The UN Security Council’s renewal of sanctions against the government of Liberia fails to address the clear threat that the Liberian timber industry poses to regional peace and security in western Africa. This comes after the UN’s own Expert Panel reports[i] and Global Witness’ investigations[ii] provided clear evidence of the links between Liberian logging companies and illegal arms imports, diamond smuggling and gross human rights abuses.
The Security Council’s call for the Taylor government to conduct its own audit of the timber industry within three months is a wholly inadequate response. Rather, a full and complete ban on Liberian timber must be enacted, and maintained until such time as an independently verified audit of the Liberian logging industry is completed and the industry’s compliance with UN sanctions upheld.
Evidence of corruption and links between Liberian logging companies and illegal activities is widespread:
· The huge discrepancies between official and independent export statistics show that significant amounts of revenue go unreported, that are taken for personal gain or for other unaccountable, extra-budgetary purposes[iii].
· Two vessels delivered arms to Buchanan in January 2002. They were the MV Rubin on 15 January and the MV Dimitrios Nanios on 28 January 2002. Charles Taylor continues to buy arms illegally, with shipments reportedly coming through the Port of Buchanan, which is operated by the Oriental Timber Company (OTC). OTC was exposed by Global Witness and the Expert Panel Report of October 2001 as being heavily involved in facilitating arms transfers to the government of Liberia, in violation UN sanctions.
· OTC and other logging company militias have perpetrated numerous human rights abuses against local populations, harassing, intimidating and even illegally arresting and detaining those considered to be a threat[iv].
It is imperative to note that a complete ban on Liberian timber would not have the significant, adverse effects upon ordinary Liberians that President Taylor claims. A thorough investigation has shown the industry employees only 3,726 Liberians, who comprise 68% of the logging labour force, along with 1,752 expatriate workers. The majority of well-paid jobs are given to the expatriates, while the Liberian work force is made up of mostly unmarried ex-combatants, who have little job security, sign no official contracts and the majority of whom are routinely dismissed during the rainy season with no guarantee of future employment.
The UN has worked diligently in the past to take action against the hostile forces of the Mano River region, both by cutting off funding sources such as ‘conflict diamonds’, and by imposing direct arms embargoes on the belligerent parties. “The Security Council, by not declaring a ban on Liberian timber exports and instead relying upon the Taylor government to carry out an internal audit, has done nothing to end the abuses and regional destabilisation caused by the Liberian timber industry” said Alice Blondel of Global Witness “The Security Council must enact and maintain a complete ban on Liberian timber, until which time a clear and accurate, internationally led audit of the timber industry can be completed and proper safeguards introduced to ensure that revenue is used ‘for legitimate social, humanitarian and development purposes’[v] said Blondel.
[i] Report of the Panel of Experts appointed to UN Security council Resolution 1306 (2000), Paragraph 19 in Relation to Sierra Leone, Report of the Panel of Experts Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001) , paragraph 19, concerning Liberia.
[ii] Liberia’s Logs of War: A Player in Conflict, May 2002 and Taylor Made: The Pivotal Role of Liberia’s Forests in Regional Conflict, September 2001).
[iii] The Ministry of Finance officially stated that total timber exports for 2001 had an FOB value of USD 60,273,000.00, of which USD 38,661,000.00 was exported by OTC/RTC. This contradicts an internal Ministry of Finance memo that listed OTC exports at USD 47,249,529.78, showing that USD 8,588,529.78 of OTC revenue went missing within the Ministry of Finance. Moreover, Global Witness’s own investigations of OTC exports through the Port of Buchanan resulted in a total FOB value of USD 49,197,397.04, some USD 10,536,397.04 more than official ministry statistics declared.
[iv] OTC militiamen forcibly removed residents of Checkpoint township, Rivercress County, from their lands in January 2002, without any form of compensation. These irregular militias have also been implicated in numerous attacks and looting of civilian property, specifically the events in Kakata in April 2002.
[v] [v] S/2002/1408, paragraph 10, specifically regarding the revenue of the Liberian timber industry.
Press Release / May 10, 2002