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JUSTICE AND PEACE COMMISSION NATIONAL CATHOLIC SECRETARIAT P.O. Box 10-3569, 1000 Monrovia 10, Liberia Phone: (231) 224010/225930/223050 Fax: (231) 225217 September 11, 1996
BRIEFING PAPER ON LIBERIA
Samuel Kofi Woods, Director
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission-Liberia
On September 3rd, the head of Liberia's New Transitional Government, LNTG III, was formally inducted into office. She is Mrs. Ruth Sando Perry, the first female to lead Liberia and the first female Head of State in Africa. She replaced the former Chairman of Liberia's Six-Man Ruling Council LNTG II, Professor Wilton Sankawolo. Every member of the former council was retained except the Chairman who was apparently replaced for his lack of independence and leadership. With the installation of this new leadership, it is expected that Liberia would finally obtain the long awaited peace. There have been cautious optimism regarding this latest political arrangement given the lack of good-faith and insincerity which attended the more than thirteen peace accords over the past six years. A new cabinet has not been announced but some changes are expected.
Hope for peace continue to rest on the commitment of the International Community to assist Liberia's Civil Society in pressurizing the warlords. Mere assurance by the warlords will not suffice. The latest accord signed in the Nigerian Capital, Abuja, specifies punitive measures for violators which is characteristically different from previous ones. The measure include among other things, sanctions, travel restrictions for violators and their families expulsion of family members from countries of abode, freezing of accounts and business interest and threat of the setting up of a war crimes tribunal for Liberia. It is also expected that changes will be made in the already factionalized elections Commission, judiciary and security forces.
The Field Commander of the West African Peace Keeping Force (ECOMOG) was replaced. This change is significant. We think it is intended to accelerate much-needed reforms to improve the performance of the Peacekeepers. the new Field Commander is General John Victor Malu. He once served as Chief of Staff of ECOMOG during the infamous Octopus Operation launched by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia in 1992.
Recently the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) unilaterally ordered the re-opening of Liberia's International Airport. It was realized that the airport was being used illegally by the Leader of the NPFL and there were suspicions that arms were being brought into the country through that route, Malu was quick to order his men to search all planes landing at the airport and that process has begun. Malu is well-respected and considered a "No-Nonsense General".
Under the terms of the Abuja Accord, all factional enclaves should disappear by January and elections held in May next year.
SUPPORT FOR DISARMAMENT
There have been some positive signs of support for the disarmament process and support for ECOMOG. The Dutch Government which have made numerous humanitarian assistance available during our civil war recently presented 62 trucks to the peace-keeping force with another 20 expected. The Dutch Minister for Development and International Co-operation visited Liberia and personally turned over the consignment to the Field Commander. The United States Government has also committed 30 million to the process Already new checkpoints are being constructed through their assistance.
The military situation remains fluid. There have been reports of fighting in the Northwestern and southeastern portion of Liberia. Reports of massive destruction and loss of lives abound. Full scale disarmament has not begun. On September 9, the Leader of ULIMO-K, Alhaji Kromah, led what was referred to as the first disarmament initiative since the war. He was accompanied by the Chairman of the Council and others where he presented about 166,000 pieces of ammunition, 100 pieces of Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and other military hardware manufactured in the United States, Cuba, China, etc. This is a welcomed development as we intensify demands for the demonstration of good-faith regarding the latest accord.
Statements have been made by the other factions but no practical action taken. On August 25th, the NPFL Leader, Charles Taylor, issued an Executive Order to his fighters to begin the disarmament of 500 fighters but nothing has been done. Generally, the cease-fire has bean holding in Monrovia and parts adjacent.
The humanitarian disaster continues in Liberia. In the Western Liberia, horror persists particularly in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, it has been reported that more than 4,000 young children are suffering from severe malnutrition and about 20,000 persons referred to as "walking skeletons." Due to hostilities, food and other humanitarian assistance have not been taken to this region since December last year. Humanitarian organizations did not have access to these areas due to fighting and the looting of humanitarian supplies [including] vehicles. Individuals have been surviving on roots. It was reported that fifteen persons die daily in these areas. The Southeastern Region is undergoing similar experience. On Saturday, September 7, the roads leading to the [western] region was finally opened through the initiatives of the Field Commander of ECOMOG, and relief supplies are being delivered to the starving population.
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
Respect for human rights is unimpressive. However, when one reflects on the events of April 6 and its attendant consequences, there is a marked difference. The courts are gradually reopening though in a prevalently corrupt environment. Law and order has not been stabilized to the extend that wrongdoers are accorded due process and punished for crimes committed. There have been threats against the press for publishing pictures of the events of April. The Inquirer Newspaper has reported threats against them twice.
Three persons were killed under [strange] circumstances but the killers were never apprehended and no reports of arrests made. On August 8, a member of the Legislature, Seh Vincent was killed by unknown gunmen. His stolen vehicle was later found at the border with Guinea. Two young ladies were also found dead in Congo Town just outside Monrovia. Christiana Cheeks and Josephine were killed by unknown gunmen. Their bodies were discovered on August 5th. Suspects were identified but the Justice Ministry has been reluctant [to make arrest] inspite of repeated calls [from] members of the public.
The general lack of confidence in the local security apparatus - police, army, etc.- is contributing significantly to this problems. All of the agencies have become appendages of [the various] factions thus making it difficult to provide guarantees for the respect for human rights. Constant calls are being made to have [the various security organs] defactionalized.
The various courts are fraught with factional appointees thereby compromising the independence and impartiality of the judiciary in the dispensation of justice. There are reports that some factions are operating their individuals [prison] cells outside the framework of [the unity] government. Escapees have reported gruesome experiences [at] these illegal imprisonment cells. Only Mr. Francois Masssquoi of the Lofa Defense Force has denied this. One escapee from the NPFL illegal [prison] cell, Mr. Edwin Johnson, reported that he was arrested by Men loyal to Taylor's NPFL on July 18 this year and was freed on September 2nd after bribing the wardens. He reported that more than fifteen persons were left in there and nothing has been done about them.
I finally arrived in Monrovia on August 22 after an earlier fact- finding mission in June and July. Since my arrival, I have been cleaning the debris and commenced the setting up of the Justice and Peace Office. All of the programs [including]: fact-finding missions & documentation, legal aid, radio programs, and conflict resolution workshops will continue. Every information, equipment, and our only vehicle were all looted and destroyed. Our offices were targeted but we are determined to continue. I am settling to milk the wounds of what has been left in the office. It is bare. Books, documents looted and destroyed. We will be launching an appeal for assistance to rebuild. We will need books, used computers, a vehicle, etc. There is presently no direct means of communicating. Attempts are being made to solve this problem. I can however be contacted by: Tel. 231-227657 or 231-223224. Fax 231-225217 or 231-226005 Due to the present situation I would appreciate that important contacts be made by fax rather than telephone.
Samuel Kofi Woods, Director Catholic Justice and Peace Commission-Liberia
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