The United Nations Sanctions on Liberia: Myths and Truths

By Mohamedu Jones, Esq.

The Perspective

Posted March 8, 2002

In May 2001, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Liberia pursuant to Resolution 1343 (2001). This was a separate and distinct act from the earlier arms embargo that was imposed on the country. Since the imposition of the sanctions, President Taylor’s government has relentlessly tried to cast the sanctions as causing “suffering to the people of Liberia.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the sanctions were “narrowly tailored” to have no impact whatsoever on the ordinary people of Liberia, and they do not. My purpose here is to neither commend nor criticize the sanctions on Liberia, but merely to explain them, because many Liberians simply misunderstand the U.N. sanctions.

The Liberian sanctions are in marked contrast to the 1990 sanctions imposed on Iraq, much of which is still in effect, some of which have even been tightened since then. The U.N.’s Iraqi sanctions required all countries to “prevent” the “import into their countries of all commodities and products originating in Iraq.” The sanctions also required member states to prevent “any activities by their nationals or in their territories which would promote or are calculated to promote the export or transshipment of any commodities or products from Iraq.” The resolution went on to prohibit any business “dealings” with or “transfer of funds” to Iraq. Food and medical supplies were the sole exclusions. This resolution imposed total sanctions on Iraq under international law.

Let’s compare the very limited Liberian sanctions. Paragraph 6 of Resolution 1343 requires countries to “take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect import of all rough diamonds from Liberia, whether or not such diamonds originated in Liberia.” Of all commodities (rubber, coffee, cocoa, timber, etc.) exported from Liberia, only rough diamonds are prohibited, and no civilian imports are affected.

Paragraph 7 (a) of the Resolution provide that “all States shall take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of senior members of the Government of Liberia and its armed forces and their spouses and any other individuals providing financial and military support to armed rebel groups in countries neighboring Liberia, in particular the RUF in Sierra Leone, as designated by the Committee.” The U.N. then named specific persons who cannot travel out of Liberia under this sanction. The list includes President Taylor and others connected to him, either personally or officially, or both. Even those officials named in the Resolution are permitted to travel to the United Nations, the OAU, ECOWAS and Mano River Union meetings.

Under the terms of the Liberian Sanctions Resolution, only those Liberians engaged in economic activities connected to rough diamonds or persons who are named specifically under the travel provision (no more than 150 persons, some of whom are non-Liberians) are affected by the sanctions. By no means can this possibly impose any hardship burdens on the Liberian people or amount to suffering of the people of Liberia. Well, unless of course your name is on the travel ban.

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