"In the Cause of the People"

By: James W. Harris

The Perspective

December 7, 2001

The recent news coming out of Lofa County about renewed fighting between forces loyal to the beleaguered Taylor government and the so-called dissident group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), is very disturbing to say the least.

Besides forcing people in that area to flee their homes in panic once again for fear of losing their lives, the latest fighting there also has the potential of making it almost impossible for the various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other humanitarian agencies to do their work without endangering their own lives.

Yet still, both the besieged Taylor-led National Patriotic Party (NPP) government and LURD claim to be fighting "in the cause" of the Liberian people. Or could this be just another irony in the on-going Liberian saga?

One would think that any individual or group that claim to be fighting "in the cause of the [Liberian] people" would be doing everything that’s humanly possible to ensure that majority of the country’s population, who, from all indications are already weary of more war, get a decent and stable life. And mind you, not by providing them with luxury items like diamonds or anything of that sort, but by giving them just the essential things to make their "sorry" lives more meaningful. I’m talking about things like, clean drinking water, access to basic health care, farm to market roads, schools, etc.

Or, that any individual or group claiming to be seeking the interests of the Liberian people, especially at this time of extreme difficulties, would be doing everything to accommodate humanitarian workers so that they can at least continue to care for the country’s hundreds of needy as well as other refugees in the immediate area.

But the apparent failure of either side (the Taylor government and LURD) so far to understand the significance of providing a safe environment in which people residing in their respective territories, including, NGO personnel, can conduct their daily lives and businesses, leads one to question their sincerity as regards the use of the phrase: "in the cause of the people". It also causes one to wonder why, in fact, some Liberians are so determined to acquire power by force in the first place, deliberately destroying hundreds and hundreds of innocent lives in the process.

Generally, it is a widely known and accepted fact that in any war situation civilian casualties will occur, no matter how well administered. But in any case, it is also the foremost responsibility of each party in an armed conflict (in this particular instance, the on going senseless war in Lofa) to avoid the loss of human lives as much as possible. This is true more so on the part of LURD rather than the Taylor regime. Pardon me if I should sound a little bit bias here. Why?

Because the ruling NPP government’s record on governance and human rights are well known and extensively documented. Not to say that LURD’s record is clean either! But it can be said with some degree of confidence that it is the Taylor administration’s dismal record for the past four terrible years that has provided LURD the opportunity to take up arms against what they (and many other Liberians) see as an "illegitimate" government in Monrovia. Short of this, what other excuses could they have had - none!

But while LURD’s decision to take up arms against the Taylor regime is their right, it does not absolve them of the responsibility for whatever happens in areas that are under their immediate control. And Amnesty International (AI) has made it quite clear what the responsibility of each side should be in this raging conflict.

In a recent report entitled, "Liberia: Killings, torture and rape continue in Lofa County", AI observed among other things that: "The human rights crisis [continuously] unfolding in Liberia is not inevitable. Liberian authorities and LURD leaders should publicly instruct combatants not to rape, torture and kill civilians. Those responsible for abuses should be removed [immediately] from service and brought to justice."

And so, it is only fair to say that the so-called dissident group must prove its true intention towards the Liberian people now by behaving much differently than the regime it has vowed to replace with one that is hopefully more democratic. And where else would it be best to start than in territories presently under their (LURD’s) watch.

But the latest news about continuing kidnappings, rape, murder and other atrocities allegedly being committed by dissident forces in this new fighting do not help their cause at all, even though, most of what we’re hearing is coming from the other side - the Taylor camp. I need not say more!

Yet, these allegations against LURD by the Liberian Ministry of Defense should not be taken lightly or easily dismissed. If anything, they should all be investigated by some independent organizations, like the United Nations (UN) or Amnesty International (AI) to name just a few, because it is very important to get to the bottom of this so that the whole truth can be known. While it is true that Liberians are craving badly for "positive" changes in terms of the war-ravaged country’s leadership crisis, they certainly don’t want to see another group seize power only to do the "same old things" that the current government and others before it are constantly being accused of.

Amazingly, since LURD took up arms about two years ago in their attempt to oust Mr. Taylor and his cronies from power, very little is known about the group, especially pertaining to its plans for a supposedly post-NPP administration. Although some of its leaders have been quoted as saying that LURD believes in democracy, human rights, etc., Liberians and the international community have yet to see these basic principles put into practice in territories that the group currently occupies.

In fact, either group that heeds the pleas of AI and others, especially on the issue of human rights, would be doing itself a big favor. Because adhering to international human rights standards and other practices of good governance would certainly go a long way in helping to improve or reshape that group’s overall public image.

As the nation prepares and looks forward to the upcoming elections of 2003, there’s nothing more important right now than creating the appropriate condition within the country that would enable Liberians, the likely voters, to return peacefully to their homes. This would also give Liberians that are already skeptical or suspicious of LURD’s intention the opportunity to see for themselves how their governance differs from the sitting NPP government.

Now that calm is said to be gradually returning to the troubled Gbarpolu County region and other surrounding areas, LURD must do its part to ensure that law and order prevail in territories it controls. This would in turn enable the various NGOs that are currently serving those areas to continue doing their work, providing the basic needs for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Frankly, unless LURD improves its image via improving their human rights record, it could easily be dismissed as just another bunch of Liberians that want to acquire power by brutal force for the heck of it. If this is their ultimate goal, then the innocent lives of countless Liberians should not be put at further risks.

Neither should this war be waged purely on the basis of ethnicity, for example, the indigenous people versus the so-called Congo [Americo-Liberian] people. This deficiency in our body politic was settled years ago when the then Master/Sergeant Samuel K. Doe assumed power through the use of violence. As we have all learned since, his rule did very little, if anything, to improve the living standards of the Liberian people, including, the indigenous tribes he represented. We learned sadly from Mr. Doe’s rule that Liberia’s indigenous people can also be as corrupt as their Americo-Liberian counterparts.

What any war or conflict in the country should be all about at this point in time, is to permanently bridge the ever widening economic gap between the country’s "haves" and "have nots" in addition to instituting some kind of truly "democratic" reforms - it’s that simple.

Recently commenting on the nation’s visible economic imbalance, Catholic Archbishop, Michael Francis, the preeminent vocal critic of the morally bankrupt Taylor Government, boldly asked in his latest pastoral letter: "How can a person live on LD (Liberian Dollars) $800.00 a month? Yet those in position of authority are living in homes that cost thousands [and thousands] of United States dollars." "In the first place, where did they and how are they getting such sums to live in such luxury? Yet their subordinates live on pittance. Does this not lead to corruption?" he further asked.

This is exactly the kind of ills in the Liberian society that continues unabated today and must be resolved once and for all going forward. Therefore, any group of Liberians that think they can shoot their way into power and then renege on their promises to the people might as well forget it.

Because they can rest assure that they’ll get the same kinds of criticisms and be subjected to the same kinds of scrutiny just like Taylor and his NPP. And so, LURD better make sure that they deliver or seize their deadly activities before it gets too late! As a matter of fact, Liberians just can’t afford to go on killing each other with impunity for no good reasons or only to settle old scores.

Needless to say they (Liberians) and the international community definitely need some sort of assurance at this time from both sides "in the cause of the people".

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