“To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn...”
A Time To Lift Sanctions?

By Gbe Sneh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 10, 2004

Ecclesiastes says it all. For the sake of a lasting peace, given our "last chance", lest we place at risk strides made for which we are receiving credit, for the sake of moving forward on a sound foundation, a chronology prioritizing the steps in our approach needs to be set and strictly adhered to.

To seek the lifting of Sanctions On Diamonds and Timber (UN Resolution 1521) at this time is to place the cart before the horse. True it is that the sanctions are UN based, but isn't it wise that we take them a step further by treating them as self-imposed restrictions? In other words, while the sanctions may have succeeded in curbing the flow of arms, it is arguable that a blueprint for a transparent and accountable administration of the mining and timber industries are not yet in place.

A Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) reached between a coalition of twelve NGO's and the Forestry Department is testament to serious grounds that must be covered prior to revitalizing these industries. The NGO's argue that in the absence of these reasonable prerequisites - worker benefits, local benefits, transparent concession wards, security concerns, among others - the sanctions should remain in force.

Security for an atmosphere conducive to mining and timber operations is wanting. A quick assessment of UNMIL deployment finds on-and-off problems in areas covered, and none at all in vast territories some of which are mining and timber regions. On the latter, the reference is to the Southeastern section of the country, from River Gee down to Sinoe and eastward to Maryland. In these territories we find two of the logging port cities - Greenville and Harper City. The elders in some of these regions have recently voiced out against frequent vandalism, extortion, and rape being carried out by members of MODEL.

The case propounded for the lifting of Diamonds and Timber Sanctions is that the industries are necessary to provide employment for ex-combatants, and that failure to do so could render them wandering and thus fostering a propensity to take to arms once more. Isn't what we are told true that over half of these fighters are children? Are we now gearing to move from "child conscription" to "child labor"? Is it not to the classrooms and vocational schools where these children are to be steered? Or are there yet to be disclosed circumstances that warrant the apparent urgent need to reopen the industries? Liberians are a reasonable people; there’s a need to know what’s going on.

Already we have an emerging problem on our hands. Ex-combatants that have gone through DDRR are reluctant to go home for fear of reprisals. Here again the keyword "Security" rears up. An employment tag is not what it is going to take to alleviate this fear; a secured workplace in a secured society is. Furthermore, if the industries are not revamped to ensure fair wages and benefits, safe work conditions, among others, we'll find ourselves gravitating to "square one."

In Chairman Bryant's own words logging provides twenty percent of national revenues. This is more so the reason why we should not be in a haste to have sanctions lifted at this time. Twenty percent of National Revenues along with seven thousand "bread winners" attributed to a single industry in a country of about three million people is significant, indeed! And if we are relying on estimates of past administrations, it is safe to think that the figures could be even higher, after discounting corruption.

It’s just yesterday when some sectors of society were clamoring for the NTGL to set up a War Crimes Tribunal. Chairman Bryant had come out and categorically refuted such a plea from the people, as in self defense he cited time constraints of the Transitional Government. That is an argument well taken, in a view that certain issues facing the nation are beyond the scope of a “transitional administration.” The revamping of the diamonds and timber industries, and the subsequent request to have sanctions lifted ranks among such issues. “To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn.” A Time To Lift Sanctions? No, Mr. Chairman. The NTGL needs to stay within the confines of its ordained responsibilities. Its major tasks of ensuring security and readying the nation for elections still demand full attention. Let’s focus on them.

The foregoing arguments have dealt with situations assuming we had treated the UN sanctions as self-imposed restrictions on the diamonds and timber industries. That has nothing to with the outside world. It’s Us vs. Us.

At a glance, the UN Sanctions themselves affirm that we should not be seeking their lifting at this time. “Last year's UN Security Council resolution renewing sanctions on Liberia specified that diamond exports could only resume following the establishment of a transparent certificate of origin regime for Liberian rough diamonds, while timber exports could only resume following the imposition of effective government control over the logging industry and the revenues which it generated.” (IRIN)

Have we established a “transparent certificate of origin regime for Liberian rough diamonds?” Certainly not according to Mr. Bryant when he allegedly said his government was prepared to maintain a voluntary ban on the import and export of diamonds until Liberia had been fully certified by the Kimberley Process, a diamond verification procedure set up in 2000 to clamp down on the sale of contraband stones used to fund wars in Africa. (IRIN) “Placing the horse before the cart.” See that? Has the NTGL imposed an “effective government control over the logging industry and the revenues which it generates?” All indications point to a NO. “Counting the chicks before they are hatched.” See that, too?

"The sanctions were put in place in order to penalize the previous government for egregious wrongdoings," Klein said. "With the old government now gone, it is up to the new government to demonstrate transparency and accountability. If the new government could do this, then I agree that the sanctions should go so as not to deprive Liberia of the tools it needs to rebuild its economy." (IRIN)

Talk about going to war unprepared! Did Mr. Bryant and Mr. Klein compare notes prior to going before the UN Security Council? With all due respect to Mr. Klein. If the foregoing statement was intended to support Mr. Bryant’s plea to have sanctions lifted, it was indeed a very weak one! Mr. Klein ought not to be “iffing.” Obviously he has doubts as to the propriety of lifting the sanctions. How so? He should be presenting the UN Security Council with assertions showcasing the NTGL’s demonstrations of transparency and accountability; that did not surface.

The Liberian people’s reasonable concerns regarding the sanctions have not been addressed. Liberia has not yet been certified by the Kimberly Process. There is no blueprint for transparency and accountability on logging revenues. Above all, security throughout logging and mining territories is wanting.

We would like to have sanctions lifted. We are aware of the roles that diamonds and timber play in our economy, but let’s be true to ourselves, there is a whole lot of work to be done before requesting that sanctions be lifted. Why the rush?