Press Release / Dec. 8, 2004

Liberia: UN Security Council threatens to amend sanctions on Liberian timber and diamonds, undermining peace in the region and further punishing war-torn Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.

A briefing document released today by Global Witness(1) highlights the many links still remaining between Liberia’s timber and diamond industries and regional instability, and concludes that lifting or otherwise weakening sanctions on Liberia will undermine peace and security in Liberia and neighbouring countries(2). ‘Dangerous Liaisons: The ongoing relationship between Liberia’s natural resource industries, arms trafficking and regional insecurity’ details Liberia’s lack of interior and border security and examines how lifting sanctions prematurely will result in an increase of armed ex-combatants, abusive logging company militias and criminal elements that will facilitate weapons trafficking and escalate cross-border violence. The Liberian government has also failed to implement basic reforms to ensure control over industry revenue. As such, the UN’s own requirements for the lifting of sanctions have not been met, and any moves toward altering them will be in direct opposition to the expressed wishes of Liberian civil society(3).

“Lifting sanctions now would invite the return of conflict to a war-weary Liberia and its neighbours, and we are concerned that some Council members are bartering with the region’s future in exchange for political or economic interests,” says Mike Lundberg, Global Witness Campaigner. The region has suffered greatly under brutality caused by an uncontrolled logging and diamond industry, with some industry elements having actively facilitated the civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire(4). ‘

‘Dangerous Liaisons’ reports how regional peace remains fragile. The lack of oversight and control of Liberia’s borders and resource-rich areas allows armed ex-combatants and criminal elements to continue profiting from cross-border trafficking of weapons and natural resources. Moreover, the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) process, which is integral to regional efforts to end mercenary-fuelled violence, has collected fewer weapons than expected and has suffered from a lack of regional coordination. Insufficient training programmes for ex-combatants has caused some to resort to violence and extortion or to cross into Côte d’Ivoire to continue fighting there.

The Forestry Development Authority (FDA) does not have the capacity to manage current logging activities, and the Expert Panel says the FDA cannot properly account for industry revenue (5). The Liberian government also lacks control over its diamond producing areas and is not in compliance with the Kimberley Process. Liberia must demonstrate that it has the political will and capacity to enforce rigorous controls to meet Kimberley Process requirements and help ensure that diamonds no longer fuel conflict and terrorism.

“This is Liberia’s best chance for peace in decades, and it is inconceivable that the Security Council would consider lifting sanctions on socio-economic grounds, when Liberia’s own people are fighting to keep the sanctions in place,” says Lundberg. The Security Council cannot deny the evidence of its own Expert Panel and Global Witness, nor the will of the Liberian people. “The situation is clear: the Council’s own requirements for lifting sanctions have not been met, and restarting logging and diamond export now in their uncontrolled state will jeopardise regional security. Sanctions should not be lifted.”

For press inquires please contact
Mike Lundberg of Global Witness at +44-(0)207-561-6372.
For questions on diamonds, contact
Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness at +1-202-288-6111.

Notes for the editor:
(1) Global Witness is an investigative non- governmental organisation that focuses on the links between natural resources exploitation and conflict 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 the UN Security Council Resolution 1478 (2003), entering into effect on 7 July 2003. The sanctions were renewed through Resolution 1521 (2003) for one year.
(3) Open Letter from the NGOs Coalition for Liberia calling on the UN Security Council to maintain timber and diamond sanctions at its December review, 6 December 2004.
(4) For more information, see Global Witness’ other reports and briefing documents on Liberia available at ‘Resource Curse or Cure?: Reforming Liberia’s governance and logging industry’, September 2004; ‘Liberia: Back to the future-What is the future of Liberia’s forests and its effect on regional peace?’, May 2004; 'Against the People, For the Resources', September 2003; 'The Usual Suspects: Liberia's weapons and mercenaries in Cote d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone', March 2003; 'Logging Off: how the Liberian timber industry fuels Liberia's humanitarian disaster and threatens Sierra Leone', September 2002; 'Taylor-made: the pivotal role of Liberia's forests and flag of convenience in regional conflict'. September 2001. See also UN Panel of Experts reports on Sierra Leone, S/2000/1195, and UN Panel of Experts reports on Liberia, S/2004/752, S/2004/396, S/2003/973, S/2003/779, S/2003/498, S/2002/470 S/2001/1015.
(5) UN Panel of Experts on Liberia report (S/2004/752).