On The Search For Peace In Liberia
(Position Statement Of Exiled Liberian Students Leaders)
Ladies and Gentlemen:
"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is therefore in the minds of men that the best defenses for peace can be erected"(UNESCO)
The quotation above emphasizes the extreme significance of this Assembly, which is of so much historical necessity for the people of Liberia. That our Nation has been embroiled in a conflict with many faces is no overstatement at all. The war of attrition born out of greed and the uncontrollable appetite of leaders for dominance that has been raging in Liberia since 1999 is the clear basis for the concern which has forced each of us to partake in these deliberations.
We are however not unmindful of the qualified fact that the lingering conflict in Liberia, which has so far undermined stability in at least three states, has proven to be too difficult, if not impossible, to manage. It has even threatened the survival of the entire West African sub-region, even though this fact is often sadly downplayed by member states of the ECOWAS Block. For us therefore, the conflict in Liberia has transcended the nature and scope of an internecine one, and should now be seen within this context and should thus not be merely equated to a gathering of Liberians to find answers to their domestic problems. Instead, it is a forum organized to address a global issue, a theatre from which destabilization plans are hatched and exported to other states.
As we deliberate under what pretentiously seems to be a peaceful atmosphere, thousands of our people are being maimed or hacked to death, hundreds more have been displaced both internally and externally, while at the same time whole provinces have been destroyed. In some parts of the country, what can best be described as ethnic cleansing has been unleashed. More evidently, insecurity is rife, as Liberia has fairly become a Republic of fear. The scale of destruction is unimaginable.
The Conflict in Retrospect
If there is any danger, which this Assembly should not overlook, it is definitely the tendency to ignore the past in addressing the question of lasting peace for Liberia. In other words, it will be suicidal to neglect the fact that the conflict in Liberia is, realistically, a continuation of the trouble that flared up in late 1989 and lasted for the most part of the 1990s. More concisely, newspaper accounts, documentaries and diplomatic notes fired between 1990-1997 are awash with chilling details of tireless efforts at restoring sanity to our Nation. It is however regrettable that five years later Liberia-and indeed West Africa - is still embroiled in a situation of war.
The New Quest for Peace
Hopeless and abandoned by its key allies within the comity of nations, Liberia has been opting for peace since the ECOWAS sponsored Special Elections of 1997 which, ignoring reality, brought to power the very regime that has forced us to another round of peace talks today. We are convinced that these costly ventures could have been avoided five years ago had ECOWAS states listened to those who understood the issues involved in the conflict right from the outset. The resources now being wasted on the search for peace would then be diverted to more meaningful initiatives. We can only be hopeful, however, that given the long history of the Liberian saga and its implications for instability across the sub-region, the necessary steps will be taken to pay special attention to those unresolved issues in order that the mistakes of the past are not permitted to replicate themselves.
Obstacles to Lasting Peace
As in every conflict situation, many obstacles remain in the way of lasting peace. The most excruciating of these is the reluctance of some West African states to acknowledge that the regime in Monrovia undermined its own legitimacy as far back as November 28,1998, when Samuel Dokie, a key opposition figure, his wife and two other family members were butchered to death on its orders. In fact, while this and other gruesome acts by the regime have been rebuked by Liberians and the Western World, West African states have so far remained apathetic. Moreover, when we recall that this opposition figure had been persuaded to return home by an influential West African state, we are tempted to doubt the sincerity of some governments in the sub-region on the question of how to resolve the Liberian conflict.
In addition, the lack of willpower to ensure total compliance from the hegemony in Monrovia with all terms agreed under the Abuja Peace Accord cannot be overemphasized. In fact, while these deliberations are underway, pundits have already started to question the sincerity of ECOWAS governments. In their view, given the attitude of States of the region towards Liberia in recent times, it is anybody’s guess why talks are being called when the position of the regime in Monrovia has come under increased military pressures. For our own part, however, while we reject the use of violence either as a means of acquiring or maintaining political power, we hasten to register our total disapprobation to the fact that ECOWAS governments have openly dealt with a regime that remains the only reason for growing lawlessness in Liberia and instability across the entire sub-region.
Moreover, the misrepresentation of the Liberian problem to the rest of the world by some powerful States undermines any chance for any peaceful resolution. Such gross misrepresentation, when some States of the sub-region are on the African Union’s Peer Review Mechanism, is an indicator that without the full support of States in the region, the search for lasting peace will remain a wild goose chase.
Unresolved Issues from Past Peace Accords
A Critical review of past peace accords reminds each of us that many key issues remain unresolved: Security, genuine national reconciliation vis-à-vis the question of justice, and the total disarming of all combatants. There is no gainsaying that throughout its seven-year search for peace in Liberia during the 1990s, ECOWAS was overwhelmed by the question of appeasing those who carried the guns, as opposed to those who suffered from these guns. Thus governance, which can lose its meaning in the proliferation of guns in any given situation as history has taught all of us, was considered most crucial. This is why these deliberations must place a greater emphasis on the other vital components of peace such as a restructured security system, genuine national reconciliation and the rule of law. Therefore, instead of being obsessed with what role each of us should play in a future Transitional government as was demonstrated in the past, every Delegate to this all-important Session, whether representing a political party, an armed group or the despot in Monrovia, should reflect more on the sufferings of our people and allow good judgment to rule their thoughts, actions and pronouncements at every stage of these talks. We must open our minds, subordinate our interests or devalue the crumbs from the oppressor’s table in order to see clearly to be able to catalogue these issues more meticulously for the sake of our Nation and people. Otherwise, history will judge us just as it now judges the framers of past peace accords.
Few months ago the argument was that elections were feasible in Liberia despite the preponderance of evidences that free, fair and democratic elections could not take place in a Country ruled by one of the most despotic regimes of all times. Many of our political leaders, apparently out of greed, had unknowingly impressed the world that the regime in Monrovia could be trusted on its promise to hold elections as scheduled. Because of this high level of insensitivity on the part of our leaders, most of us who had expressed doubts about the possibility of such elections amid the current reign of terror were perceived as extremists and / or anti-peace radicals or troublemakers. The fact that we have all agreed to assemble like this to discuss the prospects for peace in Liberia has confirmed us as prophets and selfless visionaries who mean well for their hijacked Nation. And if there is any consensus that can be reached, it is the qualified view that we all share: that the 2003 elections are not feasible considering the continuous mass displacement of our people, the proliferation of arms, and the deliberate policy of the Taylor clan to continuously rain havoc on Liberians and the sub-region. We hope that such consensus will be reached on all unresolved issues during these deliberations.
With the question of elections now well out of the way, another key issue has evolved: Transitional arrangement that will ultimately administer affairs of the Nation until a stable environment is created for free, fair and democratic elections. On this matter, however, there are two main schools of thought. Some favor a power-sharing arrangement, almost similar to the same principle that was used before and up to 1997. Others maintain that any future Transitional administration must not follow the pattern from the pre-elections experience. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that having already diluted its legitimacy by becoming an instrument of terror working relentlessly against the very Liberian Constitution that it had vowed to uphold and defend, the Charles McArthur Taylor administration has outlived its usefulness, and must therefore unconditionally resign or be forced by the International Community to do so in order to create a breathing space for a perfect Transitional period. For our part, such a Transitional era must be very distinct from all previous arrangements, which merely permitted barbarity to be the order of the day. While we agree on the question of such administration, we reject any move that will ultimately ransom the eternal fate of our Nation to satisfy the ephemeral glory of a cartel of international criminals.
Timetable for the Transitional Period
Under the ECOWAS Peace Plan, a twelve-month Transitional period was envisaged during which all terms agreed by the warring parties would be implemented. Evidently, such a timetable was unrealistic. In fact, judging from the experiences of the last five years or so, it has become imperative to formulate a Transitional plan that will operate within an adequate period and space. In other words, Liberia requires a Provisional arrangement whose primary responsibility will be to rebuild the entire machinery of our hijacked unitary system of government for a future stable and functioning democracy. Therefore, we propose a two-year Transitional period during which the following objectives shall be pursued:
1. Re-structure of the army and all security agencies as stipulated under the Abuja Accord;
2. Repatriation and resettlement of all exiles and the internally displaced;
3. Reactivation of all educational and health institutions destroyed by war;
4. Formulation of a genuine National Reconciliation program that will focus solely on drawing up a National strategy for healing the wounds inflicted on our people;
5. Reorganization and retraining of the Liberian Judicial System in order to prepare it for the herculean task of the fair and unfettered dispensation of Justice in a truly democratic environment;
6. Reorganization of provincial administrations;
7. Launching of a National Population and Housing census for the purpose of identifying the development needs of Liberia; (The last census was conducted in1984); and
8. Revitalization of the economic sector. Configuration of a Transitional Administration
In the past, the configuration of any Transitional administration was left solely to the whims and caprices of the warring parties. Even the so-called civilian representatives in the previous three transitional arrangements were nominated by the warlord themselves. From this experience, it is easy to discern why implementation of the terms of peace was impossible. We must learn from this monumental error as we deliberate on the crucial question of configuration.
The question that arises is: "What form should the configuration then take?" We reply: " What form should the configuration not take?" The past has taught us that the unworkability of previous Transitional set-ups can be blamed on how they were formed. We must now break completely with the unqualified principle of appeasing those who bear arms as though the vast majority of Liberians were aliens while those bearing the guns were the real citizens. That is, while we must win their confidence in order to make the dream of lasting peace realizable, representation for the warring groups in any future Transitional administration should be kept at a minimum. The possession of arms must not continue to be the basis for participation in government; otherwise, the vicious cycle created by the despotic regime in Monrovia, which has hijacked the peace and happiness of our people, will send a wrong signal to future generations. Thus, the Transitional administration mst, by configuration, be headed by credible individuals from the civil society who would not compromise the people’s desire for lasting peace. Towards this end, we urge the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) and the Liberian’s United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) to cast their lots with the suffering people, since both claim to be fighting for their total liberation.
Amnesty for Combatants
The question for lasting peace cannot be adequately addressed without underscoring the call by some for a "Blanket Amnesty" for combatants, many of whom have committed so much atrocities and mayhem against innocent civilians that the ghastly memories cannot be obliterated by any peace deal. You will agree with us therefore, that many of the massacres, murders and flagrant human rights abuses against our people were / are carried out on orders from the leaders of shadowy organizations. Even the so-called elected government in Liberia has been directly implicated in hideous crimes against the very citizens it had vowed to protect. It will therefore be too foolhardy to conceive, or even propagate, the illogical concept of a blanket amnesty for combatants, when such an idea will merely seek to appease the villains and not the victims. Accordingly, we denounce, discourage, and reject any such move because absolutely no one, not even Mr. Charles McArthur Taylor, is too sacred a cow to be entreated with such indispensability. Thus while we appreciate any deal that will enhance genuine national reconciliation, we however urge this Assembly to remember that the culture of impunity must be discouraged. Of course, we do not wish to downplay any acts of barbarity against our people, but some are just too glaring to be considered under the "casualty of war" principle.
It will be a wry judgment to ignore the role of the ECOWAS Block and the larger International Community in the search for lasting peace in Liberia. It is now abundantly clear that while some states of the sub-region have been playing a very positive role in finding lasting solutions to the Liberian problem, others have been consistent in their support to the Taylor administration despite its brutality against Liberians. We therefore call on ECOWAS to invoke and enforce the 1978 ECOWAS Protocol on Non-Aggression against member states as well as ensure respect for all United Nations Security Council Resolutions and previous regional actions taken on Liberia. Member States must be made to respect these decisions. We also call for the impartial assessment of the 1996 Abuja Peace Accord and for ECOWAS to openly repudiate and penalize the violators. By such exercise of the authority vested in it by member states through the ECOWAS protocol, we can be certain that any peace formula derived from the Accra Talks will be implement able.
In addition, we appeal to the United States, Great Britain, France, and the United Nations Security Council for extension of the mandate of the War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone to Liberia. By extending the court's mandate to Liberia, where all the plans for atrocities against Sierra Leoneans were watched, and where the scale of crimes against innocent civilians is equally despicable, the Security Council will be treating the disease from its source and not from the symptoms.
As we stated on July 27,200 in a press concerning the use of Liberian territory as a breeding ground for international terrorism, we denounce the continual presence of international terrorism in Liberia. And since these terrorists are being harbored by Charles McArthur Taylor and his Government, we call on the United States, Great Britain and their allies in the Coalition Against Global Terrorism to consider Liberia within the same context they had placed Talibanism Afghanism or most recently Iraq under the Baath Party. The War Against Global Terrorism should not be limited to the Middle East because even here in West Africa, another Baath Party is rapidly developing.
We also appealed for humanitarian support to our suffering people. In villages, towns, and cities, Liberians are dying of hunger, diseases, bullets and the likes. We therefore appeal to the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies for a quick action to deliver needed food items to our people across the length and breadth of the country. Like the people of the Middle East, and he Great Lakes region, Liberians equally deserve the world’s attention. If the world delays to respond to our honest plea and allows Liberians, a potentially wealthy country to remain strangulated of the terrorism tomorrow it may be too late for action.
Our final appeal is for an international stabilization force to be deployed in Liberia. Such a force will effect the comprehensive disarming of all combatants and, together with either major powers carrying out the enormous task of restoring Liberia army and security agencies.
Every human spice aspires to live in peace. In fact, pace is God’s gift to all human beings. Liberians, too, deserve to live, develop and prosper in peace. The spiraling mayhem that has already displaced thousands of our people is having a huge toil on neighboring states. Although some economies are in shambles, plunder is widespread, and the fear for further escalation looms across the horizon.
Like the Great Lakes region and other troubled spots on the continent, West Africa is slowly but surely concerning a hotbed for disasters because of the determination of one man to wrack the peace of the region. The Liberian leader and his cronies must be contained now, or they will disintegrate the whole of West Africa.
Long Live Liberia! God Bless Liberia!
Done In The Republic Of Ghana On This 3rd Day Of June, 2003 By Exiled Liberian Student Leaders - University Of Liberia 2000/2001
1. J. Alphonso Nimene - President
2. Bornor M. Varmah - Vice President
3. J. Karku Sampson - Secretary General
4. K. Emmanuel Yarkpazuo - Financial Secretary
5. Wilmot J. Paye - Special Envoy
6. Urias Teh-Pour - Chairman/SUP-2000/2001
7. L.Kutubu Sherif Co.-Chairman 2000/2001
8. Janga Augustus Kowo - Co-Chairman 2000/2001
9. Francis Colee - Secretary General 2000/2001
10. Garmai M. Kaine - Financial Secretary/ SUP 2000/2001
11. Roseline J. Nagbe - Treasurers 2000/2001
12. J. Rexford Betteh - Chairman/Reconstruction
13. Lester Z. Tenny Jr. - Chairman/National Affairs
14. Robert Mayson - Member
15. Alfred Tokpa- Member