"Taylor is destroying the Aspiration, Happiness, and hope of our People," Says Charles Brumskine

(A Speech delivered in Atlanta on April 20, 2002)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted April 24, 2002

My friends, fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

Estelle and I are blessed, and especially honored tonight by your presence. We thank you for thinking about Liberia enough to join us at this event sponsored by the Friends of Charles W. Brumskine.

Although a far way from home, we stand as witnesses to a pregnant moment in the history of our country. A little over a year from now, Liberia will give birth to a new vision for our people, or we will once again abort the hope and aspirations of so many. But whether we accept the responsibility or not, what happens in Liberia come October 2003 will, to a large extend, be determined by the involvement of Liberians in the Diasporas, starting with you in this room.

Liberians in these United States may help to ensure that out of the suffering and misery of our people is born a new Liberia, or you may by your indifference guarantee the demise of our nation. But the choice is ours! Therefore, I want to use the time you have allowed me tonight to talk not about my dream of, or vision for, a new Liberia, but to engage you in a discussion about all of us, as a people, putting our differences aside, using our talents and resources, energy and time to save our country, and renew the hope of our people. Our people continue to walk through the valley of shadow of death, but God has promised that they shall not dwell therein, so we must make ourselves available to ensure that they do not lose hope.

We may each have chosen a different approach to solving Liberia’s problems, but then we are a diverse people, so that is understandable. The important thing, however, is that we are all Liberians, bound by a common history and claiming a great destiny. But the state of our country and the plight of our people require nothing less than the total commitment of all of us, excluding the welfare of none of us. Our President, Mr. Taylor, has drawn the line in the sand: he’s not going to allow any real opposition political activity in the country without the concerted effort of opposition politicians and other Liberians to ensure that the environment is created that will indeed give birth to democracy in our country.

Instead of attending the ECOWAS - sponsored reconciliation meeting in Abuja in an attempt to end the war between his government and LURD and reconcile the differences between himself and opposition politicians, he would rather spend all of his energy and the government’s resources in busting the arm embargo to continue his war effort in Liberia. He is using his declared, but undefined State of Emergency to stifle any attempt at political activity in the country - arresting, jailing, or otherwise intimidating anyone who dares raise a voice of dissent. Examples of Taylor’s attempt to silence voices of reasoning include the arresting and detaining of the former female Chief Justice of Liberia, the arresting and jailing of human rights activists and journalists, the incarceration of the Chairman of the New Deal political party (in formation), and worst still, is the killing of Unity Party Bong County Chairman, and the list goes on.

The evil grip of President Taylor and his government on our country threatens our existence as a people and as a nation-state. Liberia has degenerated from a beacon of hope in Africa to a pariah state. The social statistics are grim: life expectancy is only 47 years, adult literacy -37% (male - 50%, female - 24%), only 26% of Liberians have access to safe drinking water, only 11% have access to sanitary facilities, HIV/AIDS prevalence is about 10%, but less than 4% of the government’s own budgeted amount for the health sector is actually spent for health services, unemployment in the formal sector of the economy is 85%, general poverty level - 76.2%.

But the Taylor factor is more insidious than the social statistics suggest. Mr. Taylor is destroying the aspiration, happiness, and hope of our people. This effect cannot be measured, but it is felt severely by the people. There is an enormous urgency among our people, as the gap between expectation and reality widens with regard to the behavior of the Taylor government. Unless some corrective measures are applied in our country soon, our people will perish. But the question is what are we, as a people, prepared to do to change the course of events in Liberia?

It is against this background that I would like to invite all Liberians: politicians, opinion leaders, civil society in Liberia and abroad, especially the various Liberian associations and organizations in this country, former warlords, LURD, and even members of the Taylor government to come together in spite of our differences, focus our attention on Liberia, and begin a process of renewal for our people. This is not a proposal to form another Liberian organization, but a call for us to rally around a common agenda, with the support of the international community, in the interest of our country.

Suggestions for the common agenda would include cessation of hostilities, restoring the rule of law and respect for human rights, seeking humanitarian assistance for our people, and empowering the people of Liberia to select their leadership in 2003 and chart a new direction for our country. Our first task would be to have a staff person contact as many organizations and individual, to have them acquire ownership of the process and establish the common agenda.

In this connection, we must resolve to engage the ECOWAS and its member states, the European Union and its member states, the United Nations, and the United States. We will approach these institutions and governments not because we are entitled to their benevolence, but because the world has learned over the years that none is secured if one remains unsecured. And in recent times, inherently evil individuals have shown the world that left unchecked, even if they conspire in the remotest part of the world, they can be a threat to international security.

All Liberians have left is hope for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow that will not come for most of our people unless the international community under the leadership of the United States takes some immediate action. But we have the duty of putting forth a collective agenda as a basis for the action of the international community.

We must prevail upon ECOWAS to again attempt to convene a meeting of Liberians that will include President Taylor, LURD, and opposition politicians, opinion leaders, and civil society. Again, this second attempt will have to be held out of Liberia, as there is the need to address security concerns in the country prior to holding a major conference in Liberia.

The West African leaders should be informed that when Ministers of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council “applaud” the meeting of Liberians in Abuja on March 15-16, as the first preparatory meeting of the “Liberian Reconciliation Conference,” that is tantamount to a slap in the face of the Liberian people.

To which reconciliation conference did the Mediation and Security Council refer? We hope that it is not Mr. Taylor’s July 2003 conference in Monrovia, because he has made it pretty clear that his meeting will not be about reconciliation between his government and the rest of the Liberian people. Mr. Taylor has said that he intends to preside over an “ethnic reconciliation” conference. Regrettably, Mr. Taylor has neither the moral authority nor the legitimacy to preside over an ethnic or any other kind of reconciliation conference. Also, the parties to an immediate reconciliation conference would have to be the Taylor government and LURD, on the one hand, and the Taylor government and opposition politicians and civil society, on the other.

Although the war in Sierra Leone has been declared officially over, unless the Liberian crisis is swiftly and thoroughly dealt with, peace in Sierra Leone and stability in the entire sub-region remain extremely tenuous. It has been said that, "the worsening human rights situation (in Liberia) could have a devastating impact on regional security and in particular a threat to the fragile peace in Sierra Leone. The international community must take concrete steps to address human rights protection as a matter of urgency."

President Taylor has called on the European Union to assist the Mano River Union peace process by providing logistical support for the deployment of security monitors along the borders. Liberia needs security not only to protect its territorial integrity, but also to ensure respect for the basic human rights of its citizens, and to ensure that the rule of law is upheld. If President Taylor’s concern is for all people of Liberia, then we must deal with not just security against the threat of LURD, but also security for the people against the atrocities of his police force, his anti-terrorist force, and all his other security forces. Liberians must similarly call on the European Union for logistically support for the deployment of internal security monitors, to which Mr. Taylor must be challenged to agree.

Because once you begin to provide non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Liberia, without ensuring that basic respect for human rights and the rule of law is restored, that would send the wrong signal to both Mr. Taylor and the Liberian people. Any such donor would be saying that it approves of, or at least is prepared to acquiesce in, the continuous degradation of the human spirit by the Taylor government, with a correlated message to the people of Liberia that all hope is lost. Therefore, while we strive to end the war between Taylor’s forces and LURD, we must also address the war that Taylor’s forces are waging against the defenseless people of Liberia.

Our consideration and that of the international community can no longer be just the sovereignty of the state. The concern of the international community must be about the sovereignty of the Liberian individual. We must get the United Nations to place Liberia on its agenda not only in terms of Taylor’s support for RUF in Sierra Leone, but also in terms of Taylor’s treatment of the people of Liberia - abuse of their human rights and the atrocities against their persons. We do have precedent in international law for this. Iraq is a case in point. In a speech discussing “Human Security and Intervention”, UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was right when he said, “The State is now widely understood to be the servant of its people, and not vice versa. At the same time, individual sovereignty - and by this I mean the human rights and fundamental freedoms of each and every individual as enshrined in our Charter - has been enhanced by a renewed consciousness of the right of every individual to control his or her own destiny.”

The Taylor government has also called upon the government of the United States to help end the fighting in Liberia. We must prevail upon the United States to do that and more. As stated earlier, there are two wars to be stopped: Taylor and LURD, and Taylor against the Liberian people. Secretary Robert Perry has clearly articulated the US policy with regard to Liberia. It is now our assignment to remind the US government of said policy on a consistent and persistent basis. We must lobby every relevant official of the United States government to help empower our people to select their leadership and choose a direction for our country in 2003. This is the task of every Liberian in this country.

We must challenge LURD to declare a ceasefire and join us in finding a peaceful resolution to Liberia’s problems without further exacerbating the misery of our people. Our message should be plain and simple: if your goals and objectives are similar to ours - a new Liberia under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all - if you are indeed different from Mr. Taylor, let’s talk and give our people the chance of a lifetime.

We must reach out to even those in Taylor government, whether it is the young man or woman who carries Taylor gun, the Minister who justifies Taylor’s actions, or his advisors and friends who rationalize his behavior. Let them know that it is not too late, they too have roles to play in building the new Liberia. Let none of us assume the moral high ground for the sole purpose of condemning others, because each of us has our own story.

We must all commit to a new Liberia that would entail a new national polity that will ensure the realization of the Liberia that was intended by its founders. A nation based upon the rule of law, with a sense of commitment from each, and the integrity of all. A government formed upon the constitutional premise that all Liberians are equal, and that each and every one of us is endowed with the same natural, inherent, and inalienable rights, regardless of our ethnic background, religion, gender, or political affiliation. We will be guided by the mistakes of the past, determined never to repeat them.

May God bless us all and save our country. I thank you.

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