Global Policy Forum

Disagreeing With Kofi Annan


by Georgia Smyrna

The Perspective
October 23, 2001

The United Nations (UN) sanctions regime that was placed on the Government of President Charles Taylor on May 7, 2001, is up for review by the member countries of the United Nations Security Council. The sanctions were imposed on the Taylor Government based on the recommendations of the UN Panel of Experts Report. It was determined by the report that the Taylor government has played a crucial and critical role in fueling the crisis in Sierra Leone, and that the government's illicit trade in the sales of blood diamonds for guns was a pivotal factor that contributed to the armed insurrection in Sierra Leone.

The report added further that Liberia provided the RUF "rebels with weapons, training, logistical support, a staging ground for attacks and safe haven for retreat. The volume of diamonds Liberia smuggled from Sierra Leone ranged from $25 million to as much as $125 million diamonds than its own mines yielded."

As a matter of fact, there were no disagreements on the findings among the 15-member Security Council. The United States and Great Britain favored more comprehensive sanctions while France and China wanted selective sanctions, due to their vested interest in Liberia.

Nevertheless, the Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001) upon which the sanctions were based, calls on Liberia to expel all RUF members, cease financial and military support for the RUF, stop importing uncertified Sierra Leone diamonds, and take other measures such as freezing RUF funds. Moreover, the sanctions were imposed in order "to bring peace to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. We have a policy on that, that policy is to force the RUF to stop fighting," says Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the UN.

Assessing the gravity of the problem in the West African sub-region, Senator Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire observed in his article entitled "A Graveyard Peace" (Washington Post): "There can be no peace in Sierra Leone until the strongman of neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, is brought to heel. Taylor never forgave Sierra Leone for serving as a staging area when the United Nations intervened in the civil war in his own country. It was he who basically created the rebel movement in Sierra Leone known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and he who has provided financing, equipment and sanctuary for it. As long as Taylor rules Liberia, Sierra Leone's anguish will continue. To see justice done, the United States must lead a multinational effort to bring true peace to Sierra Leone. First, Liberian leader Taylor and his criminal gang must go; every feasible effort ought to be made to undermine his rule. "

Clearly, the sanctions regime was intended to achieve certain results - any suggestion now that it affects the "ordinary people" is an overstatement. Similar argument was put forward when the UN decided to impose sanctions on the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It was said then that the ordinary South Africans would suffer. Today, we find the opposite to be true.

It is, therefore, premature for the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to suggest to the Security Council that any attempt to impose further sanctions on Liberia would worsen their ailing economy and increase the sufferings of ordinary Liberians. Instead of attempting to influence the decision of the Council, the Council should base its decision on the report of the Panel of Experts.

But prior to the imposition of the current sanctions, the Secretary General is on record to have said:

"Whatever decision the Council may take as a follow-up to resolution 1343 (2001), I strongly suggest that the international community remain engaged with Liberia and its people. External pressure without dialogue may not have a lasting impact on a country that is battling its own armed insurgency and is mired in deep political, economic and social problems."

However, these "political, economic and social problems" are the creation of the Taylor government. The seven year civil war, which produced one of the most horrendous legacies in Liberian history, resulting in the deaths of more than 250,000 people mostly women, children, and the elderly - who became expendable and innocent victims of the senseless war. Even after four years of failed "democratic" rule under the Taylor regime, the country has plunged deeper into the abyss than it has ever been in its 154-year history.

The Nobel Laureate and esteemed Secretary General also argues in his most recent report to the Security Council that by imposing additional sanctions on the existing sanctions regime, especially on timber, rubber, and the maritime industry, would create a serious social crisis for the country's poor. Annan's report contends that a ban on the timber trade would destroy as many as "10,000 relatively well-paid jobs, depriving some 90,000 to 95,000 people of their primary means of support."

Not only is the statistics presented spurious at best, but worst of all, it relies heavily on the Liberian government's data, which has been manipulated. Other independent bodies with no vested interest assessing the importance of the timber industry on the "ordinary Liberians," have come to a rather different conclusion. For example, the environmental human rights group, Global Witness, has determined from its study of various logging companies that fabulous promises were made to hire thousands of Liberians, but in reality only a few hundreds were hired in manual capacities, while the bulk of the so-called "relatively well-paid jobs" went to expatriates.

For example, in its most recent September report, "Taylor-Made," Global Witness cites the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC) as the largest and most prominent timber concern with connections to the Liberian presidency, has reneged on the promise made to the Liberian people when it was launched in 1999.

Promising the creation of 4,000 jobs, "for its first year of operation, OTC imported "skilled" labor from Indonesia (600 - 800 workers). Due to health problems, however, most Asian laborers were subsequently sent home but a significant number of them remain, driving trailers and bulldozers and occupying the managerial positions in the field and at the port in Buchanan. Although there was no training as promised and publicized, Liberians now constitute the majority of the OTC casual workers but a lesser percentage of its skilled workforce."

While we disagree on the impact of timber, we agree with the Secretary General that adding rubber to the sanctions regime will have and adverse social consequence on ordinary Liberians. Rubber is not only the oldest, but also an important economic mainstay that serves as an important source of generating external revenues, and a critical source of employment for a vast majority of the Liberian working population.

But like timber, the Liberian maritime industry, has also run amok. With over 16,000 ships flying the Liberian flag, the "flag of convenience," there is next to no Liberian employed on these ships. Global Witness reports that "notably absent from the nationality list of vessels on the Liberian register are any Liberian-owned ships. There is almost no Liberian seafarer on these ships." Even worse, while this industry generates $18 - $20 million in revenues yearly, much of it is spent on the bloated bureaucracy and sustaining a patronage system that has become so entrenched.

Equally disappointing is the lack of any mention of the numerous violations committed by the Liberian government against the current sanctions regime. Numerous "infringements" against the UN Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001) have been documented by various independent human rights groups, including Global Witness and Transport Workers Federation (ITF). There are verifiable reports that many of those banned from travelling have acquired new identities and obtained passports from "third" countries, enabling them to surpass the UN restrictions. The notorious Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, for example, is said to posses Sierra Leonean passport. "He divide his time between Liberia and Norma Farma, Golahun Forkia, in Sierra Leone. He is now an Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) senior member," Global Witness and Transport Workers Federation (ITF) reported recently. Other members of the Taylor government who have acquired Sierra Leonean passports to violate the travel ban include: Brig. General Abu - ATU Deputy Commander, Keikula Kpoto - President Pro- Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Samual Gibson - Advisor to President Taylor, etc.

It can be recalled that in his April 30th, 2001, Report to the Security Council, the Secretary General stated:

"In what it called a new policy of "disengagement", the Government of Liberia also announced the expulsion of the former RUF field commander, Sam Bockarie, and all persons associated with RUF from Liberia. Shortly after that, the Government of Sierra Leone sent a letter to President Taylor requesting the extradition of Bockarie and other RUF cadres. Leaders from some ECOWAS countries also asked President Taylor to hand over Bockarie to an ECOWAS country for "safekeeping". 16. The Government of Liberia, however, announced on 7 February that Bockarie had left Liberia and that the RUF liaison office in Monrovia had been closed. Bockarie's destination was not disclosed and his whereabouts are still not known. Leaders from ECOWAS countries have informed the head of UNAMSIL, Oluyemi Adeniji, that President Taylor also claimed not to know the whereabouts of Bockarie and of others "expelled" from Liberia. During a meeting with the RUF interim leader, Issa Sesay, in Kailahun on 16 March, the Force Commander asked him about unconfirmed reports of Bockarie's presence n]in RUF-held Sierra Leonean territory. Sesay denied the reports and stated that Bockarie had been expelled from RUF and would be arrested if he showed up in any RUF-held area."

He then concluded: "I share the dismay expressed by the ECOWAS Mission regarding the untidy manner in which the Government handled the expulsion of RUF members, in particular Sam Bockarie. Unverified information reaching the Secretariat indicate that Bockarie is still living in Liberia and that the Government of Liberia has not severed it relations with RUF in Sierra Leone. This information seems to corroborate UNAMSIL's observation..."

A another glaring omission in the Secretary General's report is the uncharacteristic silence or absence of any mention of the links that exists between timber, shipping and the arms trade. It is no longer a secret, and it is now fully documented on how timber has replaced diamonds as the new source of revenue for trading in arms and for maintaining domestic and external criminal, terrorist outfits such as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU). Thanks to the defiant spirit of the people of Sierra Leone, the UN Peacekeepers, and the support of the British, Sierra Leone is now seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

But beyond this, the Taylor regime domestic record on human rights, press freedom and the rule of law, has turned the country into a police state. The continued imprisonment of political prisoners, most of whom are of the Krahn ethnic group, the rampant jailing of human rights activists, and clampdown on the press, leave much to be desired. It is the Taylor regime's policies that have caused the "ordinary people" to continue to suffer and they cannot suffer any worse than what they are currently experiencing.

In view of the above, we regret to say, this argument is an attempt to subscribe to the so-called "African solutions to African problem" which, based on recent experience, has brought untold sufferings upon the people in the West African sub-region.

We are totally convinced that it is only through continued pressure brought to bear on the Taylor regime that would make it capable of changing. We therefore urge the Security Council not to lift the current sanctions regime, but also to broaden it to include timber and the shipping registry.

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.