Briefing to the UN Security CouncilBy Global Witness
January 2001 Introduction
The UN Security Council should:
- Immediately impose a total embargo on the exportation and transport of Liberian timber, and its importation into other countries. Such an embargo should remain in place until it can be demonstrated that the trade does not contribute to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, and is carried out in a transparent manner (as referred to in para 49 of the Report of the Panel of Experts appointed Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19 in Relation to Sierra Leone.
- In addition it is recommended that a detailed investigation is carried out into the Liberian timber industry, particularly of the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), to enable the UNSC and other members of the international community to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of this industry in Charles Taylor's presidency and the conflict in Sierra Leone.
The Sierra Leone Expert Panel Report draws attention to Liberia's role in the trade of diamonds and weapons with Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF). It also refers to the important role timber revenue plays in the fortunes of President Charles Taylor and his rule in Liberia. However, according to sources, it is likely that the timber trade is more financially valuable to him and his security forces than is the trade in diamonds and that a significant portion of this revenue is also used by President Charles Taylor to train, arm and supply the RUF. This illicit trade is virtually monopolised by one company, the Oriental Timber Company (OTC), that also holds a virtual monopoly on all shipping entering Liberia and much of the country's internal transportation which enables the transhipment of arms. As The Sierra Leone Expert Panel Report has already noted, the chairman of OTC "Gus Van Kouwenhoven is responsible for the logistical aspects of many of the arms deals. Through his interests in a Malaysian timber project in Liberia, he organises the transfer of weaponry from Monrovia into Sierra Leone. Roads built and maintained for timber extraction are also conveniently used for weapons movement within Liberia, and for the onward shipment of weapons to Sierra Leone."
OTC has been implicated in transporting weapons to the RUF in Sierra Leone, managing the whole process from disembarkation at Buchanan port to the use of its own trucks along the logging roads it has constructed. According to sources, OTC's massive and unsustainable logging operations fund weapons purchases for the RUF and President Charles Taylor's personal security forces, while enriching himself.
Furthermore the scale of this completely unsustainable timber trade is such that Liberia's forests are likely to be commercially logged out in as little as thirteen years. One Lebanese company told Global Witness that they expected to operate in the country for another 20 years before they had removed all merchantable timber , but OTC's operations are escalating this timescale. What is sure is that there is virtually no forest management and no known cases of replanting. The social, economic and ecological impacts of this trade have severe long term implications for the future of Liberia and its people.
Global Witness believes that it is essential that the UN Security Council imposes an embargo on the exportation and transport of Liberian timber, and its importation into other countries. Such an embargo should remain in place until it can be demonstrated to the UN that the trade does not contribute to regional conflict, and is carried out with transparency. Paragraph 49 of the Report of the Panel of Experts appointed Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19 in Relation to Sierra Leone provides the opportunity to take this necessary step .
Currently there is no reliable data or estimate as to the amount of revenue that President Charles Taylor is gaining as a result of the Liberian timber industry because to da