Press Release / Sept. 18, 2002

Immediate UN action and embargo on Liberian timber needed to stop conflict in Liberia and safeguard peace in Sierra Leone

Due to the UN Security Council’s inaction on Liberia, the Liberian timber industry remains a primary source of funding for Liberia’s war machine. Many logging companies continue to be actively engaged in illegal arms imports for the government, committing human rights abuses and destabilising Liberia and the entire West Africa sub-region. A new Global Witness report, titled Logging Off: How the Liberian Timber industry fuels Liberia’s humanitarian disaster and threatens Sierra Leone, exposes the direct links between Liberia’s timber industry and the conflict. The report also details how the United Nations has failed to heed the evidence presented by its own Expert Panels to actively address the destabilising role of the Liberian logging industry. Global Witness recommends that the UN impose a complete embargo on Liberian timber, and mandate any new Expert Panel on Liberia to conduct a thorough investigation of the Liberian timber industry.

“UN failure to acknowledge ‘conflict timber’ as a war commodity just like diamonds or oil and its refusal to allow Expert Panels to conduct a thorough investigation of the timber industry frustrates attempts to resolve the conflict in Liberia,” says Global Witness Campaigner Alice Blondel. “The Security Council’s refusal to impose a ban on Liberian logs exports—due primarily to the objections of France and China—means that the international community’s attempts to bring peace to Sierra Leone could soon be completely undone”.

Global Witness and UN Expert Panels have uncovered numerous violations of current UNSC sanctions by the Liberian government and timber companies, continued human rights abuses by parastatal logging company militias, and significant inaccuracies in the UN’s own research of the Liberian timber industry:

· The Oriental Timber Company (OTC) and Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI), have continued to oversee the importation and stockpiling of illegal weapons, in contravention of UN sanctions. Global Witness investigations have uncovered at least five suspected logging ships that brought weapons into Liberia, which were unloaded at OTC’s Buchanan Port and MWPI’s Harper Port.
· As stated in the report, OTC and MWPI, along with Inland Logging Company (ILC) and other logging companies maintain private armed militias that are used as parastatal fighting forces for the government, committing grave human rights abuses.
· The UN Secretary-General and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report in October 2001 detailing the possible humanitarian effects of timber sanctions. One report author admitted anonymously that it contained inaccurate and overstated figures. The report also failed to mention the negative effects of the industry as repeatedly outlined in previous UN Expert Panel reports.

Liberia is heading towards a humanitarian disaster, one that could easily spread across its borders and overwhelm its neighbours Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, which already face the daunting task of handling current refugee populations. “Despite all the information and warnings they have received, the United Nations has failed to adequately address the destructive effects of the Liberian timber industry and its role as a key source of funding for the Liberian conflict” says Ms. Blondel. “Without peace in Liberia, the stability of other countries in the region will never be secure. By not sanctioning the timber industry, the UN is basically standing by and allowing the illicit arms trade to continue while the humanitarian disaster in Liberia escalates and Sierra Leone’s peace is undermined”.

Global Witness Limited,
P.O. Box 6042, London, N19 5WP, UK.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7272 6731
Fax: +44 (0)20 7272 9425
Email: [email protected]

Notes for the Editor:

See Report of the Panel of Experts appointed pursuant to Security Council resolution 1395 (2002), paragraph 4 in relation to Liberia (S/2002/470); Report of the Panel of Experts pursuant to Security Council resolution 1343 (2001), paragraph 19, concerning Liberia (S/2001/1015); and Report of the Panel of Experts appointed pursuant to Security Council resolution 1306 (2000), paragraph 19 in relation to Sierra Leone (S/2000/1195)
See Report of the Secretary-General in pursuance of paragraph 13(a) of resolution 1343 (2001)