October 31, 2001
Different expert groups make opposite conclusions to whether the UN sanctions against Liberia should be tightened or relaxed. While a panel of UN experts earlier this month said further sanctions against Liberia would have more "negative impacts" on the country's economy, another expert panel yesterday recommended to extend the sanctions.
The UN Security Council faces its classical dilemma when it comes to impose sanctions against a country; while they usually are a response to unacceptable government policies, the real victims of the sanctions are innocent, poor nationals. So also in Liberia. While there is little doubt warlord Charles Taylor's government responsibilities regarding the regional conflicts and civilian suffering, it is the Liberian population, only electing Taylor in an atmosphere of intimidation, which is most severely hurt by the UN sanctions.
Liberia is a very poor country whose market-based economy had yet to recover from the ravages of the 1989-1996 civil war before the UN sanctions were imposed earlier this year. Average per capita income is estimated at US$ 170 - only a small fraction of the pre-war level - and the unemployment rate of 85 percent indicates that even this low number is unevenly allocated. Despite the country's rich natural resources and potential self-sufficiency in food, government officials and former combatants reportedly are exploiting these resources for personal benefit.
In a report dated 5 October to the UN Security Council, a panel of UN experts thus concluded that a tightening of the existing sanctions regime would have further negative effects the country's already weakened economy. This would "particularly affect the most vulnerable of Liberia's population given that their resilience and coping capacities are next to exhausted," the report said.
On the other hand, an independent expert panel dealing with Liberia sanctions yesterday recommended that the UN Security Council extend the arms embargo and rough diamond sanctions on the country.
Timber production - an important source of revenue for the Liberian government - had also been a source of financing for sanctions-busting, the panel said, recommending that the UN impose a ban on all round log exports from Liberia starting from July 2002.
Exactly the debated sanctions on Liberian timber production are a hot potato in UN corridors. Demands to sanction the trade were already made in January by British environmental and human rights group Global Witness, presenting evidence of the involvement of the Liberian timber industry being involved in the Sierra Leonean war.
Both Global Witness' own research, and a December 2000 UN report exposed that the major players in Liberia's timber industry were involved in grand corruption and in the arms trade with the RUF terrorists of Sierra Leone.
Documenting the "direct link between the timber trade and the continuing devastating conflict in Sierra Leone," Global Witness demanded a UN "embargo on Liberian timber exports, transportation and imports by third countries." When UN sanctions were imposed in May this year, they however did not include the timber trade.
A UN experts panel analysing the situation in Liberia earlier this month also advised the Security Council not to include the timber trade under the UN sanctions, referring to humanitarian reasons. It concluded a ban on Liberian timber exports would probably cause the loss of up to 10,000 relatively well paid jobs. Possible sanctions on Liberian rubber would even mean the loss of 20,000 jobs.
With yesterday's recommendations to impose a ban on all round log exports from Liberia starting from July 2002, the UN Security Council thus finds itself in the difficult position of choosing between effectively hurting the Liberian elite but at the same time worsening the humanitarian situation in Liberia or taking the livelihood of Liberian civilians into consideration but probably prolonging the Taylor dictatorships life expectancy.
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