaned children, who had been housed in the NPFL capital of Gbarnga, had been moved to Totota, near the battlefront, and were "starving and in grave danger."
ULIMO also engaged in attacks on civilians, looting, and executions. On December 23, 1993, ULIMO attacked the United Nations base in Vahun in Lofa County: U.N. and nongovernmental organizations' vehicles were stolen, and their warehouses were looted. The U.N. was forced to evacuate all its staff, as well as eighty-two orphans. In March 1994, ULIMO split into two factions, Krahn versus Mandingo. The fighting in the western counties has been fierce, with civilians being targeted by both sides. On May 27, the Mandingo faction of ULIMO captured sixteen Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers, blaming them for cooperating with the Krahn faction; they were later released. On June 28, the Krahn faction of ULIMO held five UNOMIL observers hostage and subjected them to humiliating mistreatment. ULIMO is also believed to have been responsible for cross-border attacks on Liberian refugees in Guinea.
Late 1993 witnessed the emergence of the LPC, which demanded a seat on the LNTG. The LPC is largely Krahn and was created by former AFL soldiers to fight the NPFL. There are confirmed reports of AFL soldiers fighting alongside the LPC; the AFL soldiers regularly travel through ECOMOG checkpoints into LPC territory, often carrying weapons. The LPC is responsible for serious human rights abuses against the civilian population, especially those the LPC considers to have supported the NPFL. Its abuses include extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, rape, and looting. In late May, the LPC abducted ten soldiers from the Ugandan contingent of ECOMOG, but they were released the following day.
There have been consistent reports that members of the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG_not the Ugandans or the Ghanaians, who are also stationed in the Buchanan area_are aiding the LPC. Reports indicate that the Nigerians are supplying arms and ammunition to the LPC as a way to weaken the NPFL while profiteering on the side. This allegation has serious implications, even though it is not clear what level of authority in the Nigerian contingent is responsible for the collaboration.
A disturbing characteristic of the Liberian war has been the use of child soldiers. International law, notably the Protocols of the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, forbids the use of children under the age of fifteen as soldiers in armed conflict. The African Charter on the Rights of the Child has a higher threshold, stating that no one under the age of eighteen can serve in armed hostilities. In spite of these clear provisions, thousands of children are being used as soldiers in Liberia. There are no precise figures on the number of child soldiers in Liberia; even the total number of combatants in all the factions is unknown, but estimates range between 40,000 and 60,000 combatants. UNICEF estimates that approximately 10 percent of the fighters are under the age of fifteen. The NPFL and ULIMO have consistently used children under the age of eighteen, including thousands of children under fifteen.
The situation of the displaced civilians, estimated at anywhere from half a million to a million, and others resident in many parts of Liberia became increasingly desperate in 1994. Some 200,000 civilians were uprooted in the fighting after August. Relief assistance to these areas had been effectively cut off after the October 1994 offensive, although some food and medicine continued to flow through the Ivory Coast border.
The renewed fighting since August created a new outflow of between 120,000 and 130,000 refugees to Ivory Coast and Guinea. As of November, the total number of Liberian refugees in the neighboring countries was believed to exceed 800,000: 500,000 were reported in Guinea, 318,000 in the Ivory Coast, 20,000 in Ghana, 6,000 in Sierra Leone, and 4,000 in Nigeria. The war also displaced some 400,000 Sierra Leoneans, 170,000 of whom went to Guinea and 100,000 to Liberia. The issue of repatriation of the refugees remained contingent upon progress on the political front and the resolution of security concerns. As of November, refugees had not returned in significant numbers.
The Right to Monitor
A number of human rights organizations were able to function in Monrovia without interference from the LNTG or ECOMOG, and the local press often reports on human rights issues. The principal domestic human rights organizations include: The Catholic Peace and Justice Commission, The Center for Law and Human Rights Education, The Liberian Human Rights Chapter, The Association of Human Rights Promoters, and Liberia Watch for Human Rights. However, it was very difficult for these groups to travel outside Monrovia to document abuses. There were no known human rights organizations operating in NPFL, ULIMO, or LPC territory.
Similarly, international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch/Africa and Amnesty International, were permitted to visit Monrovia in 1994, but had problems in obtaining permission to travel to other parts of the country.
The Role of the
The main tenets of U.S. policy toward Liberia are to support and promote conflict resolution efforts by ECOWAS (the organization of West African States that sponsors ECOMOG) and the U.N., to withhold recognition of any government in Liberia until free and fair elections lead to a representative government, and to promote ECOWAS and its peace plan. By the end of 1993, the conflict resolution efforts had gained new momentum: On September 30, 1993, the U.S. obligated $19.83 million ($13 million in Economic Support Funds and the rest in Foreign Military Financing) to the U.N. Trust Fund for peacekeeping in Liberia. The money would be used by ECOMOG and the OAU to help finance the deployment of further ECOMOG troops from ouside West Africa, but not for lethal assistance. On December 20, 1993, the U.S. allocated an additional $11 million in support for the UN-monitored African peacekeeping operation in Liberia.
The U.S. was the leading donor to the victims of the war: since the beginning of the conflict, the U.S. had provided some $320 million in humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict, including more than $57 million in fiscal year 1994. An additional $28.7 million had been provided since April 1991 to assist the ECOWAS-led peace process.
On three occasions in 1994, the U.S. sent senior officials to Liberia: in January, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Prudence Bushnell; in February, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose; and in June, when Ms. Bushnell returned. All these visits involved meetings with representatives of the main warring factions and were meant to deliver a message that the U.S. had limited patience, and that the factions had to move forward on the peace process. Shortly after the first two visits, the factions announced their agreement about the seating of the LNTG.
Bushnell returned to Liberia in June, and delivered a stronger message to the factions, warning them that if there was no visible progress in the peace process, the U.S. was going to examine its options, and that those factions leaders considered to be obstructing the peace process might no longer be allowed access to the United States. This message was meant to resonate particularly with George Boley, the LPC head, who owns a home in Maryland. However, General Hezekiah Bowen, chief of staff of the AFL, received a U.S. visa and travelled to the U.S. in July, despite that organization's human rights record and its links with the LPC.
On May 9, acting State Department spokesperson Christine Shelly expressed the U.S.'s increasing concern about human rights abuses in Liberia, especially those involving the LPC: "We have received numerous credible reports of gross human rights violations_including murder, rape, mutilation and torture_committed by the LPC against unarmed civilians. The LPC's aggressive military activities have displaced tens of thousands of Liberians and threaten to plunge the country back into full-scale war." The statement also criticized human rights abuses by both factions of ULIMO and the NPFL. U.S. concern over human rights abuses by all sides to the conflict is welcome.
On May 18, Assistant Secretary Moose testified about Liberia before the House Subcommittee on Africa, and articulated U.S. policy as follows: "We seek a negotiated settlement of the conflict with the assistance of the U.N. and Liberia's neighbors in ECOWAS. We believe such a settlement should include provisions for full disarmament of all Liberian warring factions, the return home of more than a million Liberian refugees and displaced persons, credible democratic elections, and the establishment of a unified government based on respect for human rights, democratic principles, and economic accountability." That formulation of U.S. policy remained unchanged for the rest of 1994.
Finally, in late October, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, accompanied by Assistant Secretary Moose, travelled to Ghana and the Ivory Coast as part of a week-long African tour, where the issue of the Liberian conflict was discussed with local officials. The talks focused on what the U.S. could do to strengthen the conflict resolution efforts of the West African states.
The U.N. Role
After the U.N. addressed the Liberian crisis in November 1992 by imposing an arms embargo (Security Council Resolution 788), Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali dispatched his special representative, Trevor Gordon-Somers, to investigate the situation. Human rights concerns have been notably absent from the Secretary-General's statements on Liberia, and he has missed many opportunities to insert provisions for human rights protection into the peace process. The UNOMIL observer mission was created by Security Council resolution 866 in September 1993, and the first contingent of observers arrived in Liberia by year's end.
In April 1994, the U.N. Security Council extended UNOMIL's mandate to October 22, 1994. This was, however, strictly limited: in practice, it has meant that UNOMIL has not reported publicly on either the violations of the cease-fire or violations of human rights and humanitarian law, although apparently reports are being sent to U.N. headquarters in New York. UNOMIL is also restricted in its movements, and has not been able to conduct investigations into reported violations due to practical obstacles as well as the lack of a clear human rights component in its own mandate. However, by avoiding the human rights issues, the U.N. is failing to discharge its mandate in Liberia.
On June 24, Boutros-Ghali submitted his fifth progress report on Liberia to the Security Council. The report included a section on the protection of human rights, which highlighted the continuing "disregard for human life" and even noted abuses attributed to the LPC. However, in a clear indication of the U.N.'s failure to carry out its own human rights monitoring and documentation responsibilities, the report stated that "widespread allegations of human rights violations have not as yet been transformed into verifiable data by either international human rights groups or the four main Liberian voluntary human rights organizations."
In a statement on July 13, the U.N. Security Council described "limited progress" in the peace negotiations, and called for a "substantial acceleration of the disarmament process" as a prerequisite for free and fair elections. It also called on the LNTG to convene a meeting of all the warring factions to formulate realistic plans for resuming disarmament. The statement condemned "all those who initiate fighting and who violate international humanitarian law," but did not identify any of the violators.
In a report to the Security Council on August 29, the Secretary-General noted that the situation had "further seriously deteriorated." He withheld recommendations pending a report by a U.N. fact-finding team headed by Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister.
On October 18, Boutros-Ghali recommended a two-month extension of UNOMIL, pending recommendations by another investigative team who will consult the ECOWAS chair, President Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, about the role and responsibilities of the ECOMOG forces and U.N. observers. The Secretary-General also said that because of recent attacks on U.N. observers, their number was being reduced to about ninety.
The U.N. mission in Liberia constitutes one of the only means of exerting pressure on the warring factions, as well as on the Nigerians, to halt this downward spiral. The U.N. must implement its mandate: U.N. observers should be required to report on violations of the cease-fire and of human rights and humanitarian law, and they must protest publicly when they are restricted in their movements. The appointment of a human rights officer for UNOMIL should be a step forward to this end, but the officer must engage in active human rights monitoring, drawing upon all available resources so that human rights and humanitarian law violations can effectively be documented and their perpetrators identified.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Africa
In April and May, Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project conducted a fact-finding mission to investigate the use of child soldiers by the warring factions. The mission to Liberia also investigated the human rights abuses associated with the ongoing fighting, including extensive abuses attributed to the Liberian Peace Council.
Two publications resulted from the mission. In May, Human Rights Watch/Africa issued Human Rights Abuses by the Liberian Peace Council and the Need for International Oversight, which documented abuses by the LPC as well their links with elements of the Nigerian contingent of ECOMOG. In July, Easy Prey: Child Soldiers in Liberia, was published by Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Children's Rights Project. The report focused on the use of child soldiers by the two main warring factions_ULIMO and the NPFL, and noted that many had been killed in the conflict and many had been forced to take part in killing, maiming, and rape of civilians.
Throughout the year, Human Rights Watch/Africa was involved in extensive advocacy for human rights in Liberia, including briefings for Congressional staff and administration officials, numerous radio and newspaper interviews, and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations working on Liberia. On May 18, Human Rights Watch/Africa testified before the Africa Subcommittee of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee about human rights in Liberia.