Immediate UN action and embargo on Liberian timber needed to stop conflict in Liberia and safeguard peace in Sierra Leone

(Press Releases Issued by Global Witness on September 18, 2002)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 19, 2002

Due to the UN Security Council's inaction on Liberia, the Liberian timber industry remains a primary source of funding for Liberia's war machine. Many logging companies continue to be actively engaged in illegal arms imports for the government, committing human rights abuses and destabilising Liberia and the entire West Africa sub-region. A new Global Witness report, titled Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber industry fuels Liberia's humanitarian disaster and threatens Sierra Leone, exposes the direct links between Liberia's timber industry and the conflict. The report also details how the United Nations has failed to heed the evidence presented by its own Expert Panels to actively address the destabilising role of the Liberian logging industry. Global Witness recommends that the UN impose a complete embargo on Liberian timber, and mandate any new Expert Panel on Liberia to conduct a thorough investigation of the Liberian timber industry.

"UN failure to acknowledge 'conflict timbe' as a war commodity just like diamonds or oil and its refusal to allow Expert Panels to conduct a thorough investigation of the timber industry frustrates attempts to resolve the conflict in Liberia," says Global Witness Campaigner Alice Blondel. "The Security Council's refusal to impose a ban on Liberian logs exports - due primarily to the objections of France and China-means that the international community's attempts to bring peace to Sierra Leone could soon be completely undone".

Global Witness and UN Expert Panels have uncovered numerous violations of current UNSC sanctions by the Liberian government and timber companies, continued human rights abuses by parastatal logging company militias, and significant inaccuracies in the UN's own research of the Liberian timber industry:

The Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI), have continued to oversee the importation and stockpiling of illegal weapons, in contravention of UN sanctions. Global Witness investigations have uncovered at least five suspected logging ships that brought weapons into Liberia, which were unloaded at OTC's Buchanan Port and MWPI's Harper Port.

Liberia is heading towards a humanitarian disaster, one that could easily spread across its borders and overwhelm its neighbours Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, which already face the daunting task of handling current refugee populations. "Despite all the information and warnings they have received, the United Nations has failed to adequately address the destructive effects of the Liberian timber industry and its role as a key source of funding for the Liberian conflict" says Ms. Blondel. "Without peace in Liberia, the stability of other countries in the region will never be secure. By not sanctioning the timber industry, the UN is basically standing by and allowing the illicit arms trade to continue while the humanitarian disaster in Liberia escalates and Sierra Leone's peace is undermined".

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