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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Liberia: Elections and Human Rights Liberia: Elections and Human Rights
Date distributed (ymd): 020205
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

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Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +economy/development+ +security/peace+


This posting contains excerpts from (1) a speech to the annual conference of the Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia, by US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Perry, (2) a letter in reply to the speech by former interim Liberian president Amos Sawyer, and (3) the section on Liberia from the 2002 report by Human Rights Watch. Links to the full texts of each are also provided, as well as an additional listing of links to other recent documents on Liberia.

Note: The items excerpted in this posting, with the exception of the Human Rights Watch report, were first posted on the Friends of Liberia (FOL) listserv. For more information on the FOL and its listserv see or write to

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US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Perry
January 19, 2002
Address to conference of Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia

The Perspective, January 21, 2002

[Excerpts only; full text available at]

The United States strongly endorses a national reconciliation process for Liberia facilitated by the ECOWAS and non-governmental organizations such as the Carter Center, International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and International Foundation Election Systems. ...

It is important for Liberia - and for the entire region - that the democratic opposition, which remains outside Liberia, is assured that it is safe to return home. Security guarantees must enable the opposition to conduct political activity and to interact freely with the Liberian people. With credible guarantees, opposition leaders should seize the opportunity to demonstrate that they are prepared to compete for a popular mandate to lead a democratic Liberia. ...

Freedom of the press, nationwide media access and transparency are critical to ensure that elections are free and fair. We believe that the government of Liberia recognizes that it needs to reconstitute a truly independent Election Commission, and ensure that all Liberian citizen opposition figures can run for office without harassment or restriction based on their recent residence.

The Perspective January 24, 2002

Former Interim President, Dr. Sawyer, Responds to the US Government

[excerpts only; full text available at]

Note by editor of The Perspective: Since he left Liberia about year ago, after the militiamen of President Taylor attempted to murder him and his colleague, Conmany B. Wesseh of the Center for Democratic Empowerment, former Interim President, Dr. Amos Sawyer, has been silent. ... Now, in response to proposals for elections and reconciliation in Liberia put forward by the United States Government, Dr. Sawyer wrote to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Amb. Robert Perry.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Perry

Dear Mr. Perry

... Let me first express my appreciation that you were kind enough to engage Liberians by providing us with the views of the US government as to how we can utilize a process of democratic elections to transcend our current predicament. ... Please allow me to offer a view as a means of deepening the discussion.

Conception of elections as an exit from a violent crisis and an initial instrument to launch or energize a process of democratization is obviously not new. This was the principle upon which the Abuja Peace Agreement of 1996 was based. I have no doubt that this approach can be successful once its basic assumptions are carefully addressed. These assumptions have to do with such basic requirements as a level playing field, etc. My sense is that those assumptions were not fully addressed in 1997 nor were the conditions "on-the-ground" promotive of an immediate role for elections in the process of conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Let me hasten to say that the latter part of this comment, i.e. having to do with the role of elections in the settlement of the conflict, is a view I have arrived at through hindsight.

There are two points to be made: First, there has been nothing encouraging in the behavior and performance of Mr. Taylor to give hope that he will allow, contest or accept the results of free and fair elections in 2003. Instead, there is ample evidence that his every act is now calculated to set the context for negotiating domestic and international acceptance of the results of rigged elections. Muzzled media, stacked elections commission and judiciary, human rights activists on-the-run, state security forces often indistinguishable from irregular militiamen are among his "bargaining chips." The pattern is well known because it was played out several times during the search for peace, 1990 to 1997. A rancorous and protracted negotiating process will ensue and at the end of the day, opposition political parties and pro-democracy civil society organizations, under pressure from the international community, including mediating NGOs such as the Carter Center and NDI, will be called upon to accept conditions that are sub-optimal for elections. At the end of the voting, further bargaining will take place to determine how many seats the opposition "won" and how many seats are truly essential to ensure an effective opposition voice in the Legislature. Under international pressure, Mr. Taylor will be all too happy to make what are essentially minimalist concessions because as soon as such concessions are made, the international community will declare that the Liberian democratic process which began with the post-conflict elections of 1997 is now in its advanced stage of consolidation. As all the observers go home, Mr. Taylor will resume his reign of repression and gangsterism. The Carter Center and others will then resume their work trying to keep local human rights activists and others out of jail. If this seems to be a bit melodramatic it is because we have seen this scenario played out so frequently that we have had time to study its nuances.

The second point is fundamental; it has to do with the role of elections as an exit from conflict in Liberia. Liberia's wounds are deep. Layers of painful historical memories and at least two decades of violent conflicts and wars have left deep wounds that the Taylor government has not cared to soberly acknowledge, let alone seriously address. Elections are themselves inherently conflict-ridden; when conducted in an already charged environment, they can be combustible. And when you consider that the purpose for holding them is to decide the political leadership of a highly centralized political order that is already constitutionally skewed in favor of and culturally dominated by the president, the stakes become dangerously high and elections become elevated to a zero-sum game-perhaps a game of life and death. The elections of 1997 must have taught us that in Liberia, reconciliation and healing cannot begin with elections and presidential authority, under circumstances of conflict can become a weapon for retribution and repression. ...

What is the way forward, you may ask? I see three distinct but related requirements: first, the ending of war in the north and the creation of an environment conducive for dialogue among Liberians. Clearly such environment must contain democratic space. My sense is that such environment cannot be created under the leadership of Mr. Taylor. ... The record is replete with atrocious acts that constitute Crimes Against Humanity, Violations of the Laws or Customs of War and Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The stark reality is that both Liberia and the larger Mano River basin area will remain in the throes of conflict as long as Mr. Taylor is president of Liberia and a formula for voting him out through elections over which he presides as president of Liberia is incapable of allowing the Liberian people a peaceful way to reclaim their future.

The indictment of Mr. Taylor for complicity in criminal breach of humanitarian law in Sierra Leone will provide an opportunity for Liberians with the assistance of the international community to create an appropriate environment in which Liberians of all persuasions can begin in earnest the dialogue to save their country and design a framework for reconstituting order for lasting democratic peace and sustainable development. I am convinced sufficient evidence can be adduced to get an indictment-that is, if principles applied to the tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are to be applied in Sierra Leone. Please note that my point here regarding the indictment of Mr. Taylor is individual-specific. I perceive the National Patriotic Party and the Government of Liberia as entities distinct from Mr. Taylor. As a political party, the NPP should play a role in framing decisions having to do with the political future of Liberia. Obviously, indictments should be sought on an individual basis for all Liberians who are similarly complicit with respect to the atrocities perpetrated in Sierra Leone. ...

An unfortunate characteristic of contemporary international strategies for resolving violent conflicts in Africa-and I suspect elsewhere, is that the urgency of ending violence often increases the stakes of warlords and armed bands-groups whose value is derived in conflict and increases with sustained conditions of insecurity. The Liberian people, with the use of their resources and with the assistance of the international community, must send a clear message that the days of warlords and armed bands are over. A resolute approach to comprehensive disarmament and demobilization with subregional and international involvement will be an appropriate signal. Liberians must be prepared to pay a significant portion of the bill.

The second stage is for Liberians to constitute a temporary governance mechanism and construct a framework for the reconstitution of order to ensure lasting peace, reconciliation and democratic self-governance. Clearly, this will require considerable thought, dialogue and consultations at local, national, sub-regional and international levels, ... How do we derive the temporary governance mechanism and how do we make the transition from Taylor? These and related issues can be the subject of broad consultations. A starting point can be the ECOWAS-sponsored reconciliation talks to which you referred in your remarks. My sense is that the Abuja Agreement under which the elections of 1997 were held constitutes an appropriate point of departure; ...My point here is that there is a legal, political and historical basis for a return to Abuja. Forces such as LURD must be brought to the table.

Third, in view of the enormous human tragedy that befell Liberia and the international circumstance that underpinned that tragedy, there is a need for the international community to make a long-term commitment to Liberia; ...

Needless to say, these are evolving thoughts and they are controversial. I put them forward at this time as Liberians and others in the international community are grappling with dilemmas that face Liberia in the wake of possible elections in 2003. ...

Sincerely, Amos Sawyer

Human Rights Watch World Report 2002



Continued violence threatened to plunge Liberia back into civil war after nearly five years of shaky transition to peace. Fierce fighting continued to rage in the country's north since the start of a rebel incursion in July 2000, the fifth serious outbreak of violence since the 1997 elections that ended the civil war. The fighting and repression blocked recovery efforts with the nation's economy in tatters, 80 percent of the workforce unemployed and 80 percent illiteracy. Basic services such as health care, communications, electricity, and the public supply of drinking water remained extremely limited. Public and private institutions deteriorated amid widespread corruption and fear.

Fighting between government forces and the rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), intensified in northern Lofa County. Amid the violence, widespread human rights abuses took place against civilians, including women and children. Liberian government troops and rebels alike detained, tortured, or killed hundreds of civilians, raping women and girls at will, and forcing men and boys to fight. Reports by Amnesty International found that government security forces--especially the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), a security force accountable only to President Taylor--detained, tortured, or executed more than two hundred civilians suspected of supporting rebels, raping some of them. The government denied these allegations and took no steps to investigate, punish, or end the abuses. In April 2001, President Taylor called up 15,000 former fighters from the faction he had led during the civil war to combat the growing rebel threat. As of September, fighting had spread southward to within sixty miles of the capital, Monrovia.

Responding to the rebel action, government repression of civil society continued to intensify. President Taylor's government functioned without accountability, independent of an ineffective judiciary and legislature that operated in fear of the executive. Ethnic Mandingo citizens, whom the government indiscriminately accused of supporting the rebels, faced growing discrimination, arbitrary arrests, and violence based solely on their ethnicity. In March, state security troops stormed the University of Liberia in Monrovia, assaulting and arresting unarmed students meeting to raise legal fees for detained journalists. More than forty students were reportedly tortured and female students raped in the raid by the ATU and the Special Operation Division, a special police unit. More than fifteen student leaders from the University of Liberia went into exile in May following the justice minister's public claim that rebel collaborators operated from their campus. In August, in an attempt to allay growing criticism, President Taylor freed three of thirteen prominent ethnic Krahn leaders imprisoned on treason charges since 1998, pardoned exiled opposition leaders, and announced an amnesty for rebels who disarmed.

Press censorship and arrests of journalists continued, as President Taylor and other high-ranking officials blamed them for negative international publicity. ...

With most Liberians dependent on radio for their news, government silencing of independent radio broadcasts deprived them of information. In August, President Taylor banned all radio stations but the three currently licensed--his private Liberian Communications Network and two others that only operated infrequently. At the same time, he refused to lift a ban on Veritas, a station of Liberia's Roman Catholic Church, and the independent Star radio.

The violence was part of a growing subregional struggle over control of diamonds and other resources. In 2001, President Taylor shifted his commercial focus from diamonds to logging, relying on the same men who organized the arms-for-diamonds trade to export timber and ship weapons from Monrovia to Sierra Leone. ...

Divisions and tensions in the subregion deepened as the internal conflicts within Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea continued to spill across the borders. Guinea and Liberia accused each other of supporting armed anti-government rebels, and the Sierra Leonean government accused Liberia of providing support to the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The insecurity and violence in the subregion displaced thousands of Liberians. Humanitarian agencies estimated in July 2001 that more than 40,000 persons had been newly displaced in Lofa County since April. ...


Following the escalation of fighting in Lofa County and a stinging December 2000 U.N. report on Liberian support of Sierra Leonean rebels, the government intensified attacks on human rights groups. Liberian security forces harassed, arrested, and tortured perceived critics, and human rights activists continued to flee the country in fear of government reprisals. Despite the threats, a small but dedicated human rights community continued to work in Liberia.

The leader of the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission, a key human rights defender, said in March that he had received threats from "prominent individuals" in retaliation for a report critical of the government's human rights record. The commission's premises, which had been the object of previous attacks by security forces, were burglarized a few months later. Despite the climate of fear, human rights organizations persisted in their activities. By contrast, the government's National Human Rights Commission was inactive. ...

Additional Recent Documents and Sources

Global Witness
Liberia: The Logs of War
Extensive reports from late 2001 on the role of timber exports in fueling war in Liberia and the surrounding region.

Human Rights Watch
No Questions Asked: The Eastern Europe Arms Pipeline to Liberia
Briefing Paper, November 15, 2001
Regularly updated news, editorials, opinion; based in Liberia; generally defends Liberian government against dissidents and critics.

The Perspective
Regularly updated news, editorials, opinion, based in Georgia; includes range of Liberian views critical of Liberian government.

Catholic Justice and Peace Commission fears
The News (Monrovia), January 11, 2002
Current news on Liberia from a variety of sources

Reed Kramer, "Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War's End,"
Africa News Service (Durham), July 1, 1995
Extensive background article on the role of the U.S. and the roots of conflict in Liberia.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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