Press Release / May 7, 2003

Global Witness welcomes UN's new proposed ban on Liberian timber as a decisive act to bring peace to a war-torn region

Global Witness welcomes the UN Security Council's decision to extend the current sanctions regime on Liberia for its threat to international peace and security, and applauds the inclusion of an embargo on Liberian timber(1). This decision will prohibit the Liberian government and rebel groups' access to logging industry resources, which are being used to fund violent conflict in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire. Combined with effective monitoring and sanctions compliance by all UN Member States, the Resolution will move Liberia and the region much closer to the active peace and stability that has eluded it for decades.

"Liberia's timber has long fuelled regional conflict, supporting President Taylor's violent NPFL(2) rebellion in the 1990s(3), the brutal RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, and currently the MPIGO(4) and MJP(5) rebels who have helped throw Cote d'Ivoire into civil war. It is also financing the Liberian government's violation of the UN arms embargo, which the Liberian government has publicly admitted to(6)," says Alice Blondel, Global Witness Lead Campaigner. "This is a victory for the people of Liberia, as the new timber ban will severely restrict the Liberian government's access to weapons imports, prevent the abuse of timber revenue by rebel groups LURD(7) and MODEL(8), which have recently captured key logging concessions and ports(9), and curtail the disastrous humanitarian consequences of the industry."

"Since 2001, Global Witness has exposed how Liberian logging companies actively organise and oversee the importation of arms for both the Liberian government and Liberian government-backed rebel groups in neighbouring countries(10)," says Blondel. "Logging companies have also provided training bases, housing facilities and paramilitary support to the Ivorian rebels."

The new Security Council Resolution calls for the creation of a new Expert Panel, with a longer five-month schedule and comprising six experts. This Expert Panel will be mandated to investigate compliance with all aspects of the new Resolution, explore possible misappropriation of revenue by the Liberian government, and look into any possible socio-economic impact of the logging ban. Global Witness stresses that, to fulfil its mandate, the new Expert Panel must include dedicated experts on both arms and timber. The previous Panel included neither, which while it addressed key points, resulted in a report that was sometimes incomplete and therefore errant in its findings(11).

According to Resolution 1478, the timber ban will begin on 7 July 2003, unless the Security Council votes to reconsider the motion, while all other sanctions will begin immediately. "Until the timber sanctions enter into full effect in July, importers should respect the Security Council's intentions and immediately cease all import of timber from Liberia," says Blondel. "The Security Council must now ensure that the proposed timber ban comes into full effect. With this new sanction in place, the Security Council will have taken a positive and decisive step in the right direction for Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire and the entire region."

Notes for the Editor:

1 UN Security Council Resolution 1478 (2003).
2 National Patriotic Front for Liberia.
3 'EC countries, including Britain, have been helping indirectly to finance the bloodshed in Liberia's three-year-old war, by importing Liberian timber', The Independent, 22 November 1992.
4 Popular Movement of the Ivorian Great West.
5 Movement for Justice and Peace.
6 'Liberia denies Ivorian Rebel Link', BBC News, 2 April 2003; article by David Clarke, Reuters, 2 April 2003.
7 Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.
8 Movement for Democracy in Liberia.
9 'New rebel gain in Liberia', BBC News, 29 April 2003; Global Witness research and investigations. While the conflict in Liberia has recently slowed or stopped logging activity in some areas, companies are still actively felling and exporting logs, and others continue to export their stockpiles. Log felling and export continues in the southeast, where logging companies MWPI, RTC, TTCO, Cavalla and others are still active. OTC has moved large stockpiles of logs to its port and processing facility in Buchanan, while ILC moved large stockpiles of logs to Greenville for shipment before the city fell to MODEL rebels.
10 '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., and 'Taylor-made: the pivotal role of Liberia's forests and flag of convenience in regional conflict' Global Witness, September 2001.
11 As the Expert Panel was appointed through S/2003/185 (14 February 2003) and S/2003/251 (5 March 2003).

For any questions, please contact Alice Blondel, Lead Campaigner - Liberia, at +44 (0)207-272-6731.