Press Release / Sept. 14, 2004

Liberia: Resource - Curse or Cure

Liberia: Lifting UN sanctions before Security Council criteria are met will jeopardise Liberia’s recovery and threaten regional peace and security.

A new briefing document released today by Global Witness (1) concludes that Liberia is not in compliance with the requirements for lifting sanctions as set forth by the UN Security Council (2), and as such the sanctions must remain in place. ‘Resource Curse or Cure’, notes that fundamental reforms to the Liberian government and timber industry have yet to be implemented, and prematurely lifting the UN embargo on Liberian timber would threaten Liberia’s security and undermine the work of the international community to bring peace to the region (3).

“The UN declared the logging industry a threat to peace and security, and set forth clear guidelines as to when timber sanctions can be lifted. Those criteria are not even close to being met”, says Mike Lundberg, Global Witness campaigner. “While there has been much talk of progress, the fact remains that armed fighters still control much of the country, including border crossings and lucrative natural resources, enabling them to traffic timber, diamonds and weapons across borders with minimal interference by the UN or the government.”

‘Resource Curse or Cure’ reports that while UN sanctions on timber have reduced large-scale commercial logging and exports, there remains significant, uncontrolled non-commercial logging across the country. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the institution with principle authority over Liberia’s forestry sector, does not have an effective presence outside Monrovia and cannot police such activity. The country’s only national park has been taken over by former MODEL (3) rebel fighters, who are involved in illegal gold mining, logging and bushmeat hunting. Moreover, the lack of border security has allowed former LURD (4) and MODEL rebel fighters to extort money from travellers as ‘customs duties’, and there is evidence to suggest that timber is being sold across the border into Guinea, in violation of the UN timber embargo.

The briefing document also highlights the lack of transparent and accountable government in Liberia, especially with regard to recent natural resource deals, and calls on the UN and Liberian government to complete fundamental reforms necessary to ensure that proper financial and accounting systems are put in place. Key to this process is reinstating a comprehensive and retrospective audit of the Forestry Development Authority and logging industry, and proceeding with the important concession review process, which has been indefinitely postponed.

“The Security Council introduced sanctions on timber as a means to an end: to cut off the vital role played by the Liberian logging industry in fuelling war in Liberia and the region”, says Lundberg. Given the historical link between the timber trade and regional conflict, ensuring that critical reforms of security and governance have been implemented is fundamental to the region’s future peace prospects (5). “It is worrying that the Security Council might lift sanctions before their own criteria have been met. This would be totally unacceptable now, and given the reforms yet to be completed it is also too early to discuss their possible lifting at the December sanctions review. Lifting the sanctions prematurely would open the country to unscrupulous logging interests and seriously call into doubt the UN’s resolve to ensure that success is lasting and not just a feel good declaration.”

For press inquiries, please contact Mike Lundberg of Global Witness at +1 (347) 968-5517 (New York) or +44 (0)207-561-6372 (London).
Download ‘Resource Curse or Cure: Reforming Liberia’s governance and logging industry’ from Global Witness’ website,

Notes for the Editor:
(1) Global Witness is an investigative non-governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resources exploitation and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
(2) UN Security Council Resolution 1521 (2003), S/2003/1521. Timber sanctions were first imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1478 (2003), entering into effect on 7 July 2003. The sanctions were renewed through Resolution 1521 (2003).
(3) Movement for Democracy in Liberia.
(4) Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.
(5) For more detail, see Global Witness’ other reports and briefing documents: Liberia: Back to the future, May 2004, '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. See also UN Panel of Experts reports on Sierra Leone, S/2000/1195, and UN Panel of Experts reports on Liberia, S/2004/396, S/2003/973, S/2003/779, S/2003/498, S/2002/470 S/2001/1015.