A Call for Tougher Sanctions on Liberia and its Neighbors

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

May 12, 2003

On 7 may 2003, the UN Security Council met to re-examine the issue of existing sanctions imposed on Liberia. Originally the sanctions were imposed against the government of Liberia for its "support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and for other armed groups in the region."

For our readers who may not be aware of what the RUF is, the RUF is a ruthless gang responsible for the anarchy in that neighboring country, Sierra Leone, killing tens of thousands of civilians and amputating the limbs of many others, including women and children.

According to resolution 1343 (2001), "Existing sanctions consist of a weapons embargo, measures against the export of its rough diamonds and travel restrictions on senior government members."

Recently, a British-based human rights group named "Global Witness" joined many others in lobbying for the extension of sanctions as well as the inclusion of Liberian timber on the list.

To the dismay of the Liberian government, which had spent considerable political energy and expense to lobby against the impending sanctions, the resolution was passed unanimously. In addition to the existing sanctions, a ban on Liberian timber was also added. Although according to the resolution, the ban on timber export is only a 10-month ban.

It should come as no surprise that I followed the development with eagerness and was relieved when I learned of the extension of the existing sanctions and the inclusion of the ban on timber export.

I do support UN sanctions against the government of Liberia as a matter of principle... it is simply the right thing to do. However, I am a little disappointed that the conditions attached to the sanctions do not go far enough. For example, I think as long as there is evidence that the government continually and intentionally abrogates the conditions of the sanction, there should be no necessary yearly reviews. Instead, the sanctions should be imposed indefinitely and rigidly enforced. After all, what good are sanctions without teeth?

For example, the resolution requires that the imposition of a ban on the importation of timber takes effect on 7 July, 2003. The logical question is, why not an immediate effect? We know that that the Taylor administration has no intention to honor these resolutions, (and there is ample evidence to support that assertion), then why bother with cosmetic examination? I propose a permanent ban coupled with stringent controls and rigid consequences for abuse thereof.

Speaking of evidence of breaking or ignoring UN sanctions, the Liberian second Foreign Minister ( Monie Captan is another Foreign Minister), Mr. Lewis Brown made it clear when during a recent interview he said, "We are using our money to defend ourselves. If we get a dime, what do you expect us to do with it, build toilets on Broad Street?" He meant the government is still buying arms.

It may not have occurred to the "honorable" minister that (maybe) if the government had concentrated its resources on building public toilets, roads, schools, clinics and paying public servants fair salaries on a regular basis, it may not have necessarily had to fight a war.

Some argue, (perhaps rightfully so), that it was the blatant neglect of attending to such fundamentally sound principles and responsibilities that irked our fellow citizens to take up arms, in the first place.

This does not in anyway, support their purported armed struggle against the government which ends up killing unarmed and defenseless fellow citizens. I have always maintained that these armed groups are no "angels of liberation". When it comes to the issues of democracy and leadership, they are "clueless" and must not be considered a healthy alternative.

There is reason to believe the new rebel group has its eyes on timber as a way of financing their mayhem against the country, just as President Taylor did when he was a warlord. That is why an immediate halt in dealing Liberia's timber may hurt the government, but will also hurt the rebel group calling itself the "Movement of Democracy in Liberia" (MODEL).

These tribal-centered gangsters have decided that the odds of fighting and toppling the government in Monrovia are against them - so they are concentrating their efforts in the southeastern counties of Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, and River Gee.

An immediate and continuing ban on timber export will put some of these so-called "democracy" and "liberation" groups out of business for now.

Finally, in all fairness to the Taylor government, I'd like to acknowledge that I do not believe it is the only culprit in these matters affecting the West African sub-region. As Mr. Somini Sengupta reports in a recent article, "Chaos in West Africa", the International Crisis Group (ICG), is urging a new approach. He quotes the panel as saying: "The basis for the imposition of sanctions against Liberia needs to be reassessed because violence and conflict are spreading across the region not only by Liberian forces." It continues, "A comprehensive new approach by the Security Council to the situation in all of West Africa is required."

It is hard to argue against logical statements such as the conclusion reached by the ICG when it said, "A strategy focused on Liberia alone will not be enough. Rebel groups ally with neighboring heads of state in symbiotic relationships to pursue wars of revenge."

I do agree with the ICG's view that Liberia's neighbors must come under a microscope as well. There is ample evidence that just as Liberia may be guilty of fermenting bloody crises in the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea, the regimes in Guinea and Ivory Coast may also have blood on their hands as well. If the United Nations is convinced that these sanctions should be broadened, so be it.

It is naïve and disconcerting to dismiss the claims that Guinea, in hosting the terrorist group known as LURD, is undermining the government of Charles Taylor. By the same token, the Ivory Coast has had a tendency to host groups disloyal and hostile to the Liberian government; President Charles Taylor ought to know - he came through there.

In conclusion, I do support the ICG's call to possibly broaden the UN sanctions in the sub-region. But I do not see any reason to lighten or lessen the existing sanctions against Liberia. (The cry by the Liberian government that these sanctions are only hurting ordinary citizens is a fabrication - the government cares little about ordinary citizens, and we know that). In fact, they should be strengthened and strictly enforced. There should be stringent repercussions against other countries that ignore these sanctions and bans. For example, it doesn't make any sense to announce to the world that Liberian timber is banned from export, yet China can buy Liberian timber without any penalty to China. Both seller and buyer must suffer drastic measures for violating the ban. Again what good are sanctions without teeth?