At a time when Liberia and the international community have made considerable progress in fostering peace in Liberia, Global Witness (1) restates its urge that the Liberian government and international community scrupulously ensure that Liberia's logging industry is fully reformed, integrating transparency and accountability at all levels and ending the industry's ability to perpetuate armed conflict. Global Witness and UN Expert Panel investigations have shown how the Liberian logging industry has historically fuelled conflict in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire (2,3), and if reforms are not fully implemented before industry operations restart and a UN Security Council-imposed timber embargo is lifted, it is likely that abuse of the logging industry will again result in a return to violence.
"With the end of Liberia's brutal 14 year civil war, this is a crucial time for Liberia's chances at long-term peace. The new Liberian government and international community must ensure full and accountable control over the country's natural resources, that all logging industry links to illegal activities are severed and that the rule of law is strictly enforced, before restarting logging operations," says Michael Lundberg, of Global Witness. With positive developments having already been made in Liberia, including the installation of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and deployment of UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) peacekeepers, the pledging of US$ 520 million at the recent International Conference on Reconstruction for Liberia (4) will help facilitate Liberia's moves toward political, social and economic reform. "If the UN and the Liberian government do not have full control of the country's resources before trade resumes, Liberia's recovery and possibly the stability of the region could in the future be jeopardised."
The Liberian logging industry has long played a role in fuelling conflict in Liberia and the region, with industry revenue having been misappropriated to fund sanctions-busting, while some elements of the industry have also aided rebel groups in neighbouring countries (5). The UN Security Council, recognising the adverse impact of the Liberian logging industry on regional security, instituted an embargo on Liberian timber imports in July 2003 (6). The embargo was renewed in December 2003 and is to remain in place until the Liberian government guarantees 'full control over the timber producing areas...[and] all necessary steps to ensure that government revenues from the Liberian timber industry are not used to fuel conflict...' (7). The Security Council has established an embargo oversight committee and authorised another Expert Panel on Liberia to investigate logging industry activities and reforms. During this critical transition period, Global Witness further encourages the engagement of an independent monitor to observe the reform process and ensure that the logging industry does not undermine Liberia's progress.
To continue the consolidation of peace in Liberia, and ensure regional peace and prosperity, Global Witness encourages the region's governments and international community to:
* Complete a comprehensive, retrospective and internationally verifiable audit of the Liberian logging industry and Liberian government finances, looking to both improve accounting systems and identify the manners by which revenue was previously misappropriated.
* Develop socially, economically and environmentally sustainable forest-use strategies, empower relevant agencies to implement the policies, and appoint an independent monitor to oversee and provide independent verification of the logging industry reform process.
* Conduct a full review of all previously granted logging concessions to determine their legal status, and develop a new forest concession system. This should incorporate accepted norms of transparency and accountability, such as those outlined in the 'Publish What you Pay' initiative, which works to eradicate corruption and promote transparency in business and government relations. Thorough background investigations of interested companies should be conducted, to prevent those companies and individuals previously involved in illegal activities from operating in Liberia.
* Utilise UNMIL to secure Liberia's lucrative natural resources, especially timber and diamonds, assess and monitor any existing and likely cross-border land and sea-based smuggling routes as outlined in Security Council Resolution S/2003/1509. UNMIL, the region's UN peacekeeping forces, and militaries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire should coordinate to create more effective border security and prevent cross-border trafficking of natural resources, weapons and mercenaries.
* Before lifting the diamond embargo, ensure that the Liberian government and UN have full administrative and political control of the country, that there is in operation a system of controls in alluvial areas, and that the Kimberly Process has conducted an independent and impartial in-country review of the control mechanisms put in place.
* Mainstream environmental impact and ethical purchasing concerns into all UN, NTGL and NGO activities in Liberia.
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Notes for the Editor:
(1) Global Witness is a British-based non-governmental organisation, which focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict.
(2) 'Against the People, For the Resources', Global Witness, September 2003; '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.
(3) Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone report S/2000/1195; Panel of Experts on Liberia reports S/2001/1015, S/2002/470, S/2003/498, S/2003/779, S/2003/937.
(4) Warren Hoge, 'UN gets pledges to rebuild war-torn Liberia', New York Times, 07 February 2004.
(5) David Clarke, 'Liberia denies links to Ivory Coast rebels', Reuters, 2 April 2003; 'Against the People, For the Resources'; 'The Usual Suspects'; 'Logging Off'; 'Taylor-made'; 'Revised list of persons subject to travel restrictions pursuant to Resolution 1343 (2001) on Liberia', updated 6 June 2003.
(6) UN Security Council Resolution S/2003/1478.
(7) UN Security Council Resolution S/2003/1521.
Press Release / Feb. 12, 2004