| Picture Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter
Rebels descended on the Liberian capital of Monrovia in 1990 to topple the military government of General Samuel Doe. The National Patriotic Front, led by Charles Taylor, emerged triumphant after a brutal civil war that displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes. The Abuja peace accords of 1995 brought a fragile ceasefire but controversially recognized Taylor as Liberia's unelected president. A sham election in 1997 further solidified Taylor's rule.
Liberia's prolonged crisis destabilized neighboring Sierra Leone, especially through the violent Liberia-backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Taylor profited from his support of rebel groups who controlled diamond-mining areas. Under Taylor's rule, Liberia was subject to UN sanctions. The Security Council imposed a weapons embargo in 1992 and in 2001 Resolution 1343 forbade imports of Liberian diamonds and imposed a travel ban against members of the Taylor regime. A 2003 resolution forbade the import of Liberian timber that provided Taylor with a valuable source of revenue.
Under Taylor's despotic rule, government troops clashed repeatedly with a Guinean-backed rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and another rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). The rebel groups advanced from strategic areas around the country toward Monrovia, Taylor's last holdout. In August 2003, Taylor fled into asylum in Nigeria, though the Special Court for Sierra Leone had issued an indictment for war crimes against him.
In November 2005, Liberia held a successful democratic election under UN auspices. The following January, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf assumed the presidency of Liberia as Africa's first woman head of state and she quickly called for Taylor's arrest and handover to the Special Court. She persuaded the Security Council to move towards the lifting of the sanctions banning diamond and timber exports. In April 2006 Charles Taylor appeared before the UN-backed court in Sierra Leone on charges of crimes against humanity. Liberia appears to be recovering from its long crisis.
Key UN Documents | Key NGO Documents
Articles on the Conflict | Articles on Sanctions | Archived Articles
Key UN Documents
In its resolution, the UN Security Council renews the arms embargo and travel restrictions against the Liberian government. The Council also renews until December 30, 2009 the mandate of the expert panel monitoring the implementation, violation and effectiveness of sanctions against Liberia.
The Security Council extends the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) until September 30, 2009. The Council reduces UNMIL's military component by 1,460 personnel but increases the mission's police component with an additional 240 persons.
In this report to the Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon argues that, even though the political situation in Liberia remains stable, peace is fragile. Criminal activities and clashes over the control of mineral resources such as rubber continue to escalate due to the high number of unemployed youth and ex-combatants. Ban urges the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Liberian government to build up the national police and armed forces to contain criminal activity and the illicit drug and arms trades.
The Liberian government has improved on most issues of the arms embargo, conflict diamonds and timber exports, yet some problems remain. The Panel of Experts states that the arms embargo remains in place, but that Liberia must mark all exempt weapons imported from China and the US. The report also advises the government to tackle the problem of diamond smuggling and urges the Forestry Development Authority to regulate and charge fees on the domestic felling and processing of timber in order to avoid illegal deforestation.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon states that the UN Mission to Liberia (UNMIL) has made significant progress in rebuilding the country following its civil war. However, while acknowledging the progress made, Ban urges the Liberian government to regain control of the nationâ€™s timber resources and monitor the countryâ€™s rich diamond industry. Ban claims that due to the success of the UNIMIL, the peacekeeping force will shrink during 2008.
The Security Council has renewed timber, travel, arms and diamond sanctions on Liberia. In addition, the Council calls on Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia's first elected president since the end of the war in 2003, to reform existing logging concessions and commission "independent external advice" to manage the country's diamond resources.
Security Council Resolution 1638 gives the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) a mandate to "apprehend and detain" former Liberian President Charles Taylor to facilitate his transfer to the Sierra Leone Special Court for prosecution.
Although the disarmament process in Liberia has promoted implementation of the ceasefire agreement, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warns that more must be done to "prevent illicit exports of diamonds and timber." Annan notes that the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) "lacks both the mandate and the troops necessary" to police Liberia's diamond and timber producing areas and borders. The Secretary General recommends that the Security Council broaden the mandate and increase the resources of UNMIL to enable the peacekeepers to exercise tighter control over the timber and diamond sectors.
Key NGO Documents
The Security Council stresses that reforming the "security sector" (army and police) in Liberia is critical to consolidating long-term peace. The country's 14-year civil war left the entire country under the protection of only 2,000 trained soldiers and less than 800 policemen. However, the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) is assisting the government in reforming the armed forces and training new policemen. This report argues that these reforms will establish the rule of law and good governance in Liberia, which will prevent relapse into conflict. (Institute for Security Studies
warns the Security Council against lifting sanctions on Liberian diamonds and timber. Liberian President Ellen Johnston Sirleaf asked the UN to lift the sanctions, providing a much needed boost to Liberia's damaged economy. However, the new government has still not gained full control over these resources from former militiamen. In the past the revenue from the diamond and timber industries funded rebel groups and fueled the conflict in the county. The report recognizes the efforts by Monrovia to better regulate the trade in diamonds and timber, and stresses that its recommendations are designed to support these reforms.
The Liberian government and the UN Mission in Liberia have failed to reintegrate ex-combatants into the Liberian economy. As a result, ex-fighters have found jobs in the illegal mining and logging industries. According to a report by Global Witness, the upsurge in illegal diamond extraction and export, which are in violation of UN sanctions, could fuel a return to warlordism.
According to this International Crisis Group (ICG) report, Liberia's October 2005 presidential and legislative elections could lead to renewed conflict if the national elites reject any form of foreign presence. Indeed, ICG argues that the "UN, the US, the European Commission and the World Bank must stay the course, working in conjunction with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU)" to rebuild Liberia's shattered institutions and infrastructure.
Articles on the Conflict
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As Liberia prepares for presidential election in October 2011, the country is still grappling with the legacy of the 14-year civil war. President Sirleaf has recently recognized that she helped finance the initial stages of the Taylor rebellion, before withdrawing her support when his forces began killing civilians. Moreover, the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) accuses President Sirleaf of failing to bring to justice former rebels. These revelations have cast a shadow over the reconciliation process undertaken by Liberia. (Voice of America)
In Liberia, the transition from peacekeeping to peace-building has been a success. The economy is improving and the country is politically stable. However, to truly build peace more is needed than potable water, roads, ports, and electricity. Liberia's government and UN peace-builders must cultivate "the soft infrastructure" of training, skills, and national cooperation in getting Liberians working again. (Christian Science Monitor)
Although UN peacekeeping mission UNMIL has been operating in Liberia since 2003, the county struggles with an increase in armed robberies and rape. Many former combatants from the civil war engage in illegal mining and the drug trade, contributing to a deterioration of the security situation. UNMIL tries to reintegrate these former fighters into the Liberian society by educating them, but 7,251 former war participants remain outside of the rehabilitation program. (Maxim News)
The UN panel of experts on Liberia stated in its June report to the Security Council that Liberia does not comply with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which seeks to defer the trafficking of "blood diamonds'. Although the Liberian government installed a system of internal controls, officials lack the training and equipment to monitor the diamond trade effectively. As a result, dealers can still trade 'blood diamonds" to and from Liberia. (The News)
Despite the UN restriction on international arms trade in West Africa, the number of illegal weapons circulating in the region has soared. Locally made "craft guns" are replacing the unattainable industrial weapons, fueling the trade of small arms and increasing crime rates in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This Independent article urges the region's governments to implement social programs to change the entrenched gun culture in the region, and provide incentives for gun manufacturers to seek alternative work. (Independent)
Elected President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has made impressive progress running Liberia's government since 2005. Improvements prompted discussions on reducing the UN budget and peacekeepers in the region. The US wants to reduce funding while other countries fear that a UN withdrawal would open a window for disorder. The author believes that the international community should only leave the country after more years of assured stability. (Boston Globe)
To reform Liberia's natural resource sector, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf created institutions like the Foreign Concession Review Committee, which evaluate contracts with companies such as Mittal Steel and Firestone Rubber. But to ensure that resources fuel development and not conflict, Liberia should analyze the past role of resources in its economy. Further, governmental agencies should form a cohesive position on management of Liberia's gold, diamonds, timber and other resource assets. (Partnership Africa Canada and the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Liberia)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urges continued international support of Liberiaâ' rebuilding process which faces considerable delay due to monetary difficulties amongst other things, and recommends the extension of the UN Mission in Liberia UNMIL until March 31, 2008. In addition, Ban hopes for further co-operation between UNMIL, the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and the Sierra Leonean and Guinean armed forces to patrol border areas. (Analyst)
Jerome J Verdier, Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Liberia talks of the TRC's role in Liberia's recovery and rebuilding by giving a voice to conflict victims. But without more funding (which the Liberian government cannot provide,) the TRC cannot do its job of collecting statements, holding public hearings and preparing a final report and recommendations by mid-2008. Public hearings that were due to start in January 2007 have been postponed indefinitely but Verdier says that this will not undermine confidence in the Commission. (openDemocracy)
An Action Aid study finds that rape and violence against women are still rife in Liberia. The mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) ends on March 31 2007, but the study recommends that UNMIL's mandate be extended for at least a year in order to "develop regional security mechanisms" and notes further that long-term poverty reduction, peace building and promotion of just and democratic governance are still necessary in the country. Ernest Gaie, ActionAid Country Director, warns that sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers remains a problem and must be urgently tackled. (Inter Press Service)
After the UN Security Council lifted the sanctions on timber, Liberia hopes the UN body will do the same for the sanctions on diamonds. The Liberian government has redoubled its efforts to meet the UN requirements for the removal of the sanctions, including establishing a Task Force to ensure full adherence to the Kimberley process. Yet, the Liberian government still falls short of meeting all requirements. Liberian authorities have failed to freeze individuals' assets, such as those of former President Charles Taylor. (Analyst)
Liberians find themselves disagreeing on the best means to pursue justice for the victims of their country's 14 year civil war. The arrest and impending trial of former President Charles Taylor, seen as a powerful move in combating the culture of impunity in Africa, has divided Liberians. Other notorious militia leaders, now occupying seats in the country's parliament, still exert fear over many citizens, preventing them from testifying before the new Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). Many also worry that the TRC could re-open old wounds. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
Thousands of refugees that fled the violence in Liberia during the 1990s are returning to the West African country to find their former homes and lands occupied by the ethnic groups that forced them to leave. Disputes over the rights to the land in the northern county of Nimba are fueling more ethnic tension in an area that saw some of the worst fighting of the civil war. It presents another serious challenge to the new government as it attempts to rebuild the country's infrastructure and to secure the peace. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
The proliferation of ethnic factions during the 14-year civil war in Liberia has created ethnic divisions that render difficult the rebuilding process of the shattered social and economic structure in the Western African country. The author suggests that in order to minimize internal and political conflict emanating from ethnic loyalty or alliance, leaders of post-war Liberia should not deny ethnic differences. Rather, they should promote a more profound unity that underlines ethnic differences, mutual tolerance and respect for pluralism. (Liberian Times)
According to UN Special Adviser on Internal Displacement Dennis McNamara, additional funding for peacekeeping in Liberia could transform "one of the saddest situations in Africa" into a regional success story. Neighboring countries continue to recruit Liberian child soldiers and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor - wanted on UN war crimes charges - maintains extensive links to the diamond-smuggling industry from exile in Nigeria. McNamara warns that without more funds to strengthen the peacekeeping mission, "the instability factor is bound to spread." (Reuters)
Articles on Sanctions
The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to lift a ban on Liberian diamond exports imposed in 2001 under Resolution 1753. UK Ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry says that the resolution shows recognition of the progress that the Liberian government has made in the certification of diamonds, showing their origin. Liberia is still subject to an arms embargo, a travel ban on certain individuals, and an asset freeze against former President Charles Taylor and his top officials. (Times - India)
The US has drafted a Security Council resolution lifting the diamond embargo that the Security Council imposed on Liberia since 2001. UK Ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry says that provided the Liberian government has been applying rigorously the Kimberley certification system, most importantly making progress in the certification of its rough diamonds, the resolution should be passed by the end of April. (Independent Online - South Africa)
The Analyst questions when the Liberian government will effectively institutionalize the Kimberley process and meet preconditions stipulated by the UN Sanctions Committee in order to lift sanctions on diamonds in the future. The key task for the government is to ensure a transparent certification system of rough diamonds. The Committee has now extended the diamond sanctions under which all states are forbidden to directly or indirectly import all rough diamonds from Liberia to their territorial confines, but has lifted sanctions on timber, praising the Government's forestry management.
The UN Security Council has renewed its diamond embargo against Liberia as the country has not demonstrated sufficient internal control necessary for certification. The African country's lucrative mines shall wait until June 2007 for the Council to review the situation. Yet, Liberian officials warned that despite government efforts, illegal diamond mining takes place in the country, which opens the door for smuggling. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
Liberia, which is recovering from 20 years of armed conflict fueled by natural resources, enacted a law that regulates the logging of forests. The country sees timber, recently removed from UN sanction, as a means for the revival of the economy. Yet, experts fear corruption may prevent timber trade from benefiting everyone and, thus, generate conflict. This BBC article points out that not only must Liberia monitor logging, but the monitoring process should involve buyer countries as well.
Liberia President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is calling on the Security Council to lift UN sanctions on the timber industry. The reopening of the lucrative timber business, much needed to develop the country, raises fear of future conflicts if the timber sales arrangements do not benefit local residents. Former dictator Charles Taylor used Liberian logging to support his regime and prolong regional violence. (Christian Science Monitor)
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf persuaded the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions on Liberia's timber industry. Revenues from the timber industry will be crucial in rebuilding the country's shattered infrastructure and providing employment to the impoverished populace. However, the Security Council has given Monrovia only three months to enact laws to establish full authority and control over the timber-producing areas, giving Johnson-Sirleaf the challenge of achieving in 90 days what successive administrations failed to achieve in four years. (Analyst - Monrovia)
Liberia's new President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has started her presidency by introducing measures to clean up Monrovia's timber industry. She cancelled all logging contracts and permits agreed on before her term, and requested that those interested in exporting the timber reapply under new terms. During the 1990s, Charles Taylor's regime used the profits of the timber industry to arm the government militias fueling the conflict. The subsequent 2003 Security Council embargo on Liberia's timber exports has left the country's war-battered economy crippled. However the government hopes the new regulation of the timber trade will ensure this profitable industry remains out of the hands of the militias and will persuade the Security Council to lift the sanctions. (Agence France Presse)
Although the head of the Security Council sanctions committee praised the government of Liberia for its efforts to meet the conditions attached to the UN sanctions regime, "more work still need to be done" for the Security Council to lift the sanctions banning diamond and timber exports. A UN panel of experts has to approve Liberia's export transparency and ensure proper accountability on revenues generated. As part of the new governement's efforts to exercise full control over the diamond sector, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf vowed to comply with the diamond-tracking Kimberly Process Certification Scheme. (Integrated Regional Information Network)