Testimony on the State of Emergency, Sanctions and Arms Embargo

By Tiawon S. Gongloe

The Perspective

Posted March 7, 2002

Editor's Note: Last year the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions, including arms embargo, on Liberia for that country's role in supporting the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Counselor Tiawon Gongloe was recently invited by the Liberian Senate to give his opinion on the sanctions, arms embargo, and the state of emergency imposed by Charles Taylor on February 8 in that West African nation. Below is the full text of the speech delivered on February 27, 2002:

Mr. President of the Senate
Mr. President Pro Tempore
Chairman of Standing Committees
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate

Before I proceed any further, I want to thank you for inviting me in your chambers at these Public Hearings to give my input on matters of grave concern affecting peace, stability and the normal functioning of our dear country, the Republic of Liberia. I believe that the input you require of me as a lawyer is my opinion on the four (4) subject matters stated in your letter of February 26, 2002 to me, namely the on-going civil war, the state of Emergency, the Sanctions and Arms Embargo on our country.

It is my ardent hope that the views expressed here in the Chambers of this august body are expected to be honest, sincere, frank and in the national interest and that such views will be accorded the same status of being privileged as those of members of the Legislature as guaranteed by Article 42 of the Constitution of Liberia, since the views expressed here are intended to assist this august body in the performance of its duty.

In light of what I have just said, the first frank view I want to express to you is that I find it improper that I read about your invitation to me in the Inquirer Newspaper of yesterday before I received your letter on February 26, 2002 at approximately 5:00PM on the same date to appear here today, February 27, 2002 to give my input on the serious issues of civil war, the state of emergency, the sanctions and arms embargo that are confronting our country and undermining its survival, stability and success.

It is my opinion that in the future such letters of invitation from this august body are delivered to the invitees before publishing their names in the mass media. For it undermines the integrity of the Senate for an invitee to say to other members of the Public that he or she has received no such invitation or has only read about it the newspaper. Also it is important to give invitees ample time to reflect on issues they are being invited to give their opinions on. Based on the nature of an issue an invitee may need to do thorough and extensive research in order to make a satisfactory contribution to a debate or hearing. Very short notice like this one that I received for my appearance here today does not give room for richer contributions to hearings. Whatever I say here today must be viewed in the sense of the short notice that I received to appear here today and make my contribution to these public hearings.

Another observation that I have to make is that each of the four issues on which these hearings are based is so important and requires exhaustive discussion for meaningful and concrete resolutions. I believe that by squeezing them together you might not get the benefit of a comprehensive discussion of each subject matter. Further, let me note quickly that these discussions should have begun in 1997 immediately following the inauguration of this Government since at that time the arms embargo was already in place. However, as it is usually said, it is better late then never.

I will make my contribution in terms of how I followed the sequence of these issues under discussion as they evolved. The first to occur amongst the issues under discussion was the arms embargo, then the civil war, the sanctions and finally the state of emergency.

The Arms Embargo
The arms embargo placed by the United Nations against Liberia preceded the inauguration of the current government. It was recommended by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1992 and subsequently endorsed by the United Nations in 1993 as part of the measures taken by the international community for the cessation of hostilities in Liberia and for the peaceful resolution of the Liberian conflict. The importation of all arms and ammunitions to Liberia was banned by the UN, except for arms and ammunitions brought in by the ECOWAS ceasefire monitoring group, ECOMOG. Following the cessation of hostilities in Liberia in 1997 and the holding of general and presidential elections that were generally considered free, fair and transparent, the next issue was what must be done to keep Liberia peaceful and from receding into a state of armed hostilities.

It is against this background that the ECOWAS Abuja Accord provided for the re-structuring and re-training of the Liberian security forces under the auspices of ECOWAS and in collaboration with the Government of Liberia. In my view, if the process of recruitment, re-structuring and re-training of our security forces had been allowed to unfold as envisaged under the Abuja Accord, Liberia would not have been in the state it is in today. It is a logical conclusion that a re-structured and re-trained security force, particularly the army would have been given the teeth to bite, the arms to do its job. It was clear to all reasonable minds that the international community acting through ECOWAS intended to create a security force that it could trust with the maintenance of peace and the defense of the Liberian people after the departure of ECOMOG. It is my opinion that the lifting of the arms embargo on Liberia would have immediately followed after the reconstitution of the Liberian security forces as agreed by the parties to the Liberian conflict under the Abuja Accord. Everything should have been done to ensure a good faith commitment to the full implementation of the Abuja Accord.

Yet, immediately following the seating of this body and the inauguration of the president one of the first issues that many members of this body, particularly the former president Pro-Tempore put on the floor for discussion was the signing of a status of forces Agreement with ECOWAS on the status of ECOMOG in Liberia. The debate that ensued proceeded along the lines that the presence of ECOMOG without the status of forces agreement with the Liberia Government undermined the sovereignty of the Liberian state and was therefore unacceptable. The presence of ECOMOG therefore became a controversial issue in government circle and diverted attention from the all-important issues of re-structuring and re-training our security forces to the question of the statues of ECOMOG in Liberia and the sovereignty of Liberia, both of which in my mind were not in question. Therefore in my view members of this body wasted the people's time on a matter that was not of interest to the ordinary Liberian and left the issue of providing genuine security as was conceived by the Abuja Accord unattended. In fact, some members of this august body argued that the Abuja Accord became irrelevant following the inauguration of this Government. In the end ECOWAS did not find it justifiable to keep ECOMOG here, largely because its presence had become unacceptable to the Liberian government; hence, the force was withdrawn.

It should be noted that it was less than a year after the departure of ECOMOG that the Lofa attack occurred. I strongly believe that no group would have had the audacity to launch an attack on Liberia with the presence of ECOMOG here, because an attack on Liberia would have been an attack on ECOMOG, since ECOMOG was responsible for security until the reformation of the Liberian armed forces.

ECOWAS and the international community were under moral obligation to protect the government and people of Liberia until the security forces had been restructured, retrained and rearmed under the auspices of ECOWAS. Our failure as government and people to allow these natural developments is the foundation of the crisis Liberia is going through today.

We were wrong as a government and people when we felt that we could put sovereignty above international cooperation and collaboration. I recommend to this august body that it plays a pivotal role in reversing this ugly trend. This body has the authority to ensure that the Government of Liberia genuinely cooperates and collaborates with the international community for the safety and happiness of the Liberian people. Accordingly, even though, ECOMOG has left Liberia, the

Government of Liberia should be mandated to seriously negotiate with ECOWAS and the UN for the reformation of our security forces in a way that will stimulate the confidence of all Liberians and others, in the Liberian security forces. It is my candid view that even if the arms embargo on Liberia is lifted today and Liberia obtains the best weapons in the world, without improving our relationship with our neighbors the sub-region and the rest of the world, we will not be in the position to ensure peace in our nation and to successfully protect ourselves from armed conflict.

We cannot carry the burden of our nation alone; we must work along with the international community. This is the only way forward. Once we do what the international community wants, the arms embargo and other restraints affecting our nation will disappear naturally.

The On-going War
All well-meaning Liberians must condemn the aggressors, the LURD rebel group. The action of LURD is diabolic, criminal and shows no remorse of conscience for the ordinary Liberians who have experienced so much pain and suffering over the years, for the quest of a few Liberians for power. There is only one way to power in Liberia and that way is the consent of the people of Liberia expressed through the electoral process. The electoral process is the only path that the Liberian people have chosen for forming a government. Political power according to our Constitution is inherent in the people. And power, according to our constitution is not to be taken or seized, but to be freely given or bestowed through the process of elections and appointments, all of which are products of consensus building and various means of persuasion, not coercion. It is against our constitution to use force to gain power. I therefore, call upon the rebels causing mayhem and terror in our land to ceasefire and bring their grievances to the table for discussion.

All Liberians may not be in support of this government but most Liberians are united on the question of elections as the only way for changing leadership in this country. Liberians have experienced coup d’etats and civil war and have settled for elections as the way to resolve the question of leadership in this country. All Liberians had the chance to participate in the electoral process in 1997 and freely elected a government of their choice. Whatever the differences are with this government, every effort should be made to ensure that a free, fair and transparent electoral process is pursued in 2003.

Having said this, I wish to recall some of the situations that may have contributed to the current conflict, now that we are beginning to know the identities of the insurgents. I remember that following the inauguration of this government in 1997 the issue of reconciliation was a major issue on the agenda of the government. However, apart from mere pronouncements, not much was done by the government in terms of action, to seriously tackle the issue of reconciliation. For example, the issue of the relationship between the Mandingo and Lorma ethnic groups was crying out loud for solution and remained unattended. I also believe that the Camp Johnson Road situation was handled with a lot of emotion and not with tact, sobriety and maturity. I believe that there are lots of lessons to learn from President Nelson Mandela and the South African Leadership for the way they have maintained peace and stability in that country. It was Mandela who took the first step after the 1994 elections to pacify White South Africans. Pacification is not always a sign of weakness but most often a sign of enormous strength. I believe that it is not late to begin the process of healing in this nation. We must begin with an opened mind to accept serious criticism in the process. The way to resolve the Liberia conflict is not by the use of arms but the institution of measures that will allay the fears of people who harbor fears and lead to the attainment of genuine national reconciliation. This nation will not move one step forward unless there is national reconciliation. There is a need to take a serious look at the whole process of national reconciliation as the first step to resolving the Liberian conflict and attaining real peace and stability.

The sanctions on Liberia were imposed by the United Nations based on conclusions that the Liberian Government was supporting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the Sierra Leonean conflict. I believe that since the armed conflict in Sierra Leone has ended and all the combating forces have been disarmed, there is no more need for the sanctions against Liberia to continue. It should be lifted and I believe it may be lifted during the next review session, if there has been no evidence of its violation.

Having said this, I believe there is too much shouting in government circle instead of quiet diplomacy in dealing with the issue of sanctions. This posture is counter-productive and should be discouraged. Sarcasm and reckless remarks from within government circle directed at the UN and leading members of the international community should be avoided. Some members of this august body have even suggested that Liberia withdraws from the UN. This is a terrible suggestion. For Liberia’s withdrawal from the UN will lead to Liberia’s total isolation, thereby increasing our difficulties and leading to our eventual collapse as a nation state.

On the question of sanctions and all other questions affecting our relation with the international community, we must engage in diplomacy at a level reflective of our age and experience as a nation. We must not loose sight of the fact that Liberia’s importance in the international community has not been because of its resources; wealth or military might but its diplomacy and wisdom in dealing with international affairs. The burden is on you, members of this august body and other officials of government to ensure that Liberia regains its stature amongst the comity of nations. In this regard I believe the sanction on Liberia can be lifted today, if the Liberian government wants it lifted. In fact the sanctions may not have been imposed if the Liberian Government had handled the issue more seriously as was done when Liberia was face with similar situation in 1930.

In 1930 when Liberia came near to be placed under the trusteeship, of the League of Nations, the legislature took actions that led to the resignation of President King and his Vice President. I am not saying that you should have impeached the President or cause him to resign but you should have subjected the executive to rigorous examination in order to avert the situation.

The State of Emergency
The Constitution of Liberia guarantees the declaration of the State of Emergency - Articles 85 thru 88. It is intended to increase government’s capacity to provide greater protection for the citizens of Liberia. By law, the declaration may be in a part or certain parts of the Republic or the entire Republic. The controlling factor whether it is declared in a part of the Republic or the entire country is whether the existing situation warrants the declaration.

The State of Emergency has adverse consequences on individuals and the nation and should only be declared as a last resort to empower the President to deal with a given emergency situation. It leads to a denial of basic freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. It also leads to a reduction in business activities and creates hardship. This is why it must always be used as a last resort. However, I believe that the President was timely when he provided some clarifications day after he declared the state of emergency. His clarifications that all civil Liberties guaranteed by the constitution were not curtailed and the subsequent measures taken by the Ministry of Justice has calmed the tension created by the declaration of the State of Emergency and made life normal in Monrovia. Those steps taken by the government are commendable and should be lauded by all peace-loving Liberians. Nevertheless the state of emergency should be lifted as soon as the situation that necessitated the imposition of a state of emergency is put under control.

In concluding this presentation, I believe that the solution to our problem is home-based not external. First there must be a ceasefire between the government and rebel forces and a dialogue under the auspices of ECOWAS assisted by civil society groups including the Liberia National Bar, the Inter-religious Council of Liberia, amongst others. Also, the Liberian Government should begin serious negotiations with ECOWAS directly or to key members such as Nigeria or Ghana on a bilateral basis for assistance in reforming restructuring and retraining of our military and Para-military forces. The Government of Liberia could alternatively seriously engage the United States Government for the purpose of reforming, re-structuring and retraining our military and para-military forces. Further, the Liberian Government must embark upon a serious process of reconciliation and be perceived locally and internationally as serious. The Government of Liberia must take more concrete steps at protecting human rights and stop the current level of impunity in military and Para-military circle. For example the recent detention of the former first female Chief Justice of Liberia and Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission by the Director of Police without a charge and her placement in the male cell of hardened criminals whereby like the biblical story of Daniel in the Lions den, it took the generosity of the criminals not to abuse her is reprehensible and unacceptable. Can you imagine that a former Chief Justice and director of a human rights program was arrested and detained on the day the whole nation was praying for peace and national reconciliation? Yet no official action has been taken against the Honorable director for such behavior is unbecoming a man of his status. The Justice Ministry’s excuse of mis-identification is hard to believe. How can the identity of a woman so well known be mistaken by the Director of Police. I believe that the recent action taken by the Director of Police has reduced his moral authority to give guidance to his under men; hence, it is proper for him to do the honorable thing of resigning or be relieved of his post.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, I thank you once again for this audience.

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