Human Rights Developments

By the end of 1995, hopes for peace and respect for human rights in Liberia were once again rekindled. After a dozen prior peace agreements, a new accord signed in Abuja in August again seemed to be Liberia's last, best hope.

One of the hallmarks of the Liberian war has been the proliferation of armed factions, all of which targeted civilians and were responsible for systematic human rights abuses, and none of which was fighting for any recognizable cause or ideology. The war has also been characterized by the extensive use of child soldiers, boys younger than fifteen years old who were easy prey for all the factions. The massive displacement of the civilian population has been another tragic aspect of the war, leading to some 750,000 refugees and one million internally displaced, out of a pre-war population of some 2.5 million. Finally, the Liberian war has been carried out in a climate of utter impunity, with no one held accountable for the crimes committed against the Liberian people. The challenge now is to bring an end to the bloody civil war, which has cost an estimated 150,000 lives and devastated the country.

In accordance with the peace accord, a new transitional government was sworn in on September 1. The new government took over from the Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG), which had governed the capital, Monrovia, since March 1994, backed by the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG. The main warring factions are: Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which began the civil war with the incursion of its exile army in December 1989; the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the army of former President Samuel Doe, made up largely of the Krahn ethnic group; the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), made up primarily of former AFL soldiers, which split in March 1994 along ethnic lines, pitting the Krahn faction of Roosevelt Johnson (ULIMO-J) against the Mandingo faction, led by Alhadji Kromah (ULIMO-K); the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), another offshoot of the AFL, which has been fighting the NPFL in the southeast; and the Lofa Defense Force (LDF), from Lofa County. ECOMOG, which is mostly Nigerian, has been in Liberia for more than five years, and while its presence has helped protect many civilians living in Monrovia, ECOMOG's reputation has been tarnished by its support for various anti-NPFL, Krahn-based factions.

In August 1995, a new peace agreement was signed in Abuja, amending and supplementing the Cotonou and Akosombo accords, which includes all the warring factions and provides for a new cease-fire. The new six-person Council of State is composed of Wilton Sankawolo, as chairman; George Boley, representing the LPC, the Central Revolutionary Council of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, and the Lofa Defense Force; Alhadji Kromah, representing ULIMO; Oscar Quiah, representing the Liberian National Council; Chief Tamba Tailor; and Charles Taylor of the NPFL. The agreement provided for presidential elections to be held in one year, in August 1996.

Liberian civilians continued to be terrorized throughout 1995. No meaningful investigation was made into the Cow Field massacre outside Monrovia in December 1994, during which forty-eight people were killed, most of them children. The perpetrators have never been identified, but many reports indicated that Krahn-speaking fighters were involved. The LNTG announced that nine AFL soldiers had been arrested, but the results of its inquiry were not publicized.

Massacres of civilians were reported in several other parts of Liberia during 1995. In Grand Cape Mount County in March, a massacre was reported in Meenkor town, apparently related to fighting between the two ULIMO factions.

In Bong County, which had been under the control of the NPFL, fighters abused civilians, burned their villages, and prevented them from receiving humanitarian assistance. International relief groups found that as many as 43 percent of children under age eleven suffered from malnutrition in parts of Bong and Margibi counties.

In the area around Buchanan in Bassa county, civilians have been caught in the fighting between the NPFL and the LPC, with both sides attacking civilians and accusing them of supporting the other faction. Many atrocities have been reported in these attacks, including beatings, rapes, cutting off of body parts, and executions. On April 10, more than seventy civilians in the village of Yosi in Bassa County were massacred; it remains unclear which warring faction—the NPFL or the LPC—was responsible. The fighters ordered the villagers to gather in an open field and then attacked them with machetes and clubs. Although the massacre was publicized by UNICEF, no investigation was opened and the killers remained unidentified. In June, UNICEF reported that 652 women had been raped in Buchanan within the prior six months.

As expected, the signing of the peace agreement did not have immediate effect throughout the country. Within two days of the start of the cease-fire, the rival wings of ULIMO fought each other near Tubmanberg, west of Monrovia. Reports of skirmishes between the LPC and the NPFL in the southeast also continued. In the northeastern town of Ganta in late September, relief workers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) had to abort their mission after being harassed by twelve NPFL fighters; the fighters held the relief workers at gunpoint, commandeered a WHO vehicle, and stole money and personal effects. The vehicle was later returned, although it was in poor condition. In October, new fighting broke out in Gbarnga between the NPFL and ULIMO-K.

The continued fighting among the warring factions raised serious questions about the prospects for repatriating the 727,000 Liberian refugees who fled to neighboring countries. Some 370,000 were in the Ivory Coast, 395,000 in Guinea, 14,000 in Ghana, 4,600 in Sierra Leone, and 4,000 in Nigeria. In addition, approximately one million are internally displaced.

There are no precise figures on the number of child soldiers in Liberia; even the total number of combatants in all the factions is unknown, but estimates range between 40,000 and 60,000 combatants. UNICEF estimates that approximately 10 percent of the fighters are under the age of fifteen. The NPFL and ULIMO have consistently used children under the age of eighteen, including thousands of children under fifteen. International law—the Protocols of the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child—forbids the use of children under the age of fifteen as soldiers in armed conflict. The African Charter on the Rights of the Child has a higher threshold, stating that no one under the age of eighteen can serve in armed hostilities. In spite of these clear provisions, thousands of children are being used as soldiers in Liberia.

The Right to Monitor

A number of human rights organizations were able to function in Monrovia without interference. The principal human rights organizations include: the Catholic Peace and Justice Commission, the Center for Law and Human Rights Education, the Liberian Human Rights Chapter, the Association of Human Rights Promoters, and Liberia Watch for Human Rights. However, it was often difficult for these groups to travel outside Monrovia to document human rights abuses. There were no known human rights organizations operating in NPFL, ULIMO, or LPC territory.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations

In September 1993, the United Nations Security Council created a U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to help supervise and monitor the Cotonou peace agreement, in conjunctionwith ECOMOG. On September 15, 1995, UNOMIL's mandate in Liberia was extended until January 31, 1996; on November 10, the Security Council voted to strengthen the mission to 160 military observers. UNOMIL has a mandate to report on violations of the cease-fire and violations of humanitarian law, but since its creation in September 1993, it has not reported publicly about the situations it has monitored.

Human rights concerns have been notably absent from the U.N.'s reporting on Liberia. Accordingly, many opportunities were missed to insert provisions for human rights protection into the peace process. The U.N. observers must fulfill their mandate to monitor and report on human rights violations if their presence is to contribute effectively to the peace process.

A U.N.-sponsored donors meeting in New York on October 27 raised US$145.7 million to support the peace process in Liberia, with only a small portion going to ECOMOG. The main donors were the U.S., which pledged $74 million, and the E.U., which pledged $53 million for reintegration activities; the U.K. pledged $7.7 million, and France pledged $3 million.

U.S. Policy

Throughout the war, the U.S. policy has been to support the conflict resolution efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the U.N., to withhold recognition of any of the governments until elections could be held, and to promote ECOWAS and its peace plan. However, by deferring to ECOWAS, the U.S. lost important opportunities to influence the negotiations and to insert human rights guarantees into the process.

The U.S. has been the largest donor to the Liberian relief effort. (Other U.S. aid is prohibited by the Brooke Amendment, which suspends aid to countries that have failed to repay their loans to the U.S.) The U.S. has spent some $380 million in humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance to Liberia, including assistance to the refugee communities outside Liberia. In addition, some $60 million has been provided for conflict resolution efforts such as financing the Senegalese and later the Ugandan and Tanzanian contingents to ECOMOG.

During 1994, the Clinton Administration sent several delegations to the West African region to deal with the Liberian crisis. In early 1995, President Clinton appointed Ambassador Dane Smith to be his special envoy to Liberia, and he made five trips to the region. His primary functions involved moving the peace process forward and obtaining a regional consensus on stopping the flow of arms into Liberia.

In an important move, in July 1995, the U.S. detained Momolu Sirleaf, a high official of the NPFL, at Dulles Airport for violating Article 212F of the Immigration and Nationality Act which, by presidential proclamation, prohibits entry into the U.S. of those individuals hindering the peace process. The presidential proclamation was issued on September 1, 1994, but this was the first time it was applied. Sirleaf was held for approximately forty-eight hours before being released pending a hearing, which was scheduled for early November. The U.S. action was intended to send a signal to the warring factions that they would not be allowed to continue using the U.S. as a base for financing their war effort.

By year's end, there was considerable discussion about enhanced U.S. support for ECOMOG. ECOWAS was seeking some $90 million for its peacekeeping operation in Liberia, and an additional $42 million for demobilization. The U.S. was considering how it could respond to these requests, which also include ECOMOG's need for communications support and equipment. At the donors meeting on October 27, the U.S. pledged $75 million for Liberia: $50 million in food aid, $10 million for trucks for ECOMOG, and the remaining $15 million for demobilization.

Given the history of ECOMOG's involvement in Liberia, Human Rights Watch/Africa called for close attention to be paid to ensure that their mission is conducted in an even-handed fashion without assisting or prejudicing any of the warring factions. Any future U.S. assistance to ECOMOG must be contingent upon transparency of ECOMOG operations and strict scrutiny of ECOMOG conduct. While new national contingents or military support personnel were to be introduced into ECOMOG from Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger, Mali, and Togo, the bulk of the ECOMOG forces would remain Nigerian military, a highly problematic recipient of U.S. assistance. This situation made human rights conditions for the receipt of U.S. assistance doubly urgent.

In a statement released on October 23, the U.S. embassy warned that new violence in Liberia could threaten the peace process. The embassy advised all parties in Liberia "to demonstrate their commitment and responsibility to peace by exercising control over their supporters and intervening personally and swiftly to halt cease-fire violations and other threatening acts, including the sale or purchase of arms and their distribution."

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

With the seeming inability of the peace process to move forward, Human Rights Watch/Africa continued to monitor human rights developments in Liberia and to publicize the situation. Human Rights Watch/Africa frequently briefed journalists, government officials, and U.S. congressional staff about Liberia, and participated in discussions aimed at pressuring the warring factions to respect human rights.

After the peace accord was signed, Human Rights Watch/Africa testified in September before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa of the International Relations Committee. The testimony recommended ways that human rights protections could be incorporated into the peace process.

This report covers events of 1995

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