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Presentation to the Arria Formula Briefing - Liberia - HRW


Human Rights Watch
September 9, 2003

Liberia: Greater Protection Required for Civilians Still at Risk


This information is based on interviews conducted by a Human Rights Watch researcher in Liberia from August 23 - September 9, 2003. The interviews were conducted in Monrovia and Buchanan with displaced persons, child soldiers, rape victims, and humanitarian and human rights workers, among others.

Current Conditions

Despite assurances by West African ECOMIL peacekeepers and U.S. forces that the situation in Liberia has stabilized, conditions remain dire and volatile. Marauding armed bands, frequently containing children, continue to terrorize and abuse civilians, committing murder, rape, forced recruitment and looting. Ragtag government militias and fighters from both rebel groups operate with little discipline or command-control, and loot in part because they are hungry and not being paid.

Hundreds of thousands of persons have repeatedly been uprooted as they fled the countryside in terror of these armed groups, which are seeking to secure the last spoils of battle in expectation of the territory being secured by peacekeepers. Soldiers systematically extort money and other goods from those seeking refuge and have blocked them from moving to safety. Fleeing civilians are also vulnerable to rape and abduction by the armed groups. Thousands of people remain in hiding in the bush where adequate food, water, shelter and medical care are scarce or non-existent. Most of the population remains in grave need of basic necessities, particularly outside the capital, Monrovia. In Bong County, fighting between government forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) has caused the mass displacement of the population.

Rape and other sexual violence against girls and women remain pervasive on all sides. Sexual violence often accompanies the widespread looting, and women and girls who resist risk being shot by the armed fighters. Rape of young boys is reportedly on the increase in areas of northern Bong. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have also been reported in displaced centers in Monrovia, particularly where conditions are crowded and food and other necessities must be found outside the camp.

Both the government militias and rebel fighters rely on child soldiers, most of whom are between thirteen and sixteen years, but some even as young as six. Many have been forcibly recruited. Some of these child soldiers had fought in the 1990-97 war and were demobilized, before being re-recruited with the renewal of fighting in 2000. Many soldiers appearing below the age of eighteen (perhaps as young as thirteen) were seen by the Human Rights Watch researcher at government and rebel checkpoints.

The signing of a comprehensive peace agreement on August 18, 2003 included a pact by the government and rebel forces to grant access throughout the country to humanitarian workers and organizations. However, the insecure situation continues to impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in greatest need.

Protection of the civilian population remains an urgent priority. All sectors of Liberian society, from civilians to civil society groups to fighters from all the warring parties, have repeatedly called for a prompt and expansive deployment of ECOMIL and other international forces.

Abuses by the Government Forces and Militias

Liberian government forces and militias have a long record of serious abuses against civilians, particularly in the country's northwest Lofa County since the rebel incursion began in 2000. There are continuing complaints particularly against the paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) and various government-backed militia groups. Abuses reported include rape, harassment, looting, and forced recruitment throughout government-controlled areas.

Since ECOMIL peacekeepers arrived in Monrovia, many of the government militias have moved to the city's outskirts and beyond into Bong county. As a result, reports of raiding and looting in the villages outside the capital have increased. Looting, and abuses such as rape that frequently accompanies it, causes people to flee areas as soon as they learn of any kind of armed incursion. Many civilians told Human Rights Watch that government militias were largely responsible for looting raids that caused them to flee their homes. Along the road to Buchanan, for instance, government militias have raided numerous villages, causing several thousand civilians to flee into the outskirts of Monrovia.

Human Rights Watch interviewed child soldiers in Monrovia recruited by government militias as recently as July 2003. Girls have also been recruited into government forces, some in order to provide labor and sexual services, and others to act as spies and soldiers.

Abuses by LURD

Civilians in the northwest and central Liberia under the control of the LURD remain at risk, and thousands of civilians are reportedly attempting to move towards the safety of Monrovia. Human Rights Watch received recent reports of extra judicial killings and rape by LURD forces, including one incident in which LURD recently set an internally displaced camp on fire in Bomi County to force residents to move. One recent visitor to Tubmanburg, under LURD control, described it as the "Wild West." It is dominated by large numbers of young LURD fighters with red bandanas driving around in stolen cars. Many LURD fighters are child soldiers, including a number of girls, despite a commitment made by LURD. On June 30, 2003, LURD pledged to end all recruitment of children under age eighteen, to demobilize LURD soldiers under the age of eighteen, to provide assistance for the rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who have served in LURD, and to discipline any commanders and/or recruiting officers that recruit child soldiers.

Civilians coming from Bomi and other south-western counties generally state that their main concerns are for basic necessities such as food and water, and they report that residents of internally displaced camps in the Bong area are reluctant to leave the camps in search of food due to the insecurity. Some civilians leaving LURD territory express concern about forced recruitment.

Lofa County remains a no-go zone for humanitarian agencies and there are great concerns about the conditions facing civilians. One woman from Zowington, a small village near Gbarnga, told Human Rights Watch: "They [the LURD rebels] catch you and beat you and rape you. The men go hide because when they see the men they cut them in pieces, pieces, pieces." Another woman who passed through Gbarnga recently witnessed summary executions of local men by LURD forces in the Gbarnga vicinity. Other displaced people from Gbarnga and Nimba told Human Rights Watch that LURD regularly picks women out of the groups of civilians moving south and subjects them to rape and other forms of sexual violence.

Abuses by MODEL

The rebel Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) continues to operate in the southeast of the country. In Buchanan, Liberia's second-most populated town, residents state that the first three weeks of the MODEL occupation, July 28 to August 18, 2003 were the worst in terms of human rights abuses. Most gunshot wounds of civilians were related to fighting on July 28 and August 5 when the government attempted to recapture the town. In addition, there are occasional reports of violence accompanying looting, when people resist the looting.

In the early period of MODEL's occupation, there were some cases of recruitment of boys and girls, although this appears to have abated. One humanitarian worker reported seeing a girl so small that the barrel of her rifle was dragging on the ground. Additionally, MODEL fighters have reportedly been detaining individuals from internally displaced sites whom they believe to be government soldiers. Several were released unharmed after diplomatic and church interventions.

MODEL initially imposed a curfew in Buchanan that restricted people's ability to farm or seek food. In the first few days, only women were allowed out to collect water and food. Displaced persons who ventured out to seek food came back with accounts of harassment, and some suffered bullet wounds. However, the curfew has recently been eased somewhat. There have also been several reports of armed fighters trying to enter internally displaced centers, holding people at gunpoint and looting their possessions and food.

Systematic looting of property and food remains the most common complaint against MODEL. MODEL commanders have reportedly been responsive to abuses when notified of them, but the looting remains a major problem that seems to be sanctioned by the higher-level authorities.

Need for Expanded International Protection

Additional measures by the international community are urgently required to establish security countrywide that will ensure protection of and humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of Liberians in desperate conditions.

While the initial arrival of the West African ECOMIL peacekeepers in August has brought some improvement in the security situation, the international community continues to move too slowly in its deployment of an adequate number of peacekeepers. The presence of some 3,000 or so West African peacekeepers on the ground is woefully inadequate. Even in central Monrovia, which is secured by the peacekeepers, there are regular reports of armed men entering and looting property at internally displaced centers. Despite the appalling situation of civilians throughout the country as documented in this paper, there has been no deployment to date of peacekeepers outside of the capital.

The impending arrival of some 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers, expected to deploy in October to replace the ECOMIL forces, is a critical step forward. Ensuring that the U.N. force deploys with adequate numbers of troops and a strong mandate is essential if the crucial issues of disarmament and demobilization are to be properly addressed.

Recommendations to the U.N. Security Council

Human Rights Watch urges the U.N. Security Council to consider the following recommendations as it defines the concept of operations and the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Liberia:

· Deploy U.N. peacekeeping forces to Liberia as soon as possible with a robust mandate and the necessary means to protect civilians within their areas of deployment, facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, establish conditions for the safe and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons, and support disarmament and demobilisation efforts. Expand as rapidly as feasible the zone within which the forces are able to protect civilians.

· Ensure that peacekeeping forces facilitate humanitarian access to areas outside Monrovia as an urgent priority.

· Ensure that commitments made in previous Security Council resolutions on protection of civilians, children and armed conflict, women, and peace and security, are fully integrated into the U.N.'s efforts in Liberia.

· Create a human rights component within the peacekeeping operation with a mandate that includes human rights monitoring and investigation, public reporting and the raising of individual cases of abuse with the Liberian authorities, the leadership of the rebel groups, or the relevant authorities for any foreign troops deployed in the country. The human rights component should include personnel experienced in dealing with victims of gender-based violence and violence against children. Peacekeeping initiatives dealing with the repatriation of the displaced, the rebuilding of state institutions and the reconciliation and accountability process must incorporate human rights concerns Additionally, the human rights component should support, strengthen and actively work to rebuild national institutions, both governmental and civil society, and initiate human rights education initiatives.

· Create a justice component within the peacekeeping operation with a mandate to support efforts to end impunity for perpetrators of past serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law and promote the rule of law, including by collecting and preserving evidence related to serious crimes and supporting the development of accountability mechanisms for serious past crimes. Ensure that this component includes experts in gathering documentary, testimonial, and forensic evidence, prosecuting cases involving serious crimes, establishing accountability mechanisms and building respect for the rule of law.

· Ensure that all officers and soldiers deployed with the U.N. force to Liberia receive appropriate training in international human rights, children's rights and humanitarian law, and that a unit of advisors with particular expertise in international humanitarian law is deployed with the U.N. force. Peacekeepers who violate international humanitarian law or commit other abuses, including sexual exploitation of women and children, should be disciplined.

· Ensure that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs take account of the special needs of all combatants, especially child soldiers, and ensure that women and girls who have been used as soldiers and sexual slaves are included in all aspects of DDR programs.

· Call on U.N. humanitarian agencies to give priority to programs focusing on the rights of women and girls, the needs of sexual violence victims, and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

· Ensure that adequate numbers of police personnel are included within the U.N. force to restructure and retrain the Liberian police. The existing Liberian police force should be screened as soon as possible. Those officers that are linked to human rights abuses should be dismissed from the police force. Those deemed to be unqualified should be retrained or dismissed. The restructured police force should have clear and public directives governing the duties of its officers and human rights components should be integrated into all levels of the police structure.

· Ensure that gender/sexual violence experts are included among the police personnel to help train the Liberian police force to respond appropriately to complaints of sexual violence and rape.


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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.