Coalition letter to President Bush concerning the continuing political and humanitarian crisis in Liberia

July 24, 2003

The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, DC. 20500

Dear President Bush:

The undersigned organizations write to underscore the continuing political and humanitarian crisis in Liberia, and the importance of U.S. leadership, in collaboration with the international community, to help stabilize the current situation while actively supporting efforts that will provide for a peaceful political transition.

The American government has provided humanitarian assistance to the people of Liberia throughout the last twelve years of civil war and instability. It also has invested significant political and humanitarian resources in Sierra Leone and other neighboring countries, which have suffered the consequences of the reckless and often inhumane behavior of Charles Taylor and his opponents.

However, the events of the past weeks have highlighted the fact that aid, diplomacy and previous military interventions by African peacekeepers have not brought an improvement in the behavior of Taylor and his enemies. Human rights abuses perpetrated by both sides in the conflict occur frequently and with impunity. Murder, rape and pillage have prompted hundreds of thousands of Liberians to flee to Monrovia from camps for internally displaced persons outside the Liberian capital, only to find themselves the targets of indiscriminate shelling and firing by the belligerents. Tens of thousand of civilians have crowded into Monrovias main soccer stadium, living in utter misery without access to clean water, food, medical care, or shelter in the midst of the rainy season, as the delivery of humanitarian aid is severely hampered due to fighting throughout the city and countryside. Liberian refugees once more have started crossing into neighboring countries where they remain at risk from both Ivoirian government forces and armed opposition groups.

Mr. President, we respectfully urge you to support efforts to bring this crisis to an end swiftly. If the decision is made to deploy American forces, the United States should work alongside any multi-national operation, and ensure that the operation is adequately resourced and has a clear, robust mandate that must include the protection of civilians and the opening of humanitarian access for United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. As the security situation is stabilized throughout the country, there should be adequate support, planning and transition for a robust peacekeeping operation that will provide the necessary long-term stability to establish rule of law, respect for human rights, and lay the foundations for a free and open political process that allows all Liberians to participate in the future of their country. The United States should work closely with the Liberian government and the international community to effectively disarm and demobilize all combatants and paramilitary security forces in Liberia, paying particular attention to the needs of child combatants. One of the major causes of the current conflict is the failure of the Liberian government and the international community to complete the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of combatants that began prior to the 1997 elections, and to restructure and retrain the Liberian army and other security forces. Until there is a complete DDR and restructuring of the armed forces, there can be no peace and security in Liberia, and free and fair elections will not be possible. If there is a rush to elections without full DDR, it is likely that crisis will quickly return to Liberia and instability will continue to escalate in the region.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone recently indicted Charles Taylor for "bearing the greatest responsibility" for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The United States should encourage members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to ensure that Taylor is brought to justice under their obligations as signatories to international human rights conventions. The Special Court in Sierra Leone is playing a major role in contributing towards the rule of law, reconciliation, and sustainable peace in Sierra Leone and the region. We do not believe that a trade-off between ending the Liberian conflict and providing immunity for President Taylor is a sustainable solution, nor is it the right thing to do.

As actions are considered in Liberia, serious priority must be given to securing humanitarian access, effective disarmament of all combatants, and accountability for war crimes. Doing nothing now will guarantee the collapse of the cease-fire and deaths of countless more civilians, which will result in regional instability for years to come. We respectfully urge swift and decisive action to prevent further suffering and chaos in Liberia.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International, USA
African Immigrants Social and Cultural Services
ActUP East Bay
Baptist World Aid
Bay Area Jubilee Debt Cancellation Coalition
Church World Service
Church Women United
Episcopal Church, USA
Friends of Liberia
International Rescue Committee
Mercy Ships
Refugees International
Society of Missionaries of Africa - Justice and Peace Office, North
American Province
St. Patricks Catholic Church, Oakland
Washington State Africa Network
World Vision

CC: Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld
National Security Council, Dr. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State, Gen. Colin L. Powell
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Members of the House International Relations Committee
Members of the House and Senate Foreign Operations Committees

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