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Human Rights Developments

Despite hopes that the 1995 peace accord might finally end Liberia=s bloody civil war, the warring factions again plunged the country into a frenzy of looting, lawlessness and killing throughout April and May. The fighting centered on the capital, Monrovia, creating a devastating humanitarian situation and destroying the city=s economy. By mid-October, a new peace agreement was in placeCthe fourteenth since the war beganCand hopes were again raised that the peace process might take hold. Yet despite a new cease-fire and a new timetable for disarmament and elections, fighting between the factions continued sporadically, the humanitarian situation in many places outside of Monrovia was very grave, and progress toward implementation of the peace agreement remained precarious.

The renewed crisis was set in motion in February, when the Council of State, the ruling body created in the prior peace agreement and representing all the warring factions, suspended Roosevelt Johnson as minister for rural development after he was ousted as leader of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia, Johnson faction (ULIMO-J). The real crisis was triggered when Charles Taylor=s NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia) and Alhadji Kromah=s ULIMO-K (United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia, Kromah faction) attempted to arrest Johnson on murder charges. The fighting pitted the factions comprised largely of members of the Krahn ethnic groupCULIMO-J, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Liberian Peace Council (LPC)Cagainst the NPFL and ULIMO-K.

The fighting in Monrovia was the worst in three years. The international airport was badly damaged, buildings and homes throughout the city were burned, and some 80,000 civilians were displaced. No reliable death toll was compiled, but it was believed that hundreds of people were killed in the fighting. Virtually all the leading figures in civil societyChuman rights activists, journalists, lawyers, former politicians, church leadersCimmediately went into hiding, and many were pursued by one of the warring factions. Taylor=s NPFL burned down the offices of the New Democrat and the Inquirer newspapers, and reportedly looted the independent shortwave and FM radio transmitters. The AFL and ULIMO-J stormed the prison and freed AFL general Charles Julu and other prisoners who had been involved in an attempted coup in 1994. The looting was clearly sanctioned by the faction leaders, especially Taylor and Kromah.

Fighters from all the factions systematically looted Monrovia=s businesses and stores, in addition to the offices and warehouses of the United Nations and all the international aid agencies. The United Nations humanitarian assistance office in Monrovia stated that 489 vehicles valued at US$8.2 million were stolen from the U.N. and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The U.N. also stated that Athe majority of those vehicles are now in the hands of factional leaders and fighters who, despite concrete evidence and repeated appeals by the international community, refused to return them so that we can assist Liberians as needed.@

Much of the actual fighting took place at the Barclay Training Center, where the Krahn-based factions were under siege by the NPFL/ULIMO-K forces. At the beginning of the crisis, the Krahn factions held civilians, including foreigners, and ECOMOG soldiers hostage at the training center in a clear violation of international law prohibiting the use of civilians and captured soldiers as human shields. The hostages were eventually released unharmed.

When the crisis erupted, the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG (the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group), displayed an astonishing reluctance to intervene to stop the fighting or the looting, or to protect civilians. Some ECOMOG soldiers actually participated in the looting, and there were reports of ECOMOG soldiers assisting the NPLF and ULIMO-K in the fighting at the training center. Citing the lack of resources and the refusal of the warring factions to abide by the terms of the 1995 Abuja peace accord, ECOMOG claimed that it could not protect civilians or attempt to end the fighting. It was not until late May that the factions= leaders ordered their forces to withdraw from the center of Monrovia and surrendered their positions to ECOMOG. By late July, ECOMOG was again in control of the city. The poor conduct of ECOMOG forces during the crisis contributed to the decision to assign a new, Nigerian field commander and rotate out many of the troops.

As ha been the case throughout the Liberian war, civilians were the main victims. In the April crisis, thousands of civilians were displaced, lost their homes and belongings, and suffered from hunger and disease. In the Graystone compound alone, across from the U.S. Embassy, some 15,000 to 20,000 civilians sought refuge. An additional 20,000 civilians sought refuge on the ECOMOG base. Civilians also fled to relief warehouses, hospitals, orphanages, and other sites around the city.

Armed factions have proliferated in the Liberian conflict, and all the factions were responsible for systematic human rights abuses against civilians. Before the fighting erupted in April, civilians suffered abuses, including rape, robberies, and beatings perpetrated by ULIMO-K in Grand Cape Mount County. ULIMO-J fighters were responsible for robbing, beating, raping, torturing, and killing civilians in lower Bomi County. In the southeast, LPC fighters also abused civilians through practices such as robbery, beatings, killings, and forced labor. In January and February, the Council of State took action against Liberia=s feisty independent press, harassing and detaining journalists who criticized the NPFL and other warring factions.

The burden felt by regional states from hosting some 750,000 Liberian refugees became increasingly apparent in April and May when thousands of Liberians attempted to flee the country by boat, including one vessel called Bulk Challenge which carried some 2,000 Liberians. The governments of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana refused to allow the boats to dock, leaving them stranded on the high seas, in an effort to evade their responsibilities under international law. Eventually, the government of Ghana accepted the refugees from the Bulk Challenge.

At the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Heads of State meeting in Abuja in August, a new chair of Liberia=s transitional government was namedCRuth Perry, a former opposition senator under the government of Samuel Doe and a former member of the Transitional Legislative Assembly. The faction leaders remained on the Council of State, as per the 1995 peace accord. A new timetable for disarmament, demobilization and elections was established: ECOMOG was to deploy to a series of safe havens throughout the country beginning on November 7; disarmament, demobilization, and repatriation was to proceed from November 22 through January 21; and elections were scheduled for May 30, 1997. The member states also committed themselves to observe the arms embargo against Liberia and to take steps to stop the flow of arms.

The most significant new feature of this peace plan was that the ECOWAS countries committed themselves to implement sanctions against any of the Liberian factions if they did not comply with the peace plan. These measures included visa restrictions on recalcitrant faction leaders; freezing business activities and assets; exclusion from participation in the elections; expulsion of family members of faction leaders and their associates from member states; and invoking the Organization of African Unity (OAU) 1996 summit Resolution, the possible establishment of a war crimes tribunal for Liberia.

The Right to Monitor

A number of human rights organizations functioned relatively freely in Monrovia in early 1996, including the Catholic Church=s 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, access outside Monrovia was difficult for most groups, and virtually all human rights activity ground to a halt when the fighting erupted in April. Many leading human rights activists were targeted by the factions and either took refuge on the ECOMOG base or were evacuated by the U.S. Embassy. Samuel Kofi Woods, for example, the director of the Peace and Justice Commission, was evacuated after it was clear that the NPFL was searching for him. Woods returned to Liberia shortly thereafter, and has resumed his work with the commission.

The Role of the International Community

United Nations

In September 1993, the United Nations Security Council created a U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to help supervise and monitor the Cotonou peace agreement, in conjunction with ECOMOG. UNOMIL had a mandate to report on violations of the cease-fire and violations of humanitarian law. In late 1995 UNOMIL was also entrusted with the mandate Ato investigate and report to the Secretary-General on violations of human rights....@ and some human rights information was subsequently included in the secretary-general=s progress reports on the UNOMIL mission. UNOMIL should also have monitored the ECOMOG mission, since the two were supposed to deploy together and the conduct of ECOMOG contingents required scrutiny. On February 1, UNOMIL=s mandate in Liberia was extended until May 31; it was again extended until August 31; and then again through November 30.

Throughout the year, fighting impeded UNOMIL=s deployment outside Monrovia. The UNOMIL team withdrew from Tubmanburg on December 30, 1995, due to fighting between ECOMOG and ULIMO-J. The team went back on January 31, but withdrew on March 2, after ECOMOG had withdrawn without notifying UNOMIL. UNOMIL withdrew from Kakata on March 8 because of fighting between the NPFL and ULIMO-J. Soon after fighting broke out in Monrovia in April, the ninety-three UNOMIL observers fled to the U.S. Embassy.

UNOMIL=s human rights reporting was largely limited because the three human rights officers= posts envisioned were not filled. In his October report to the Security Council, the secretary-general indicated his intention to reactivate these posts and stated that the monitors, among other functions, will also coordinate with local human rights groups. In early October, following the September 28 massacre of civilians in the village of Sinje, in which at least twenty-one people lost their lives, the special representative of the secretary-general sent a large team that included representatives of local human rights groups to investigate the event. Preliminary results of the investigation were included in the October report to the Security Council. Earlier in the year, the U.N. also sent James Jonah, chair of the national electoral commission in Sierra Leone and former U.N. under secretary-general as a special envoy to Liberia. His report on the situation was never published.

Although the U.N. first imposed an arms embargo on Liberia in 1992, and renewed it in 1995, the embargo was never enforced. In fact, the sanctions committee has never met formally to discuss violations. According to the U.N., this was due to the fact that no embargo violations were reported. Nevertheless, arms apparently continued to enter Liberia in violation of the embargo.

United States

The U.S. remained the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance in Liberia, providing $65 million in 1996 and approximately $447 million since the start of the war in 1990. In addition, the U.S. provided approximately $70 million for conflict resolution and peacekeeping in Liberia, largely assistance to ECOMOG.

In 1996, the U.S. earmarked $10 million for logistical support for ECOMOG, and an additional $30 million was promised in equipment, training and other support, provided that ECOMOG demonstrated Aa renewed capacity to play a neutral and effective role,@ according to State Department spokesperson Glyn Davies. In addition, $62 million was pledged for demobilization, reintegration and resettlement, and food aid.

Administration officials described U.S. policy as focusing on the following areas: increased support for ECOMOG, enhanced diplomatic efforts to maintain the cease-fire and restore the peace process, and increased pressure on the faction leaders to cooperate with that process. They also contended that the Abuja Accord, which provides for an interim government, disarmament, demobilization and elections, was the best framework for a permanent solution. However, despite strong rhetoric in April and May, by year=s end the Clinton Administration had stemmed its early criticism of the faction leaders in order to focus on the need to hold elections in May 1997, in accordance with the new timetable. It remained crucial for the U.S. to maintain a strong human rights policy in the period leading up to the elections so that conditions required to make them meaningful would be met well in advance. These included meaningful disarmament and demobilization, an end to human rights abuses against civilians, safeguards against voter intimidation by the warring factions, and steps to ensure that all parties have equal access to the media and can campaign freely.

In April, the U.S. positioned a naval task force off Liberia with 1,500 marines to assist in the evacuation of foreign nationals and others under threat and to provide security for the U.S. Embassy. In his notification to Congress on April 12, President Clinton said that while the U.S. forces were equipped for combat, Athe evacuation is being undertaken for the purpose of protecting American citizens and is not intended to alter or preserve the existing political status quo in Liberia.@ The U.S. military airlifted out more than 2,300 foreign nationals between April 10 and May 27.

Diplomatic efforts included sending a team led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, William Twaddell, on April 22, to assist in negotiations and discuss additional assistance to ECOMOG. While in Monrovia, Deputy Assistant Secretary Twaddell stated: AI reminded members of the Council of State and others that should anyone seize power by force, my government would move to isolate and ostracize that leader and the illegitimate regime that might ensue.@ This policy was stated even more strongly by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs George Moose when he visited Monrovia on April 30 and specifically mentioned Charles Taylor: AWe need to make it perfectly clear to the faction leaders, to Mr. Taylor, that the course they are pursuing is a course that will put them beyond the pale, it will lead to the total ostracism, rejection, the total condemnation of their efforts and their actions by the international community.@ Unfortunately, these strong statements were not accompanied by a clear U.S. policy, but instead the U.S. continued to defer largely to the West African initiatives.

On May 3, the Department of State announced new visa restrictions on faction leaders and others obstructing the peace process and transition to democracy. According to State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, AThis action results from the refusal of faction leaders to heed the pleas of the Liberian people or to respond to calls from the international community to stop the wanton fighting, looting and killing in Monrovia and to return to the peace process.@

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