During the past decade, the international community's interventions in Liberia, largely under the auspices of the U.N. and ECOWAS, have repeatedly focused on restoring a short-term peace, without adequately addressing the long-term causes of the war, including continuing impunity for gross human rights abuses and blatant disregard for the rule of law in Liberia.
Examples abound, including the following: During the pre-1997 civil war, ECOMOG forces in Liberia actively contributed to the proliferation of the anti-Taylor rebel factions that were themselves responsible for serious abuses and are resurfacing today, including among the LURD combatants; the U.N. presence in Liberia during the war was limited to a small observer mission without adequate authority to address regional political interference or abuses by ECOMOG or by Liberian government or rebel forces; the U.N. backed a peace accord that granted a blanket amnesty to faction fighters and did not create any international mechanism to hold violators accountable; fearful of a return to active fighting, the U.N. rushed to hold the 1997 national elections before important provisions of the peace accord were implemented, including the restructuring of the security forces and the return of refugees; since the 1997 election, the U.N. Peace-Building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL) has remained silent on the continued erosion of the rule of law by the Taylor government.
With Liberia again on the brink, it is vital that the international community makes a much more concerted effort to prevent the war spreading and the emergence of yet another human rights catastrophe in West Africa. The developing crisis in Liberia, if unchecked and unresolved, threatens to erode the fragile peace and stability so painstakingly established in Sierra Leone, and may likely destabilize Guinea and the wider region. International engagement and action, therefore, is urgent, and it should address both the Taylor government's abusive security apparatus and domestic repression, and the regional nature of the conflict.
In May 2002, two significant developments could play an important role in determining how the next chapter of this sub-regional conflict unfolds: (1) The U.N. Security Council's determination of whether to renew sanctions against Liberia; and (2) the commencement of U.S. military assistance to the government of Guinea.
The U.N. Sanctions on Liberia
Action by the U.N. Security Council to address Liberia's role in destabilizing the sub region was prompted by the findings of the U.N. Expert Panel on Sierra Leone, established in 2000 to monitor violations of an arms embargo imposed on the RUF in 1997 and the links between these arms flows and the diamonds trade out of Sierra Leone.3 In a December 2000 report, the panel found that Liberia provided training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks, and a safe haven for the RUF to retreat in return for diamonds mined in rebel-held Sierra Leone. The report, documenting violations of the Sierra Leone arms embargo and the link between the arms and diamond trades, noted that: "President Charles Taylor is actively involved in fueling the violence in Sierra Leone. He and a small coterie of officials and private businessmen around him are in control of a covert sanctions-busting apparatus that includes international criminal activity and the arming of the RUF in Sierra Leone."4
In response, the U.N. Security Council determined that the Liberian government support to the RUF in Sierra Leone constituted a threat to international peace and security in the region and sanctions against Liberia were imposed on March 7, 2001. In May 2001, the Security Council imposed a ban on Liberian diamond exports (believed in fact to derive mostly from Sierra Leone), an arms embargo on Liberia, and a ban on foreign travel by President Taylor and senior government officials and their families.5 On October 26, 2001, the U.N. Panel of Experts found "significant signs of improvement" in the region's security situation since the sanctions-particularly the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone and the resumption of dialogue between Liberia and Guinea over cross border attacks. The report concluded that while Liberia had taken some steps to comply with U.N. requirements, particularly the grounding of Liberian aircraft suspected of sanctions busting, diamond sales and arms imports continued despite the prohibitions. The panel found that "a steady flow of new arms continued to enter into the country" in violation of the arms embargo, and provided detailed accounts of several embargo violations in 2001.
The Liberian government dismissed the findings during the Security Council debate on November 5, 2001, stating that the alleged violations had occurred prior to the imposition of the sanctions, and that the U.N. was not taking into account Liberia's new national security needs in light of the LURD attacks. In a legal opinion issued after the debate, the U.N. determined that the panel's findings were valid and met the terms of the investigation.
On April 11, 2002, the Panel of Experts submitted their second report to the U.N. Security Council. The Experts Panel recommended that the arms embargo against Liberia continue and be regularly monitored, because there is "credible evidence" that the government continued to violate the arms embargo. However, the panel stated that other sanctions against Liberia should be reviewed, in light of the positive peace process in Sierra Leone and the weakened links between the Liberian government and the RUF. The panel also recommended that all arms-producing and exporting countries should abstain from supplying weapons to all the Mano River Union countries, and that an immediate embargo be imposed on all non-state actors in the Mano River Union, including LURD. This report will be used by the U.N. Security Council in its deliberations on whether to continue the arms embargo and sanctions against Liberia beyond May 7, 2002.
U.S. Military Assistance to Guinea
U.S. pressure on the Liberian government to address human rights abuses has been strong. Most recently, the U.S. ambassador in Monrovia issued a March 1, 2002 statement condemning the renewed fighting in Liberia, and calling on the Liberian government to take steps to respect human rights and the rule of law. Although the statement stopped short of naming Guinea, the statement did call on "all parties in the region to cease supporting any group that seeks political change through violence and to respect their neighbor's borders."6 Relations between the U.S. and Liberia deteriorated as President Taylor's role in fueling the war in Sierra Leone became more evident. In accordance with the U.N. sanctions imposed in May 2001, the U.S. prohibited the importation of Liberian rough diamonds. The Bush administration continued the Clinton policy of isolating Taylor politically and diplomatically, although less publicly. Administration officials have stressed that until Taylor ceases efforts to destabilize the sub-region, including his support for the RUF in Sierra Leone, U.S. policy will remain unchanged. Although the U.S. has expressed concern about the human rights situation in Guinea in its annual human rights report to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. has not made public statements expressing concern about Guinea's role in supporting the LURD incursion.7
3 Security Council resolution 1132 (1997) prohibited arms sales to Sierra Leone; Resolution 1171 (1998) renewed the embargo, while stating that it applied only to nongovernmental forces in Sierra Leone.
4 Report of the Panel of Experts Appointed Pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), para. 19, in relation to Sierra Leone, December 2000, para. 212, available at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/1195.pdf
5 U.N. Security Council resolution 1343 (2001) imposed on Liberia:
6 U.S. Embassy Office of Public Affairs, "Statement Regarding Renewed Fighting in Liberia made by U.S. Ambassador Bismarck Myrick at the American Embassy," March 1, 2002.
7 In its annual 2001 human rights report on Guinea, the U.S. State Department noted: "Members of the security forces frequently committed serious human rights abuses, although there were fewer reported abuses than in previous years ... Serious human rights abuses include: Extrajudicial killings; disappearances; use of torture, beatings, and rape by police and military personnel; and police abuse of prisoners and detainees. Soldiers, police, and civilian militia groups killed, beat, and raped citizens, as well as refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Security forces used arbitrary arrest and detention. Members of the security forces committed abuses with impunity. Prison conditions were inhuman and, combined with inadequate medical care, life threatening. Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem..." available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/af/8383.htm.