Exiled Liberian Journalists
Support War on Terrorism, Cancel Conference
October 10, 2001
Due to prevailing state of affairs following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, a conference, which was scheduled to be held in November for African journalists resident in the United States, has been cancelled.
The conference, which was expected to convene in Washington, D.C., was being sponsored by the Freedom Forum, in collaboration with the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) and the African Correspondents Association.
The conference was aimed at bringing African journalists in the U.S. together to deliberate on a wide range of issues affecting them and the African continent. The journalists were expected to examine topics such as work opportunities in the United States, prospects for a return to Africa, ways to make African issues more visible to an American audience, and building a journalists community, among others.
ALJA's acting president Isaac Bantu was in Washington September 27 and 28, for consultations with authorities at the Freedom Forum to finalize plans for the conference when the cancellation was announced. It is unclear at this time whether the conference would be rescheduled for a later date.
While in Washington, Bantu met with some of the leaders of international organizations and individuals who support press freedom and democratic governance in Liberia. Among others, he held talks at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has shown willingness to host a conference for ALJA, that could possibly be held in early 2002. NED, which hosted the 1998 Liberian journalists' conference where ALJA was organized, has continued to provide financial and other assistance to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and other democratic oriented organizations in Liberia, since the beginning of the Liberian civil war a decade ago.
Bantu also attended a luncheon for the African Correspondents Association, under the auspices of the Freedom Forum. The guest of honor at the luncheon was the new U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Walter H. Kansteiner, who briefed the African journalists and others in attendance on the Bush administration's policy toward Africa. He underscored the U.S. administration's commitment to support peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and democratic governance in Africa. Among others, the Assistant Secretary of State disclosed that the U.S. has spent nearly half a billion dollars to help end the civil war in Sierra Leone. He added that the U.S. has also provided $5 million to help support the war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone recently established by the United Nations, and that U.N. is currently going through the process of selecting judges for the tribunal.
Bantu used the opportunity of the occasion to brief Assistant Secretary of State Kansteiner about the continued state of death and destruction in Liberia, and the activities of ALJA. The organization is currently focused on drawing international attention to acts of terrorism perpetrated in Liberia and the Mano River region by the regime of Mr. Charles Taylor.
Meanwhile, ALJA strongly condemns the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. We denounce those who perpetrate such senseless campaign of death and destruction. We are profoundly saddened by this unspeakable crime, which took the lives of an estimated 7,000 people in the four hijacked planes, the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Reports that hundreds of people from some 97 countries perished in the attacks indicate how much this crisis has equally touched the whole world.
There can be no justification for the slaughter of innocent civilians to achieve political or other goals, no matter what the grievances or motivations of those who commit such crimes may be.
The terrorist attacks in America and the wave of terror that has engulfed Liberia and destabilized the entire Mano River Union region, bear similarity regarding how the perpetrators of terrorism are prepared to slaughter defenseless people and destroy infrastructure, in order to create a pervasive sense of fear in the people to force them into surrender.
ALJA supports any means by which the international community would work to eliminate all manifestations of terrorism, whether carried out by groups or state sponsored. We call for sustained international effort to defeat this evil, which threatens human existence.
ALJA lauds President George W. Bush and the U.S. government for making it clear and also taking actions to ensure that this is not a war against Islam or the Afghan people, but against the perpetrators of these most brutal and barbaric acts of terrorism. We thank the U.S. for making available emergency food aid for the defenseless people in Afghanistan, who are being afflicted by the policies of the repressive Taliban regime.
As the world goes through this crisis, we hope that the American people and government would make the right decisions and pursue the right course of actions, so that as we act, we do not become the evils that we seek to eliminate. We are encouraged that the U.S. is being supported by the collective will of the world. This underscores the importance of global partnership and oneness of purpose, as opposed to pursuit of unilateral policies.
We hope that the crisis would provide an opportunity for the U.S. to review its policies concerning various parts of the world, and make amends where necessary, in keeping with the realities of the prevailing world order. There is also a need for Americans to learn more about and develop interest in what goes on in other parts of the world outside of their traditional spheres of interest. The American people have to make more accountable those who administer U.S. foreign policy, to guide against misguided policies that may turn out to endanger Americans and U.S. interests in other parts of the world.
With the recent terrorist attacks, U.S. leadership role in maintaining world peace and promoting global progress could not be more challenging. The United States should focus more on its current policy to support good governance and the rule of law around the world. It is our considered opinion that the world would be more stable, and the increasingly escalating refugee crises around the world would be brought under control, if the U.S. and the other developed countries further intensify efforts to support the political and economic empowerment of people who are being suppressed or terrorized by corrupt and totalitarian regimes.
It is also our hope that the U.S. would be able to exert more influence to stabilize the increasingly escalating state of war in the Middle East, and continue to promote the search for lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
On matters regarding the state of affairs in Liberia, ALJA would like to call on the U.N. to ensure that Liberian President Charles Taylor completely sever all links with rebels in Sierra Leone and Guinea before sanctions against Liberia are relaxed or lifted. We appeal to the U.N. and the international community to also ensure that Taylor's regime show respect for human rights and the rule of law in Liberia, and allow for democratic governance in the country. ALJA supports effort by the British-based environmental organization, Global Witness, and others in calling for the U.N. to include a ban on timber in the sanction measures against Liberia.
During his talks with the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Bantu appealed to the American government to impose a ban on the importation of Liberian timber into the United States. Washington already has in place a travel restriction on Liberian government officials including President Taylor, and also a ban on the import of Liberian diamonds, in compliance with the U.N. sanctions.
Meanwhile, ALJA welcomes Liberian President Charles Taylor's call to the U.N. to convene a global conference at the earliest so that concerted actions can be taken to combat the rising crime of terrorism that has become an impediment to human existence. In order to become an effective partner in the global fight against terrorism, we hope Mr. Taylor would end his own campaign of terror that has caused the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. There can be no question that Mr. Taylor is viewed by the world community as West Africa's Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the recent terrorist attacks on the U.S.
We call on Mr. Taylor to be in full compliance with U.N. sanctions imposed on Liberia to punish his regime for arms and diamond smuggling with Sierra Leonean rebels. We welcome efforts by governments of the three Mano River countries to end the war and restore stability in the region, and urge the Liberian ruler to fully adhere to all agreements that would be reached in this regard. Our appeal is against the background that Mr. Taylor is known to have shown blatant disregard for a dozen internationally brokered peace-agreements during the Liberian civil war, and continues to demonstrate ruthless disregard for internationally acceptable norms of civilized conduct.
ALJA condemns continued arbitrary closure of news organs, arrest of journalists, human rights activists, and lawyers, and other widespread acts of terror being perpetrated against defenseless people by the security forces. It is absolutely hypocritical and a low act for Mr. Taylor to condemn others for terrorism when he is the mastermind of terrorism in West Africa.
As a key condition for the lifting of U.N. sanctions, we call on Mr. Taylor to take urgent steps to create a democratic atmosphere for the holding of free and fair elections in 2003 to be monitored by international observers. In particular, Mr. Taylor should allow free and open expression of views by lifting the ban on independent Short Wave transmission in the country, and rein in his security outfit that continues to behave like War Veterans, creating an atmosphere of lawlessness.
We wish to remind Mr. Taylor that the Liberian people and the civilized world would stop at nothing to put an end to the depraved and uncivilized acts of his regime, which continue to cause widespread death and destruction and untold human suffering in West Africa. We remain hopeful that every effort would be made to eliminate his destructive influence in the sub-region.
ALJA welcomes the establishment of the U.N. war crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone, and we join those who call for the tribunal's mandate to be expanded to include individuals in Liberia culpable of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone. Following the imposition of U.N. sanctions on Liberia, ALJA called on the U.N. Security Council, to begin the process of establishing the legal framework to indict Taylor and others culpable of war crimes and crime against humanity.
ALJA would like to call on Liberians and friends of Liberia with access to internet service to write to the U.N., the European Union, the White and U.S. State Department, among others, to express themselves about the need for the international community to tighten the screw on the Liberian regime, which has been a primary sponsor of terrorism in West Africa. Taylor should not be given the opportunity to exploit the recent terrorist attacks in America to portray himself as one of the decent world leaders. We appreciate the offer of help he has made to the United States. However, Mr. Taylor would really help the U.S. defeat terrorism by disbanding the infrastructure of terror he has established in Liberia, and which are supported by Libya, regarded to be one of the leading sponsors of terrorism in the world.
If this known poster boy for Libyan destabilization of West Africa understood the level of international resolve to destroy his terror infrastructure, he would begin to institute necessary reforms before it is too late. Like former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently in detention facing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Mr. Taylor could be the first sitting African head of state to be in indicted on similar charges with the issuance of an international warrant of arrest. We hope Mr. Taylor and his collaborators would take note.
Dated this 10th day of October 2001.
Gabriel I.H. Williams
Isaac D.E. Bantu,