Press Release / Sept. 4, 2003

Global Witness Briefing Document - Liberia: Lifting sanctions will fuel instability and jeopardise peace

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'Against the People, For the Resources', a new briefing document released today by Global Witness, the Nobel Peace Prize-nominated investigative group, details the risks of lifting UN Security Council sanctions on Liberia, as to do so would fuel regional instability and imperil Liberia's nascent peace process.

While welcoming the Security Council decision to maintain the timber embargo 'for the time being'; [1], Global Witness provides a check-list of changes that the Liberian government and extractive industries must undertake before considering the lifting of sanctions, and calls upon the Security Council to enforce the current timber embargo and reject the proposed 'wood-for-food'; programme [2], as this will undermine the UN's attempts to bring peace and security to the region. Global Witness also responds to recent UN reports on the Liberian logging industry, and makes the legal case for including the plunder of natural resources as a war crime.

The document also highlights international concern at the recently appointed UN Special Representative for Liberia's apparent rush to lift sanctions';as quickly as possible', on the basis that the sanctions were put in place against 'the now defunct Taylor administration'; [3]. Ongoing Global Witness investigations have exposed the Liberian logging industry's links to the arms dealers and rebel groups that have fuelled conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire [4], and how those links have remained strong regardless of who is in power.

'Restarting logging now would be the worst possible decision for Liberia and its war-weary people'; says Alice Blondel, Global Witness Lead Campaigner. 'The forests are largely in the hands of rebel groups, beyond the reach of any regulatory or other controls. Restarting logging operations will reopen the door to those companies with a history of illegal arms imports, corruption and serious human rights abuses that helped Charles Taylor maintain his grip on power. It would send the wrong message that Liberia is open for business as usual.'

Despite the deployment of an intervention force, resignation of former President and indicted-war criminal Charles Taylor [5], and creation of an interim government, the political and humanitarian situation in Liberia remains precarious. To solidify peace in Liberia and move the country forward, Global Witness is calling for:
· A moratorium on extractive industries until peace is restored and Liberia has a government that can both enforce proper business practices by extractive industries and ensure revenue properly enters the nation's treasury and is not siphoned off by armed factions.
· The international community to proactively enforce the UN sanctions regime on Liberia, in particular to better police the borders with Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
· The international community to recognise the plunder of timber, diamonds and other natural resources as a specific war crime.
· All states to respect the indictment of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as issued by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war [6].

For any press inquiries, please contact Global Witness at +44 (0)207-272-6731.

Notes for the Editor:
[1] 'Press Statement on Liberia timber sanctions by Security Council President'; (SC/7854).
[2] UN Security Council Resolution 1478 (S/2003/1487).
[3] 'Liberia sanctions should be lifted: UN official', Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 15 August 2003.
[4] 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', Global Witness, March 2003; 'Logging Off: how the Liberian timber industry fuels Liberia's humanitarian disaster and threatens Sierra Leone', Global Witness, September 2002; 'Taylor-made: the pivotal role of Liberia's forests and flag of convenience in regional conflict', Global Witness, September 2001.
[5] Somini Sengupta, 'Leader of Liberia surrenders power and enters exile', New York Times, 11 August 2003.
[6] 'UN backed Sierra Leone court indicts Liberian president Charles Taylor', UN News Service, 4 June 2003.