ALJA Calls for Lifting of State of Emergency in Liberia
February 19, 2002
The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA), is alarmed by the declaration of the state of emergency in Liberia. President Charles Taylor imposed the state of emergency February 8, amid reports that an armed rebellion, which has been ongoing for the past few years from northern Liberia, is close to Monrovia.
We are extremely concerned about the increasing loss of innocent life, the safety and plight of tens of thousands of defenseless people who have been uprooted from Lofa, Gbarpolu and Bomi Counties, and the continued looting and destruction of property.
We are also very disturbed by press reports that government troops might have been fighting among themselves near the Sawmill refugee center about 45 miles from Monrovia. This development triggered the recent mass movement of people toward Monrovia, and the very tense state of insecurity that has resulted to the declaration of the state of emergency. Press reports quoting eyewitnesses and humanitarian relief workers, also indicate that government troops were involved in looting, including relief supplies, in the provincial capital of Tubmanburg, Bomi County, after the civilian population fled from the city. About two weeks before that, there were reports from Gbarpolu that government soldiers were engaged in forced labor and harassment of defenseless people, and widespread looting of property.
Even though there has been no independent confirmation regarding the presence of rebels of the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) in the vicinity of the Clay junction or in Bomi County, the group has claimed responsibility for the attacks near Monrovia.
We hope that this crisis is not being orchestrated, at the cost of innocent lives, to serve the political interests of Mr. Taylor or the LURD rebels. There are growing suspicions that the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe is being stage-managed, in an attempt to force the United Nations to lift the arms embargo and sanctions imposed on Liberia for Taylor's reported involvement in gunrunning and diamond smuggling with Sierra Leone's notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. With Sierra Leone's civil war declared over, Taylor and his government have launched a campaign, including what appears to be an orchestrated escalation in fighting, to demand the lifting of the arms embargo to enable Liberia to defend itself. Taylor's regime has argued that there was no longer any justification for continued UN sanctions on Liberia since the Sierra Leone war, for which the sanctions were imposed, has ended.
On the other hand, the equally notorious but less potent LURD, which is desperately seeking for recognition to be seated at peace talks as a major armed faction, is also suspected of being in complicity with the Taylor regime in creating the sense of chaos that have resulted to the imposition of the state of emergency. While individuals posing as spokespersons for the LURD have called news agencies claiming responsibility for the fighting near Monrovia, another individual known to be a prominent military commander of the LURD has also granted press interviews insisting that his forces were not involved in the fighting.
Whatever may be the motivations behind the recent escalation in fighting in Liberia, ALJA calls on the armed groups involved to respect and uphold the basic human rights of civilians. It is our hope that the prevailing state of affairs in Liberia would not provide an opportunity to further intensify the already brutal suppression of press freedom and dissent. ALJA denounces any attempts to use the state of emergency to harass, detain or murder those regarded to be critics or opponents of Taylor's regime.
ALJA views with grave concern developments unfolding in Liberia, which indicate that the government has begun a campaign of witch-hunt. A February 11, 2002 Amnesty International report noted that the state of emergency declared in Liberia "is being used as a justification by the security forces to abuse power and commit human rights violations to the civilian population."
The Amnesty International report, as well as press reports from Liberia, indicate that there has been widespread panic amongst the civilian population, while the security forces have been carrying out the detention and forcible recruitment of young men and boys, harassment associated with dissident hunting, and looting of property.
We condemn the illegal acts of drafting children into combat and also the forced recruitment of young men. ALJA calls on the UN to investigate and take appropriate actions to contain these criminal practices of recruitment, which have been ongoing in Liberia since the civil war. We applaud the UN for the coming into force of the treaty which bans children from being drafted into combat.
On February 12, the independent Analyst newspaper was ordered closed, while the publisher and managing editor of the paper, Stanley Seakor, was arrested, beaten and detained along with reporters James T. Lloyd and Ellis Togba. The journalists, who have been released from detention, were arrested after the paper published articles critical of the state of emergency, which the government considered detrimental to the state. In one of the articles, the paper reported that the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) spent more than U.S.$250,000 during its just-ended weeklong convention in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County in the midst of hardship and degradation.
We commend the Press Union of Liberia for intervening to secure the release of the detained journalists, and strongly condemn Taylor's barbaric regime for its brutal suppression of press freedom and dissent.
The regime has imposed an exit visa restriction, which would bar Liberians from leaving the country without government approval. Mr. Taylor has also warned critics not to oppose the state of emergency. According to a statement from the Information Ministry, "any civil society or pressure group that comments on the state of emergency or plans any mass action without seeking authorization from the appropriate arm of government will be dealt with in keeping with the dictates of the law."
We also view with serious concern, Mr. Taylor's pronouncement that the UN and the international community, through their silence on the situation in Liberia, are "inviting genocide." Our concern is against the background that on occasions during the civil war, Taylor's forces were widely known to have carried out the massacre of thousands of defenseless people, in order to force the UN and the international community to get involved and accelerate some peace process, when Taylor's position was threatened.
From all indications, Liberia is once again on the verge of anarchy and a return to unstrained bloodshed. To reverse this potential calamity, we call on Mr. Taylor to immediately lift the state of emergency and submit to the convening of an all Liberia peace conference at the earliest possibility.
ALJA is also appealing to the UN not to lift the arms embargo and other sanction measures imposed on Liberia, until Taylor's brutal and barbaric regime demonstrates a commitment to the rule of law and the holding of democratic elections in 2003. To lift the arms embargo at this time would make the UN an accessory to the continuation of death and destruction in Liberia.
On January 20, 2002, ALJA issued a statement drawing attention to reports that Taylor and some officials of his regime were threatening to abort the 2003 presidential and general elections. The statement noted, among other things, that Liberia's autocratic leader was contemplating the declaration of a state of emergency as a means to further solidify his grip on power.
We re-echo our call to the international community, particularly the U.N, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the European Union (EU), to engage the Taylor regime and seek further clarification on recent course of events in Liberia. We welcome the recent visit to Liberia of an EU delegation, and hope that this is part of the effort to bring about peace and democratic governance in Liberia. We call on the international community to take a firm position to withhold recognition to any government in Liberia beyond the 2003 election schedule that does not have a democratic mandate to govern, and also to freeze all of Liberia's assets abroad until a government established through free and fair democratic elections is seated.
We call for the immediate intervention of the United Nations and ECOWAS in the Liberian crisis to prevent a repeat of the seven-year bloody civil war spearheaded by Taylor, which cost the death of an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people. As experiences have shown, an unstable Liberia poses a serious threat to the stability of the West African sub-region.
Meanwhile, ALJA would like to thank the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, the UN and ECOWAS for the sustained effort to bring an end to the bloodshed in Sierra Leone. We hope that Britain would support serious international effort to end the state of death and destruction in Liberia. Until serious actions are taken to restore peace to Liberia, there would be no durable peace in the Man River Union basin, which group together Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Dated this 18th Day of February, 2002.
Gabriel I.H. Williams, Secretary General - Phone (916) 362-9551; email: email@example.com
Isaac D.E. Bantu, Acting President - Phone/fax (781) 581-8018; Fax (781) 581-0501