Global Policy Forum

Why UN Should Deny Taylor Arms Waiver


By James W. Harris

June 20, 2001

That Liberian President Charles Taylor would now be asking the UN Security Council to "temporarily lift an arms embargo" so that his government can defend itself against armed groups fighting in Lofa County is somewhat laughable but serious.

And to know that he could subsequently use these same arms against his own people without any reservations whatsoever is very scary.

Although the UN had specifically imposed an arms embargo on Liberia since last March after it accused Mr. Taylor's government of providing both financial and military support to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, which he helped to create, but to grant him waiver at this time is like sentencing the Liberian people to inevitable death based on his past and present "record".

The latest shooting of a senior American serviceman, identified as Sergeant James Michael Newton, makes his case really moot. In fact, what the UN should be doing at this time is to find ways to make the sanctions and embargo work more effectively in view of recent statements made by some so-called African experts.

As the "conscience" of the world community, the UN should go even further to pressure the Taylor government to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners in the country as well as demand an official update as to the status of the ANALYST newspaper editor, Hassan Bility, who was picked up by President Taylor's feared security forces sometime ago.

The international press must continue to ensure that Mr. Bility and others are safe in Liberia and that they get exactly what every Liberian citizen is entitled to under the law - a free and fair trial void of harassment and intimidation.

We therefore call on the UN and other similar organizations all over the world to join forces against this kind of government action. As much as it can boast of being elected "democratically", it is about time that the Taylor government live up to the high standards often demanded of a democracy.

On his private radio station KISS-FM, Mr. Taylor was recently quoted as saying that "his government troops had killed hundreds of enemies as the army recaptured Yeala, a town on the border with Guinea." No doubt, amongst the hundreds of so- called "enemies" were some defenseless women and children. Again, based on his "record", one can assume this much.

Given his statements and knowing what he is capable of doing, the Council should waste no time in denying Mr. Taylor this waiver, because to do the opposite would only add to the many atrocities already committed by his government.

Furthermore, we certainly don't want to believe that the UN would sit idly why Mr. Taylor, or the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) dissidents for that matter, continue to massacre their own people indiscriminately. Each side must be held equally accountable for civilian casualties.

It is often said that in a war situation, like what is presently taking place in the North of the country, there are no clear rules. But obviously, there is something called "responsibility" that leaders must shoulder as the result of their actions. This would mean that no matter how long it takes, Mr. Taylor and all those who are contributing to the ongoing carnage in Liberia, would one day have to account for their actions, individually or collectively, as we are now fortunately witnessing in places, like, Rwanda and Senegal.

While it could be true that he badly needs more arms as the result of increased dissident activities in Lofa County, Mr. Taylor cannot be trusted that he would use the weapons only for the purpose of defending his government.

Frankly, it is kind of strange that Mr. Taylor would be asking for a waiver at this time, when in fact, he has all the contacts he would ever need to get arms. Just look at the names on the UN travel ban list that was recently put out on Liberia. Heading such a "distinguished" group, he could get not only the arms, which he says he needs, but also almost anything that he wants. This makes his asking for a waiver seem more like a ploy than anything else.

If President Taylor is actually serious, all he has to do to be considered for a waiver is to immediately reverse his longstanding policies of repression and move towards a more civil society - a society that respects the life and dignity of its citizens. Any sign in this direction would be very encouraging, not just to the UN but all Liberians as well.

And as the title on a recent report by Amnesty International (AI) pointed out: the "War in Lofa County Does Not Justify Killing, Torture and Abduction", exactly the kinds of things the arms could definitely be used for. The report even went further by "calling on the Liberian government to ensure that widespread torture, including rape and killings by the security forces of unarmed citizens suspected of supporting Liberian armed opposition groups are immediately stopped."

These chilling statements by the AI, supported by the findings of other groups within the country, are strong reasons why his request should be denied without even giving it second thoughts, unless the UN wants to look to the other side while President Taylor have it "his way".

When all is said and done, Mr. Taylor would have only himself to blame for being so shortsighted. History has shown from time to time that no government, regardless of how powerful it is, could hold its people hostage indefinitely. Mr. Taylor, hopefully, could gather the courage to turn things around for his own good and that of his country. He desperately needs to clean up his acts and stop traumatizing the nation.

Any government, no matter how rigid, is capable of changing positively as long as it has the will power and honesty to look deep within itself. Liberians could surely forgive Mr. Taylor in spite of all that he has done to their country, but they wouldn't forgive him for being so stubborn and not finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Lofa County.

He should gather the strength one way or the other and admit that he has taken the country backward, and must therefore resolve to change course by honestly talking to the opposition. Only then can real reconciliation begin, because as it stands, the nation is hurting seriously and needs a whole lot of healing in order to fully recover.

In this regard, Mr. Taylor could wisely use whatever funds he now has to invest in roads, schools, hospitals, and in repairing the country's severely damaged infrastructures, instead of buying arms. This move would be of practical and immediate use to the people.

Engaging in such an undertaking would yield several good results: (1) Some Liberians would be gainfully employed, thereby, instantly contributing to the revitalization of the nation's "sick" economy; (2) The nation's infrastructures would be getting a much needed face-lift, and (3) It would curtail frequent criticisms of his government for not doing anything worthwhile for the country.

He should ensure that Liberians are given priority, over any other groups, like the Indonesians and Taiwanese, when it comes to employment with the various logging and other companies in Liberia that are rapidly depleting the country's cherished forest resources.

If Mr. Taylor were as smart as some people claim, then this would be the correct way for him to proceed from now on. Because anything short of this would rightfully give justification to dissidents who want to get rid of him through violent means, destroying Liberia in the process.

Both Mr. Taylor and LURD should find a way to make peace instead of continuing this war, as the latter would only destroy the country even further, in the physical and moral sense. People who love their country don't destroy it rather they preserve it for future generations. Liberians can play their part by beginning to engage themselves in a "constructive dialogue" aimed at finding lasting solutions to their country's many problems.

They cannot afford to stand by the sidelines and act simply as cheerleaders, because if they do, there would be absolutely nothing left of Liberia, not even the natural resources which it previously depended on to sustain itself.

As for President Taylor, he ought to step back for a minute and consider the fate of men like Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu, Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Chad's Hissene Habre, Nigeria's Sani Abacha, and most lately, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, and a long list of others, who thought wrongfully, that they could rule their respective countries with impunity forever.

Well, the world just isn't that way anymore! It has run out of patience for men like these who have subjected their peoples to undue hardships just for their personal egos. And as a popular saying in Africa goes: "as you make your bed, so shall you lie on it." Hence, Mr. Milosevic's upcoming date with The Hague.

Liberia will certainly survive and always be bigger than President Charles Taylor or anyone else.

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