Liberia: Peace-Keepers must Protect Civilians from Human Rights Abuses

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said:

'While welcoming an initiative which hopefully will go some way to ending the protracted suffering of the Liberian people, we had hoped for much stronger and more explicit language on protection of civilians. The multi-national force must be instructed to protect civilians and humanitarian workers from physical violence at all times throughout Liberia.'

The UN Security Council resolution authorizing a multi-national force stresses the need to create a secure environment which encourages respect for human rights, protects the well-being of civilians and facilitates the work of humanitarian agencies. However, it does not provide an explicit mandate in the operative part of the resolution to protect civilians and humanitarian workers from threats of physical violence, as has been provided to other international peace-keeping operations.

The need for international intervention with the power to protect civilians is urgent as hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded during indiscriminate shelling of the capital. Law and order has broken down completely. Government forces and militia have killed, raped and forcibly recruited Children's rights to fight. They have also looted property from both civilians and humanitarian agencies. The humanitarian crisis facing the civilian population has reached a critical level.

Amnesty International has also expressed grave concern that the UN Security Council resolution effectively provides permanent impunity to peace-keeping forces for international crimes unless the country sending the troops chooses to try them.

Kate Allen added:

'Not only must the troops protect civilians from abuses by combatants from both sides, they also have an obligation themselves to comply fully with international human rights and humanitarian law applicable to peace-keeping forces.'

During previous deployments in both Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone, ECOWAS troops have been responsible for indiscriminate aerial bombardments resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties, extrajudicial executions, torture and illegal arrests and detention. Despite promises of an investigation after Amnesty International intervened with the ECOWAS Executive Secretary about human rights violations by ECOWAS troops in Sierra Leone, none took place and the perpetrators were never brought to justice.

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Security Council to ensure that the UN peace-keeping force which is envisaged to follow on from the initial deployment of ECOWAS forces is provided with a much more specific and stronger mandate for the protection of civilians.

Background

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1497 (2003) of 1 August 2003 authorised deployment of a multi-national force to support implementation of the cease-fire agreed on 17 June 2003 between the Liberian government and two armed opposition groups, the LURD and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). This cease-fire had collapsed within a week. The initial deployment of a 'vanguard' ECOWAS force - with troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Senegal - from today will be followed by a full multi-national force. The resolution explicitly refers to the departure of President Charles Taylor. The Security Council anticipates a subsequent United Nations stabilising force to support an eventual transitional government and assist in implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement - which has yet to be reached.

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