Global Policy Forum

France's Stance on Sanctions Viewed

February 5, 2001

As the drumbeat for sanctions continues to mount, it is becoming apparent that some key members of the UN Security Council are being swayed in a different direction by not supporting the UN Panel of Experts report which has called for the imposition of sanctions on the government of Liberia for its illegal arms-for-diamonds trafficking. The panel report noted that such trafficking has fueled the civil war in Sierra Leone. France, a permanent, influential and standing member of the council, now views sanctions as punitive and negative.

France Ambassador to Liberia, Francis Lott, told reporters after a meeting with President Taylor last week that: "The discussion of sanctions is still going on and that the position of France is that the punitive approach is negative."

But France position is said to have shifted since the Security Council began to debate the UN Panel of Experts report. Earlier, France had called for moderation, a kind of gradual approach to how sanctions would be applied, urging that full and comprehensive sanctions would hurt ordinary Liberians. But it supported sanctions conditionally, only if it excluded the timber and logging industry in Liberia.

Many keen observers on the Liberian situation have commented that France's position on the sanctions is rather self-serving. "France is concerned more with its self-interest than with the enormous human tragedy that has been brought to bear on Liberia and Sierra Leone," noted an international observers on African affairs.

According to a 1999 report published by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) - a government agency that regulates the forest industry - France constitutes a major market for Liberia. The report states that France imports 37.7% of the Liberian timber, making the country the largest importer of Liberian timber. It was recently reported that: "Despite the instability in the region, 2000 saw a significant increase in the timber imported from Liberia. France increased imports of Liberian timber by 11% in the first six months of 2000."

The significant role of timber in fueling the war in Sierra Leone was further underscored by the International environmental group, Global Witness, when it presented its own findings before the UN Security Council buttressing that of the UN Panel of Experts.

"It is undeniable that the timber industry in Liberia has funded and continues to fund regional and national insecurity. For the peace agreement in Sierra Leone to have a realistic chance of succeeding, the international efforts currently under way to deny the RUF military supplies and logistical support need to be comprehensive. As is the case with Liberia's diamond trade there is increasing information to suggest that President Charles Taylor draws a considerable amount of revenue from the sale and export of timber which he utilises to support the RUF," the report concluded.

France and the Liberia say that the timber industry accounts for 30% of the Liberia budget and that sanctions will hurt ordinary Liberians.

But D. Conmany Wesseh, Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Empowerment (CEDE), disagrees: "The benefit from the timber trade does not come to the ordinary people. When I see JFK Hospital [the largest hospital in the country] functioning, our hospitals functioning, if I see our schools functioning properly, if I see roads and highways, if I see basic things like water running, the question of electricity - those basic things, if they are operating - then I'll say well, it's true that the 30% [from] timber is still triggered down to the people. But I still don't see that happen."

While many Liberians applaud the steadfast and pro-sanctions role of the United States and Great Britain, many view France's anti-sanctions stance as an affront. The Perspective was flooded with phone calls and e-mail messages from Liberians over the weekend:

"France has always been directly or indirectly involved in the Liberia civil war. It was a major trading partner with Taylor's so-called "Greater Liberia" during the war. So it is no surprise that it has not relinquished that role."

"As a major superpower, it [France] has always used its former colonies such as Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, all deeply involved in both the Liberian and Sierra Leone civil wars, to whip up old rivalry between Anglophone and Francophone which now seems to be playing out at the highest level of the international body."

"France is where Taylor goes for medical checkup on a regular basis, so who knows whether it is also not providing a safe haven for Taylor's ill-gotten wealth."

These were some strong sentiments expressed by Liberians around the world in e-mails and phone calls to this newsmagazine. It is being reported that Liberians in the United States are also organizing a letter-writing campaign to the French Embassy in Washington, DC to express their total dissatisfaction regarding France's stance on the sanctions.

More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Sanctions


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