International Crisis Group Calls for a Regional Approach to the Liberian Conflict

(A Briefing Paper by the International Crisis Group to the UN Security Council Mission to West Africa - 23 June 2003)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 24, 2003

I. Regional Overview and Recommendations:

The United Nations Security Council Mission to West Africa offers a vital opportunity to advance the comprehensive approach necessary to address the interlocking crises in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Cote d'Ivoire. While the international community has made great strides in improving the security situation in Sierra Leone, that nation and much of West Africa remain at risk. ICG urges the Security Council to address the relationship among the conflicts and initiate a bold regional solution.

Violence in West Africa shifts rapidly from country to country. A civil war and a large-scale humanitarian crisis rage in Liberia. A fragile peace exists in Côte d'Ivoire, although it remains on the brink of full-scale war, in part stimulated by interference from Burkina Faso. Guinea, while contributing to the civil war in Liberia, faces a humanitarian crisis along its southern border, a potential power vacuum due to an ailing president, and the prospect of seriously flawed elections in December. Sierra Leone's hard-earned peace can still be destroyed by the region's instability. It is important that the Security Council properly assess the new dynamics and not restrict its actions to any single country. All four share the same vulnerabilities. Under the prevailing logic that "my enemy's enemy is my friend," they are entangled with various rebel groups that pursue wars of revenge and enrichment.

That said, putting an end to Liberia's civil war and achieving a peaceful change of its government are the immediate keys to regional security. The 4 June indictment of President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the signing of the ceasefire among the Liberian parties on 17 June carry opportunities and risks for peace. The immediate requirements are for the Security Council to:

However, President Taylor is not the only problem. The insurgents opposing him on the battlefield will also threaten stability should they take power. Moreover, regional stability also requires addressing the actions of other regional leaders and states. West Africa's leaders persistently interfere in neighbouring countries by paying mercenaries, loaning fighters, providing rest and training bases, and trafficking in weapons. Côte d'Ivoire is sponsoring Liberia rebels (the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, MODEL); Burkina Faso is supporting anti-Gbagbo rebels in Côte d'Ivoire (Mouvement Patriotique de la Côte d'Ivoire, MPCI); Guinea is providing a base and transit route for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD); former participants in Sierra Leone's war, notably fighters from the Revolutionary United Front rebel group and Kamajor militias from the Civil Defence Force, are also active in Liberia's struggle, and the country remains a transit route for LURD rebels. The Security Council Mission should:

II. Liberia

The situation on the ground in Liberia remains precarious. After the initial increase in fighting in and around Monrovia following the announcement of Taylor's indictment earlier in the month, shops and businesses have re-opened and several Lebanese traders who fled to Sierra Leone are preparing to return. Nevertheless, both sides have alleged violations of the ceasefire. The evacuation of West African citizens and others continues in a tense atmosphere. UN, US, and EU non-essential embassy staff have been withdrawn. Up to 800 Ghanaians and Nigerians were airlifted out on 19-20 June, with hundreds of Liberians seizing the opportunity to also flee. Humanitarian agencies are still struggling to avert a catastrophe in Monrovia and they are unable to reach many civilians outside the capital that are in desperate need of food, water, and medical attention. Over sixty per cent of the country is inaccessible and there are mounting reports of rape, looting and forced recruitment by all sides in the conflict.

The United States must lead the effort and fulfil its responsibilities to ensure a successful transition from the Taylor era. Just as the U.K. led in Sierra Leone and France led in the Ivory Coast, the U.S. must now assist the nation it helped establish, including through the deployment of troops if necessary.

The signing of a ceasefire agreement on 17 June between the Government of Liberia and the LURD and MODEL rebel groups needs to be followed up strongly and promptly. The first phase of the ceasefire agreement will be monitored by a Joint Verification Team (JVT) and a Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), both fifteen-member bodies consisting of representatives from all Liberian parties to the conflict, ECOWAS member states, UN military personnel, the African Union, and the International Contact Group for Liberia. The UN Mission for Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) will provide one of the two UN military personnel for the JVT and basic logistical support, including a helicopter and communication equipments. Within 30 days of the signing of the agreement (by 17 July), the Government of Liberia, rebel groups, political parties, and civil society stakeholders are to develop a blueprint for a transitional government and for a comprehensive peace agreement. The timetable of the ceasefire also calls for a West African-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) to be on the ground in Liberia within 60 days of the signing of the agreement (by 17 August). The JVT was scheduled to arrive in Monrovia by 22 June to map out the precise location of all fighting units. However, allegations of continued fighting by all sides to the conflict have delayed its deployment.

The 4 June announcement of the indictment of Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone both imposes on the international community a legal and moral requirement and provides it a tactical opportunity to ensure that Taylor gives up power quickly. Handled right, the region can be purged of a great threat and helped toward a new era of peace, stability, and democracy. Mishandled, it can spark a new spiral of violence of catastrophic proportions.

So long as President Charles Taylor remains in power, Liberia risks complete disintegration, and the entire region risks the consequences of his power drive and the revenge of his enemies. The ceasefire agreement, signed on behalf of President Taylor by Minister of Defence Daniel Chea, states that the comprehensive peace agreement shall include "the formation of a transitional government which will not include the current president in accordance with his June 4, 2003 declaration in Accra, made at the inauguration of the ECOWAS peace talks." At those talks, President Taylor offered to "remove himself from the process that would continue to perpetuate this crisis." Noting that his term of office ends in January 2004, Taylor stated that thereafter, there should be a transitional period "that will not include me." Taylor also stated this if he were seen as "a problem," then "I will remove myself." Yet, he told a Liberian radio audience on 20 June that the idea he would abandon power was a "dream" and that his National Patriotic Party would remain after January to conduct future elections, and that he might well seek to continue his rule one way or another. In a different forum, Taylor has also repeated his willingness to step down at the end of his term.

The Security Council should make every effort to secure his departure as soon as possible, preferably by July 17 when a blueprint for a transitional government and for a comprehensive peace agreement should be agreed. Where he to remain in office until January 2004, he not only will defy the indictment but also will continue to be a destabilising factor in Liberia and the region.

The Security Council's recent imposition of timber sanctions, which come into effect on 7 July, was a welcome move to put pressure on President Taylor and curb his capacity to gain revenue with which to buy more arms. Another welcome announcement on 20 June, following a request by the Special Court, was the decision by the Federal Office of Justice of the Government of Switzerland to immediately block or freeze various and related personal and business accounts belonging to Charles Taylor.

ICG reiterates its June 10 recommendations for a multinational force, Taylor's departure from power, an interim government, and support for the peace process outlined in its call for action. The Security Council should push for steps outlined below.

A. Taylor and the Special Court

At this critical and early stage of the ceasefire the Security Council must make it clear to President Taylor that:

A strong public statement from the Security Council Mission that it is fully behind the Special Court indictment should contain these three points in order to make it unmistakably clear to Taylor that he has lost all legitimacy both in the eyes of the people of Liberia and the international community and will be treated accordingly. That statement should also counter Taylor's allegation that the Special Court indictment was directed against his supporters more generally. They should be reassured that if they cooperate in the peace process, they can expect to have an appropriate part in it and in the country's future. To increase the pressure on Taylor, the Security Council should at the same time:

Concurrently, Taylor should be advised informally but authoritatively by representatives of the Security Council that, while he cannot expect amnesty, he can expect to gain appropriate credit in the court process, and from those states that might involve themselves in some fashion as friends of the court, if he departs power peacefully and promptly and otherwise contributes constructively to the peace process.

B. Getting Peacekeepers into Liberia Immediately

While the ceasefire agreement provides that a West African-led international stabilisation force (ISF) is to be on the ground in Liberia by mid-August, this schedule may be too slow. It is vital that the wider international community provide political and military muscle to make this vital element of the transition to peace effective at once. In particular, the United States, in view of the long history of its special relationship with Liberia, should take a prominent part in this effort - including the possible deployment of U.S. troops if necessary. It must not only work closely with the West Africans to the greatest extent possible but also should take the lead as events may require.

The Security Council should endorse by resolution an ISF with a robust mandate to support the fragile ceasefire. If the ceasefire collapses, the ISF may need to be deployed with special rapidity. It must be intended to contribute to all key components, including providing security and support to the Joint Verification Team (JVT) and the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC). As the situation stabilises, the ISF should transition to a traditional UN peacekeeping force.

C. Support for the 30 Days of Political Dialogue

The Security Council must work with the International Contact Group on Liberia (U.K., U.S., France, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, EU, UN, AU, and ECOWAS) and move quickly to help the parties keep to the ceasefire's strict timetable. The critical commitment is to form a transitional government and otherwise negotiate the terms of a comprehensive peace agreement within 30 days (by 17 July), which should include conditions for a disarmament and reintegration (DR) program, creation of a new national army, strengthening of civil society, and a strong international presence.

D. Interim Government

Every effort should be made to ensure Taylor's departure from office and a transition to an interim government by the end of this 30-day process. Indeed, it seems very unlikely that the insurgents, other key Liberian political parties, or civil society groups would agree to any interim government and to maintaining the ceasefire were Taylor permitted to remain in power. Accordingly, a two-phased post-Taylor process should be established. First, Taylor should step down and, in accordance with the Liberian constitution, be succeeded by Vice President Moses Blah who would serve out the remainder of Taylor's elected term, until January 2004. Second, in that July-January interval, a broad interim government should be negotiated under the auspices of ECOWAS and the other members of the International Contact Group on Liberia, including especially strong U.S. and UN support. All political parties and civil society should be included in this interim government, which would assume power in January 2004 at the end of Blah's current term. The interim government would then work to develop conditions for free and fair elections as soon as possible, probably within 18-30 months.

E. UN Mission

The Security Council, in consultation with the International Contact Group on Liberia, should establish a UN Mission for Liberia (UNML) to assist the interim government (first the Blah administration during the second half of 2003, then the interim government after January 2004) in the transition to democracy. The mandate of UNML, which should be seen as an essential complement to the security force, would be to assist the interim government carry out a comprehensive disarmament and reintegration program, institutional reform, and free and fair elections, including by:

F. Transitional Justice

A joint Liberian and international community task force should begin preparatory work on both a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a war crimes tribunal for Liberia. Early initiation of the latter in particular would send a powerful signal to all factions that they face prosecution for war crimes and should be accompanied by messages that while immunity would not be available in advance to anyone, those who maintained the ceasefire and engaged constructively with the peace process could expect to gain relevant credit for their actions in any criminal process.

III. Sierra Leone

Peace in Sierra Leone is still especially vulnerable to any crisis in Liberia. The ongoing withdrawal of the UNAMSIL mission before the Sierra Leone forces are capable of maintaining security, the influx of fighters from Liberia, and a potential increase in refugee flows will test the capacity of the government to maintain stability. Many observers question the capacity of the police and the military to handle both internal and external pressures.

A large international investment has already been made to restore stability, and the steps outlined above will go a considerable way toward maintaining external security, but President Kabbah needs to make a serious attempt to address internal problems, including corruption, a weak economy, a dysfunctional judicial system, and a bureaucracy incapable of handling the challenges of governance. Essentially Sierra Leone faces an historic decision of choosing tough reforms or politics as usual. Progress on reforms is stagnating and there is little leadership from a government that needs to be reminded that success in preventing a new war cannot be based on international funding or UNAMSIL troops, but only on its own commitment to reform a corrupt and inefficient political system.

The Security Council Mission should focus not only on UNAMSIL and security reform, but also equally on political reform and good governance. The international investment in Sierra Leone should be protected and furthered by encouraging:

IV. Guinea

Guinea is the forgotten party to the regional conflict. It has all the ingredients that make a country ripe for rebellion but there are also opportunities for conflict prevention. In many ways, its internal conditions are similar to Liberia's - widespread poverty, corruption, a disintegrating economy, and an oppressive regime. Despite foreign support and many natural resources, it remains desperately poor, in contrast to its president's wealth. The second half of 2003 will be a difficult time politically. The uncertainty over President Conté's succession in the December elections raises concern and increases the prospect for violence. Dissidents based in Liberia can be expected to exploit the power vacuum that is developing as a result of President Conté's ill health to create unrest.

Externally, Guinea experiences a direct impact from the Liberian conflict, including an increasing refugee burden. It provides the LURD with a rear base and easily accessible supply route. Indeed, its open and explicit support for those insurgents fanned new flames in Liberia's civil war. The 17 April 2003 report of the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia clearly demonstrated that Guinea is violating that part of Security Council Resolution 1408 (6 May 2002) that requests all West African countries to refrain from continued support for any side in Liberia's conflict.

The Security Council Mission should:

V. Côte d'Ivoire

Peace in Côte d'Ivoire is far from complete or secure. The contest for power between President Gbagbo and rebel groups now called "Forces Nouvelles" is made much more dangerous by the involvement of Liberian fighters. In return for their support, Gbagbo has helped anti-Taylor Liberians, calling themselves MODEL, while also using them to attack ethnic groups outside his own Bété group in western Côte d'Ivoire. Furthermore, the Forces Armees Nationales de Cote d'Ivoire (FANCI) and a tribal militia, Forces de Liberation de Grand Ouest, (FLGO), recruited by Gbagbo have been fighting alongside MODEL inside Liberia. Under the current attempt by the French-led Operation Licorne and ECOWAS forces (MICECI) to "clean-up" western Côte d'Ivoire, Liberian fighters still in-country are being allowed to return armed to Liberia. Negotiations have also taken place between FANCI, Gbagbo and MODEL to allow members of the tribal militia FLGO to enter MODEL.

The Security Council Mission should: