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Tackling Liberia: The Eye of the Regional Storm


There is a critical need for further international action to end the civil war in Liberia – and to halt the spread of chaos beyond its borders that has both inflamed the Côte d'Ivoire crisis and threatens wider military conflict and humanitarian disaster in much of West Africa. The key mechanism in this respect is the International Contact Group on Liberia (hereafter Contact Group), established in September 2002. And the central players within that body, whose cooperation is essential if effective action is to be taken, are its three permanent members of the Security Council: the U.S., UK and France.

Liberia's conflict has continued to spread and consume its neighbours. The Mano River Union war that originally encompassed Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has now expanded east to Côte d'Ivoire. A small area in the western part of that country has been dragged into Liberia's struggle, much as was Sierra Leone a few years earlier. The Liberian contenders are using the Ivorian crisis, which broke out on 19 September 2002, as a proxy battleground. All indications are that no one is in control of the situation on the Côte d'Ivoire-Liberia border.

Both sides of the Ivorian crisis have used Liberian fighters in their struggle. President Taylor increasingly employs rebel troops in western Côte d'Ivoire, which he treats as a second front against the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) insurgency that threatens his rule. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo is paying and arming just about anyone to balance Taylor's support for his foes. His largesse enabled the formation of a new LURD faction, which calls itself the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). It is advancing against Taylor at the same time as it challenges, for primacy in the rebellion, both the LURD leadership based in Guinea and its military wing fighting on Liberian soil.

Western Côte d'Ivoire has become a magnet for mercenaries of many nationalities. The failure of the international community to devise a regional disarmament program has given the hard-line Sierra Leone fighters who fled to Liberia another chance to sell their skills. While international attention is focused on Iraq, a regional humanitarian crisis is raging throughout Liberia and western Côte d'Ivoire. Neither the Ivorian government nor rebel groups have allowed the UN or other donors access to assist the tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons who are trapped by two brutal conflicts. The international community must act before Liberia's conflict spreads to other West African countries. Sanctions and containment policies have not stopped Charles Taylor from supporting rebellions beyond Liberia's borders. Whether he has grand regional designs or simply cannot control his ill-disciplined forces, he remains a regional security problem.

Neither Taylor nor the LURD is interested in peace, except on each's own terms, and both have stalled on proposed peace talks. The recent appearance on the scene of LURD-MODEL has further muddied the prospects for peace. Liberia is scheduled to elect a new president on 14 October 2003. If President Taylor goes ahead with elections that are deemed unfair, they will perpetuate the status quo. ICG has consistently recommended increased international pressure for a ceasefire; insistence that Taylor step down once his term is over so that an internationally assisted and perhaps administered interim government can be established; and postponement of the October elections until conditions can be established for an open campaign unhindered by violence and intimidation.

The Contact Group has been unable to produce a ceasefire. Its diplomatic pressure has, however, pushed Taylor to admit that conditions for free and fair elections do not currently exist in Liberia; to agree to an (unspecified) delay of the ballot; and probably also to a joint assessment mission of the UN, EU and the regional mission ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to determine what would be needed to create the appropriate conditions. Before elections could take place, a ceasefire with the LURD (including LURD-MODEL) would surely be required, as well as a transition period during which human rights were respected and the opposition was able to campaign freely. Ideally this would be backed by a UN peacekeeping force on the ground during the transition period and the elections. However, the prospect of Taylor stepping aside to allow genuinely free and fair elections is still remote. The Contact Group, with a strong lead from the U.S. and prior Security Council backing, must make clear to Taylor, LURD and LURD-MODEL that if a commitment to achieve these conditions is not demonstrated by the middle of the year, substantially more serious measures will be taken.

There are two critical and interlinked elements for a successful resolution of Liberia's crisis: the conflict must be recognised as a wider regional one and addressed on that basis, and there must be effective coordination among the key external players, namely the U.S., the UK, France, the UN, the EU and ECOWAS. While two permanent members of the Security Council, the UK and France, play prominent roles in the closely connected peace processes in Sierra Leone and the Côte d'Ivoire respectively, no one has taken the lead on Liberia. The missing link is the United States. It has historical ties to Liberia, and most Liberians argue that no peace process is sustainable without its involvement. It must be encouraged to work more actively – and in close partnership with the UK and France, who are already deeply engaged in related aspects of the regional problem – to preserve the effective UNAMSIL mission in Sierra Leone and establish a similarly comprehensive peace process for Liberia that would ensure neither LURD, LURD-MODEL, nor Taylor's political and military barons fill the vacuum if he is forced from power.

The U.S., UK and France, working through the Contact Group, should also devise a strategy to prevent Taylor's assets from being used by his henchmen to continue the war. It should be made clear to the government, LURD and LURD-MODEL that war crimes will be pursued either at home or through an international tribunal – but also indicated that cooperation on the peace process could earn them credit.

West Africa now bears most of the traits of Central Africa, which has been devastated by a regional war. To address the regional dimension, ECOWAS and the wider international community must deal with the growing tendency of leaders in West Africa to sponsor rebellions abroad to protect their positions at home. Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire have all employed rebel groups either to get rid of their domestic enemies or to remove neighbouring leaders they do not like. The mandate of the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia, which will be reviewed in May 2003 along with the sanctions on Liberia, should be expanded to cover the entire region, and Guinea's President Lansana Conté, President Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso in particular must be warned of sanctions – and their own potential exposure to war crimes prosecution – if they continue to undermine peace in Liberia.


To the Members of the International Contact Group on Liberia:

1. Address the continuing violence within – and associated with – Liberia by taking the following immediate steps:

(a) Insist (in the context of the full package of measures, immediate and future, here set out) that President Taylor, the LURD and LURD-MODEL end the fighting and conclude a ceasefire that includes a timetable for comprehensive disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants.

(b) Recommend to the Security Council that a UN peacekeeping mission be mandated to monitor, supervise and verify the ceasefire agreement once made.

(c) Recommend to the Security Council that standby arrangements be made for a multinational force to enforce the peace in the event that the ceasefire agreement breaks down. Such force – modelled on the role of the UK in Sierra Leone and France in Côte d'Ivoire – would ideally be led and primarily constituted by the U.S., but might also be constituted by ECOWAS countries (other than Sierra Leone, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso).

(d) Recommend to the Security Council that the mandate of the Panel of Experts be expanded, authorising it to investigate other West African leaders suspected of fuelling conflicts in the region, and encouraging it to name and shame those found in violation of sanctions and to work more closely with ECOWAS to improve its capacity to properly address the flow of arms in the region.

(e) Recommend to the Security Council that the sanctions monitoring regime be expanded to cover Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso as well as Liberia, and enhance it significantly by increasing the Panel of Experts' staff and budget to enable it to report every three months to the Council on all countries and individuals that fail to comply.

(f) Issue a clear public condemnation of Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire for their continued financial and military support for the LURD and LURD-MODEL insurgents and warn both that they face sanctions if they continue to break the UN arms embargo.

(g) Issue a clear public condemnation - with documentation - of Liberia's continued support for regional insurgencies.

(h) Work with the UN-mandated Follow-Up Committee in Côte d'Ivoire to develop an international strategy to stop the violence in the western part of that country and disarm the protagonists.

2. Address the problem of governance within Liberia by taking the following immediate steps:

(a) Seek a clear commitment from President Taylor that he will step down at the end of his term in October 2003 and not contest any subsequent election.

(b) Seek clear agreement from President Taylor and the Liberian government that elections be postponed, and an internationally assisted – and, to the extent necessary, administered – interim administration be established, until such time as conditions for their free and fair conduct exist.

(c) Seek full cooperation from President Taylor with a joint UN/EU/ECOWAS assessment mission to determine what is needed to create the appropriate election conditions.

(d) Initiate planning of an internationally assisted – or, depending on circumstances, administered – interim government that brings together all stakeholders in Liberia's conflict, including civil society and opposition groups, to begin implementing domestic reforms, including a start on justice and accountability mechanisms for addressing years of impunity, and preparing for free and fair elections.

(e) Recommend to the Security Council that the UN peacekeeping mission proposed to monitor the ceasefire also assume responsibility for the supervision of the postponed elections.

3. In the event that by July 2003 President Taylor does not agree to step down, or that no progress is made in achieving a ceasefire between the warring Liberian parties, or both, recommend to the Security Council that the following steps be taken:

(a) Broaden the sanctions to include timber, rubber, gold and the maritime industry as well as an expanded list of individuals whose assets would be frozen and visas revoked.

(b) Adopt an explicit Chapter VII provision requiring all UN member states to comply with measures of the Sierra Leone Special Court, and if it indicts President Taylor, call on any government harbouring him to extradite him to Sierra Leone.

(c) Establish a new war crimes tribunal for crimes relating to the Liberian war, it being made clear to the Liberian government, the LURD and LURD-MODEL that they face prosecutions for war crimes but that those who cooperate by promptly laying down their arms and entering constructively into a peace process would gain relevant credit (though not necessarily immunity).

(d) Extend the jurisdiction of the Liberian war crimes tribunal to those outside Liberia who are responsible for crimes committed within the country, with it being made clear to the leaders of neighbouring countries that they may potentially be exposed to prosecution.

To the United Nations Security Council:

4. Adopt in full the recommendations of the International Contact Group on Liberia as proposed above.

To the Secretary General of the United Nations:

5. On Liberia:

(a) Plan a possible UN peacekeeping mission to implement the ceasefire monitoring, election supervision and other tasks identified by the Contact Group.

(b) Plan for a standby enforcement force, as recommended by the Contact Group, in the event that the ceasefire breaks down.

6. On Côte d'Ivoire:

(a) Appoint a senior resident humanitarian coordinator to achieve better protection of civilians in the refugee transit camps throughout Côte d’Ivoire and humanitarian agency access, including through establishment of "safe areas" and safe passages for delivery of humanitarian assistance.

(b) Make such arrangements if possible by negotiated agreement with the government of Côte d'Ivoire for areas controlled by loyalist forces, especially in the western part of the country (Toulépleu, Blolékin, Zouan-Hounien and the Tai Forest); and with Ivorian rebels controlling Danané, Man and other border areas in the far western part of the country.

To the French and ECOWAS force in Côte d'Ivoire:

7. Protect "safe areas" and safe passages for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in western Côte d'Ivoire – if possible through the negotiations described above with the government and Ivorian rebels, but if not by whatever means are appropriate.

Freetown/Brussels, 30 April 2003


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