Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. Ed. Dinah L. Shelton.

Source: eNotes.com
Jul, 2010


The beginnings of Liberia as a modern state are rooted in American circumstances that led to a back-to-Africa movement among a relatively small number of African-Americans, and which was supported by white American sponsors. With multiple motives, some far from charitable, the American Colonization Society launched the Liberian experiment in the early years of the nineteenth century. Liberia's initial purpose was to serve as a beachhead for the redemption of Africa from its perceived state of degradation. The agencies of this redeeming work were to be, in order of importance, the white man, the westernized black man, and then at the bottom of the heap, the non-westernized African peoples. Much of what became public policy in early Liberia rested on this hierarchical vision of human civilization. Liberia labored under this vision through the rest of the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the twentieth century.

The Rise of President Doe

A paradigm shift occurred at the end of World War II, when Liberia's supporters and its citizens moved from a commitment to their founding mission of civilizing and Christianizing the peoples of Africa and adopted in its place a philosophy of natural rights and its offshoot of democratic governance and respect for fundamental human rights. In a real sense Liberia was in the throes of this shift when the coup d'état of 1980 occurred.

Immediately prior to the coup, during the administration of President William R. Tolbert (1971–1980), a national reform movement was initiated. Tolbert had clear reformist proclivities, but he was not a strong political leader. Challenging Tolbert were several politically progressive groups, notably the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) and the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA). They were perceived as legitimate alternatives to the regime then in power.

There were many confrontations between advocates of change and those who wished to preserve the status quo before the fateful challenge occurred. Then the government announced the possibility of an increase in the price of rice, the country's staple food. The PAL demanded that the price of rice be left unchanged and signaled that, unless the government acceded to its demands, it would call for a mass rally to press its case. When the government replied that the price increase was only under discussion, and refused to grant PAL the necessary demonstration permit, PAL defiantly called for the rally anyway.

An unprecedented clash ensued between a throng of demonstrators and the government's security forces on April 14, 1979. Many of the demonstrators were killed, scores were maimed, and millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed or damaged. The demonstrators were expressing widespread disgust and anger with the entire political system, and voiced their dissatisfaction with the president, who symbolized that system.

The government attempted to put down the dissidents, but its efforts failed because the society was perilously divided, especially within the nation's security forces. The police were prepared to carry out government orders, but military personnel refused to fire into the demonstrators, pointing out that their own children and kinsmen might be in the crowd. Abandoned and insecure, the Tolbert administration sought and received military assistance from President Sekou Touré of Guinea. When Guinean military forces arrived in Liberia, the Liberian military and a great many Liberian civilians were deeply offended.

On April 12, 1980, seventeen enlisted men in the Liberian Army led an attack on the President's mansion under the leadership of Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe. They assassinated President Tolbert and overthrew his government, creating a new governing body, the People's Redemption Council (PRC), and Doe assumed the interim presidency.

The coupmakers' declaration of intent upon seizing power convinced most observers that the new government would implement progressive policies. They released all political prisoners and invited key figures in the opposition to help them form a new government. A progressive political agenda was announced, and it appeared that Doe and his followers were about to impose significant changes on the country by fiat. Accompanying the expression of intent, however, was a pattern of behavior that belied the stated progressive aims. Military personnel and other regime figures quickly adopted opulent lifestyles, lording it over their subordinates. More ominous still, the new regime began singling out individuals and families that they deemed associates of the deposed Tolbert administration. This development became clearer when, in the weeks following the coup, the PRC suddenly and publicly executed thirteen senior officials of the old regime. The executions touched off an international chorus of outrage and condemnation for this gross violation of rights, as did the apparent targeting of dissident Liberians for execution or persecution.

Regardless of internal and international outcries, these persecutions and secret executions continued. Soon, deadly conflicts sprang up within the PRC itself, as personality differences led to political purges. Several senior PRC members were executed on President Doe's orders. Eventually, Doe found himself in conflict with Commanding General Thomas Quiwonkpa, a popular soldier and a senior member of the PRC. After several bloody encounters between the Doe and Quiwonkpa factions, Quiwonkpa was forced to flee the country.

Fall of the Doe Regime

In 1985 two major events transpired. The first was a purported democratic election. When the people voted against Doe's military regime, the government illegally intervened in the process and reversed the outcome, declaring Doe the winner. The second event was Quiwonkpa's reappearence in Monrovia on November 12, 1985. Upon his return to Liberia, he attempted to lead a coup against Doe and install the candidate who was popularly believed to have won the election. Quiwonkpa's coup attempt failed. Incensed, President Doe carried out a rash of retaliatory killings. Estimates as to the number executed during this period range from 500 to as many as 3,000. The victims were largely drawn from the police, military, and security personnel of Nimba county, which was the home region of Quiwonkpa. The many who were killed were buried in mass graves in Nimba.

The Western media soon created a shorthand for understanding the gathering conflict, blaming the violence as arising from an ethnicity-based conflict between the Krahn (Doe's people) and his Mandingo supporters versus the Dhan and Mano peoples of Nimba County. This was only partially true, however. Doe was in fact lashing out at all opponents, real and imagined, regardless of their ethnic background. As a result, his presidency devolved into a reign of terror.

Doe was inaugurated President of Liberia in January 1986. He soon found it difficult to rule, however. The violence that followed the elections, coupled, in a curious way, with the events that immediately followed his own coup of 1980, engendered covert protest that eventually became open acts of rebellion. By the start of 1989, Liberia became increasingly unsafe.

A fallout in Africa at the end of the cold war was the emergence of the warlord insurgencies threatening to destabilize national governments. On Christmas Eve of 1989, the insurgent leader, Charles Taylor, announced to the Liberian and international media that he was heading an insurgency under the banner of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). His goal was to bring down the Doe regime and end the reign of terror. He set himself the goal of completing the unfinished work of Thomas Quiwonkpa.

Taylor's rebels advanced from the border between Liberia and neighboring Ivory Coast. As they penetrated Nimba County, Doe responded by initiating a scorched earth policy, sending his soldiers to raze whole villages and kill everything that moved. This tactic quickly galvanized the people, first in Nimba County, then in the nation as a whole. As the insurgency gathered momentum, the brutality on both sides was unparalleled in the history of Liberia. The violence was not limited to a clash between armies; tens of thousands of civilians died, and countless others were maimed or otherwise injured by the war.

The extreme violence early in the civil war was a consequence of problems at three levels. First was the inter-ethnic hostility that existed between Doe's Krahn and Mandingo supporters and the remnants of Quiwonkpa's Dahn and Mano followers, who now rallied behind Charles Taylor. Second, the Liberian population was, and is, comprised of a great many other ethnicities, distinguished by language and culture, so no true sense of shared national identity could be called upon to mitigate the violence. Finally, Liberia suffered from international neglect after the Cold War ended and Africa ceased to be viewed as strategically important to the United States, its traditional ally. The result for the Liberian people was that more than 200,000 of Liberia's 2.6 million people were killed, another 800,000 became internally displaced persons, and more than 700,000 fled abroad to live as refugees.

As the rebel groups approached Monrovia in early 1990 and engaged Doe's Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the slaughter increased. Some 2,000 Dhan and Mano, mostly women and children, sought refuge at the International Red Cross station in the main Lutheran Church compound in Monrovia. Although the Red Cross insignia were clearly visible, AFL death squads invaded the refuge on the night of July 29, 1990, and massacred the more than 600 people who sheltered there. In the days that followed, the death squads roamed the streets of Monrovia and its environs, attacking any civilians suspected of being sympathetic to the rebels or lukewarm toward Doe's regime.

By mid-1990 Doe's control of the country was limited to the area around the presidential palace. Prince Johnson, leader of the breakaway Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPF), risked a meeting with Doe at the Barclay Training Center (a military barracks) in Monrovia on August 18, 1990. Doe suggested that Johnson join him in a "native solidarity" alliance against Taylor, who was accused of representing "settler" interests (meaning the interests of descendents of the African Americans who came to the region in the nineteenth century). Johnson declined the offer of alliance and returned to his base on the outskirts of Monrovia.

A few days after this meeting, Doe led a foray into territory held by Johnson's forces in order to visit the leaders of the Economic Community Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), a peacekeeping force that the economic community of West African states (ECOWAS) has created in an effort to help resolve African conflicts. During this foray, however, Doe's entourage was attacked, most were killed, and Doe himself was captured. Badly injured and bleeding from serious leg wounds, he was taken to Prince Johnson's compound. There he was tortured and then left to bleed to death, the whole gruesome episode captured by Johnson's video camera. On September 10, 1990, he died and his naked body was placed on public display.

Taylor's Rise to Power

With Doe's death, the struggle for power intensified. The rival factions headed by Taylor and Johnson now faced a third challenger: a civilian Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). This entity was the creation of an ECOWAS-sponsored summit meeting held in the Gambia, where the leaders of Liberia's neighbors in West Africa sought ways to end the conflict. Professor Amos Sawyer, a Liberian national, was chosen the head of the IGNU by a representative body of Liberian political and civil leaders.

Two years later, the conflict still raged on. Taylor attempted to seize Monrovia, in October 1992. His self-styled "Operation Octopus" was a bloody military showdown in which he pitted an army of children (their ages ranged from 8 to 15) against the professional soldiers of ECOMOG. Thousands were slain, including five American nuns serving homeless Liberian children. Taylor's coup attempt failed.

By 1996 a coalition government composed of former rebel leaders and civilians had been put in place, but endemic distrust led to a second showdown in Monrovia. Three members of the ruling Council of State, Charles Taylor of the NPFL, Alhaji Kromah of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia, and Wilton Sankawolo, the civilian chair of the Council, attempted to arrest another government minister, Roosevelt Johnson, for allegations of murder. Seven weeks of fighting ensued and, once again, thousands of Liberians—mostly civilians—were killed. This phase of the civil war ended when regional and international peace facilitators decided to hold new elections, in which warlords were permitted to participate. Taylor, according to some observers, won the vote, but other election observers have suggested that many who voted for him did so only out of fear. Taylor promised peace, but he was unable to establish legitimacy for his presidency at either the domestic or international level.

In fact, just as Liberia appeared to be settling down, neighboring Sierra Leone erupted into war, with the May 25, 1997, overthrow of that country's elected government. Taylor had undergone guerilla insurgency training in Libya in the late 1980s alongside Foday Sankoh and other West African dissidents. An informal pact was made between Taylor and Sankoh that they would remain in solidarity as they embarked upon violently changing the political order in the subregion. Sankoh fought with Taylor's NPFL, and when in 1991 Sankoh's RUF appeared on the Sierra Leone scene, a close relationship characterized their leaders. Thus, when the 1997 coup brought Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) into power, however briefly, Taylor was prepared to recognize Sankoh's claim to legitimacy and assist his Sierra Leonian ally.

The destabilizing effects of Taylor's support of the RUF were not only felt in Sierra Leone, but throughout much of West Africa. This led the United Nations to order an investigation. The resulting UN Security Council Panel of Experts Report implicated the President of Liberia in the exploitation of Sierra Leone's diamond mines through his ties with the RUF, and of using a portion of the proceeds to keep the RUF supplied with arms. The charges were clearly documented, but Taylor stoutly denied them. Despite his denials, in May 2001 the UN Security Council imposed punitive sanctions on Liberia.

The End of Taylor's Regime

In 2002 the war in Sierra Leone was largely contained, due to massive international intervention, and democratic elections were held. Sankoh's RUF, now transformed into the Revolutionary United Party (RUP), was roundly defeated. For his part in supporting the RUF, Taylor's government in Liberia was now internationally viewed as a pariah regime. Taylor's troubles, however, had begun three years earlier, when a group of Liberians formed a rebel group called Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). LURD's stated objective was Taylor's removal from power because of his atrocious human rights record and the impunity that generally characterized his leadership.

LURD stepped up its attacks in early 2003, and a new rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), made its appearance in March. MODEL quickly gained ascendancy in the southern part of the country, whereas LURD's power was concentrated in the north. In March, LURD's forces opened several fronts, advancing to within a few miles of Monrovia. Tens of thousands of civilians were displaced during the fighting. On June 4 of the same year, Taylor was indicted by the UN sponsored Special Court in Sierra Leone for his complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from his activities in that country. U.S. President George W. Bush publicly called on Taylor to resign and leave the country, thus increasing the pressure on Taylor's regime.

On July 17, a LURD offensive into the capital resulted in hundreds more killed and displaced persons. International intervention finally produced a respite, as international facilitators set up peace talks in Ghana. Taylor bowed to the pressures on August 11, when he handed power over to his vice president and accepted exile in Nigeria. The peace talks concluded on August 18, and on August 21 a new leader, Gyude Bryant, was chosen to chair an interim government. To maintain the peace, the UN Security Council sent 15,000 peacekeeping troops and set up a rescue operation to help deal with the aftermath of two decades of bloody civil wars.

SEE ALSO Peacekeeping; Sierra Leone


Adebajo, Adekeye (2002). Building Peace In West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Adebajo, Adekeye (2002). Liberia's Civil War, Nigeria, ECOMOG, and Regional Security in West Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Dunn, D. Elwood (1999). "The Civil War in Liberia." In Civil Wars In Africa: Roots and Resolution, ed. A. Taisier and R. Matthews. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

International Crisis Group (2003). "Tackling Liberia: The Eye of the Regional Storm." Africa Report (April 30) 62: p. 49.

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (1986). Liberia, A Promise Betrayed: A Report on Human Rights. New York: The Lawyers Committee.

Reno, William (2001). Warlord Politics and African States. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Daniel Elwood Dunn

News Headline

Inside Liberia with Bernard Gbayee Goah

Everyone is a genius

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – A Einstein

Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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