A Statement by John W. Blaney, U.S. Ambassador-designate to Liberia, Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted July 11, 2002

Statement of John W. Blaney
U.S. Ambassador-designate to Liberia
Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

On July 9, 2002

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am honored to appear before you today. I thank the President and the Secretary of State for the trust and confidence placed in me as their nominee for Ambassador to Liberia. I am also grateful for the constant support of my wife, Robin, and of my daughters, Marla and Vanessa.

I am committed to advancing U.S. interests in Liberia. I most recently served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge d'Affaires at our Mission in South Africa, and before that as the Department's Director for Southern Africa. If confirmed, I would apply my experience to facilitate democracy, peace, national reconciliation and reconstruction in Liberia. While that may be a daunting task, I look forward to working closely with you in implementing an aggressive, practical, and pragmatic policy. I believe that my 27-year Foreign Service experience in various assignments from the Soviet Union to Africa will serve me well in implementing U.S. policies in Liberia.

The security of our Embassy, and serving and protecting the 500-600 American citizens residing temporarily or permanently in Liberia, must be my top priority. If confirmed, I will be alert at all times to the safety of our people and their well-being.

Liberia, the oldest independent republic in Africa, lies on the West African coast and has a population of three million people with 16 recognized ethnic groups. Five percent of the population is descended from freed slaves, many of whom came from the United States after 1822 under the sponsorship of various religious and philanthropic societies.

They patterned their flag, attire, place names, architecture, and government on the U.S. model. Liberians continue to feel strong ties to the United States. In 1847, Liberia became the first African republic when it declared its independence and adopted a constitution based on the U.S. model. Descendants of those original settlers, or "Americo-Liberians," ruled virtually uncontested over the indigenous population until 1980, when the government was overthrown by a group of noncommissioned officers led by Samuel Doe. His refusal to govern democratically created the conditions for the 1989-1996 civil war.

The government, led since 1997 by President Charles Taylor, has not improved the lives of Liberians. Unemployment stands at a staggering 75%. Little investment has been made in developing the economic infrastructure. Liberia is without functioning public electricity, water and sewage systems. Instead of investing in its own people, the Taylor government supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgency in Sierra Leone and attacks into Guinea by the RUF and other forces.

In this bleak environment, our most immediate objective has been, and remains, to curb Liberia's role as a source of regional instability. The UN Security Council in March 2001 unanimously passed a resolution imposing arms, diamonds, and travel ban sanctions on Liberia; this resolution was renewed and toughened somewhat in May this year. We must monitor carefully the impact and effectiveness of UN sanctions on Liberia, and push the government to adhere to the demands of UN Resolutions 1343 (2001) and 1408 (2002).

If confirmed, I would place a high priority on trying to improve Liberia's human rights practices, which remain highly inadequate. In addition to curbing excesses by the country's security forces, we want to work with all political elements to establish a level playing field that could allow the democratic process, most notably the 2003 elections, to produce a freely and fairly-elected government that serves the interests of the

Liberian population and promotes the rule of law, despite the scope of this challenge, we will make every effort to strengthen the democratic process and national reconciliation through civil society, the media - particularly radio, and strengthening political parties and civic education in advance of the elections.

The ongoing civil unrest sparked by armed dissident activity against the government, and by government forces themselves, continues to produce more refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). We must continue to support humanitarian assistance for those who suffer from that unrest, but we must ensure that assistance reaches the needy and is not fodder for those with guns. We should also focus on longer-lasting assistance to foster community development, democracy and good governance. Appreciable efforts will still be required to meet the basic needs of Liberia's population, whether returning refugees, internally displaced, or those who are victims in other ways.

If confirmed, Mr. Chairman, I will work with Congress, including your Committee, and many others to promote U.S. interests in Liberia and peace and stability in the West Africa region. I will be happy to answer your questions.

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