A report released on 15 June 2005 by Global Witness (1) titled 'Timber, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' details how uncontrolled exploitation of Liberia's natural resources, structural violence and interference by former Liberian president Charles Taylor are undermining peace in West Africa. Global Witness calls on the UN Security Council to maintain the timber and diamond sanctions (2), and calls on US, UK, Nigeria and ECOWAS states to facilitate the extradition of Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he should face trial on the 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity brought against him (3).
"West Africa is at a delicate point in its post-conflict recovery. Not dealing with the Taylor threat, not controlling Liberia's natural resources and not taking action on poor governance in Liberia leaves West Africa at great risk of a return to war," says Natalie Ashworth, of Global Witness (4). "The international community must be more robust if it is to safeguard peace and its investment in the region's future."
'Timber, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' details the results of Global Witness investigations in the region that show the links between the exploitation of natural resources and conflict remain strong. The report outlines how a lack of reform and lack of control by the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) and UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) peacekeepers over Liberia's timber and diamond industries has facilitated an explosion in illegal diamond mining and organised logging by ex-combatants. This security threat is exacerbated by the failure of the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) process to break down former warring-party chains of command, or provide training and jobs for the over 100,000 registered ex-combatants. Many former fighters, including child soldiers, have since been re-recruited to fight in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea.
Charles Taylor also remains a significant threat to regional security, flouting the terms of his exile with Nigeria (5) by maintaining regular contact with Liberian political and military figures (6), travelling to other countries and recruiting a small fighting force to destabilise Guinea (7). The Special Court has accused Taylor of backing a coup attempt against Guinean President Lansana Conte in mid January 2005 (8) and other diplomatic sources indicate his involvement (9). But due to political in-fighting, intelligence agencies in the US and UK governments have failed to hand over sufficient evidence of Taylor's exile violations to Nigerian President Obasanjo that would help facilitate Taylor's move to stand trial. President Obasanjo has also initiated his own investigations into Taylor's activities, and the results of this inquiry will no doubt be a focus of great interest for the international community.
"Lifting timber and diamond sanctions now would make matters significantly worse, opening up the region to a flood of illegal Liberian diamond and timber exports exported by armed ex-fighters that could ignite a regional war," says Ashworth. Lifting sanctions would also go against the expressed wishes of Liberian civil society (10). "It is time for the international community to stop risking the lives of West Africa's war-weary citizens for political expediency: keep the sanctions in place, take the tough action necessary to help Liberia move forward, and bring an end to Taylor's ability to undermine regional security."
For press inquires on Liberia please contact Natalie Ashworth of Global Witness at +44 (0)207-561-6369, or Mike Lundberg at +44-(0)207-561-6372.
For questions on diamonds, please 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. Global Witness was awarded the prestigious Gleitsman Foundation Award for International Activism in 2005, and was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. For more information on Liberia, see previous Global Witness reports at www.globalwitness.org.
(2) Diamond sanctions first came into effect through UN Security Council Resolution 1343 (2001), with timber sanctions first imposed through Resolution 1478 (2003). Both were re-established by Resolution 1521 (2003) and renewed for through Resolution 1579 (2004), with the diamond embargo renewed for six months and timber embargo for 12 months.
(3) For a full list of the charges filed against Charles Taylor, see the Special Court for Sierra Leone website at www.sc-sl.org.
(4) For more information on Global Witness's work on Liberia see: 'A Time for Justice: Why the International Community, UN Security Council and Nigeria should help facilitate Charles Taylor's immediate extradition to the Special Court for Sierra Leone', June 2005; 'Dangerous Liaisons: The ongoing relationship between Liberia's natural resource industries, arms trafficking and regional insecurity', December 2004; '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; '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.
(5) Under the terms of his exile, Nigeria forbade Taylor from 'engaging in active communication with anyone engaged in political, illegal or governmental activities', see 'Taylor meddling in Liberian politics, diplomats say', UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 17 September 2003.
(6) Global Witness research and investigations, 2003-2005; copy of Special Court document dated January 2005 as obtained by Global Witness; 'Following Taylor's Money: A path of war and destruction', Coalition for International Justice, May 2005.
(7) 'Following Taylor's Money: A path of war and destruction', Coalition for International Justice, May 2005.
(8) Copy of Special Court document dated January 2005 as obtained by Global Witness.
(9) Global Witness interview with former military intelligence officer, April 2005.
(10) Open Letter from the NGOs Coalition for Liberia calling on the UN Security Council to maintain timber and diamond sanctions at its June review, June 6, 2005