Liberia slipping into anarchy

2002-05-02 12:54

Abidjan - Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the United Nations Security Council to extend its arms embargo against Liberia, saying the army has committed war crimes. These atrocities, HRW said, included the execution of scores of civilians, widespread rape of women and girls, some as young as 12, and systematic burning of villages.

A similar embargo, HRW said in a new report on Wednesday, should be imposed on the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels, who also perpetrated summary executions of alleged government collaborators, rape, and forced recruitment, including of children, since July 2000.

HRW said in the report 'Back to the Brink: War Crimes by Liberian Government and Rebels, A Call for Greater International Attention to Liberia and the Sub Region', that Sierra Leone could easily be destabilised by renewed war in Liberia.

"With peace coming to Sierra Leone, hundreds of former fighters from all sides of Sierra Leone's civil war are crossing into Liberia to fight as mercenaries either for the government or for LURD," it said.

Military assistance to Guinea

Expressing concern at "the destabilising role Guinea is playing in providing logistic and military support to the LURD", HRW urged the United States "which will begin dispensing US$3 million in military assistance to Guinea in May, to condition its aid on an end to assistance for rebel activity in Liberia".

"Liberian civilians are once again bearing the brunt of a brutal war," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW Africa division, said. "If the international community does not prevent further bloodshed, Liberia's war will destabilise the wider region."

The organisation said the governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone frequently harboured each other's rebels and supported cross-border incursions. "Charles Taylor, both as former warring faction leader and as president of Liberia since 1997, bears primary responsibility for much of the serious human rights abuses in the subregion, both in Liberia and in particular through his support for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone," it said.

Intolerant of dissent

The Taylor government, it added, had become increasingly intolerant of dissent. Since a state of emergency was imposed in February the government had carried out a spate of arrests, closed newspapers, and detained and tortured human rights activists to silence criticism. "Citing the rebel threat, the government is remilitarising society, remobilising ex-combatants and proliferating militia groups," HRW said.

The Security Council is due to review sanctions against Liberia by 6 May, following the discussion within its committee on Liberia of the findings of a panel of experts that probed the country's compliance with Resolution 1343 of March 2001, under which sanctions were imposed on Liberia for its links with the RUF. The panel recommended the maintenance of the arms embargo, saying there was credible evidence that the government was buying weapons in violation of restrictions. The panel, however, recommended a review of other sanctions such as a travel ban on top Liberian officials. - Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)