It is my intention in this paper to provide a historical
background to the Liberian war, its historical origins, the
factions involved, the refugee and displaced populations
created by it across the region, and the regional and
international communities reaction to it. Using the
Liberian situation as a reference point I intend to then
conclude with a relevant discussion of the topic of weak
and failed states, modern refugee crises in and around
them, and some of the tactics and policies adopted by the
international community over the last 10 years in response.
The Liberian political-social dilemma and war embodies much
of what has become characteristic of today's weak state
humanitarian crises. A country with a conflictual formation
and history, having experienced a great deal of political
and institutional instability, and having historical ethnic
cleavages, the state of Liberia erupted in 1989 into war.
As a result almost any trace of civil organization and
authority has ceased to exist. The war has numerous actors
and factions, persecutions and murders based on ethnic
identity alone, killing and brutality directed upon
civilian populations, and it has been protracted seemingly
without any end.
In response to these kinds of conflicts new procedures and
trends have arisen among the governmental and international
actors within the world community. In Liberia the
intervention force called the ECOWAS -Cease Fire Monitoring
Group(ECOMOG), is one such example. The Peace keeping
force, made of soldiers of members of the Economic
Community of West African States, intervened in 1990 to
monitor the cease fire between warring factions. From the
very beginning the neutrality of the force was questioned
by leaders of the various warring factions. The troops were
engaged by Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front for
the Liberation of Liberia(NPFL) immediately upon arrival.
The leaders of ECOMOG soon realized how difficult a neutral
military intervention is. It is difficult for a force to
maintain neutrality after getting involved in the fighting.
This is something ECOMOG has done and often in an offensive
position. Originally labeled as a "Cease Fire Monitoring"
group it became apparent that "it would have to establish a
cease fire by force before it could begin to monitor
The intervention of ECOMOG forces also sparks debate about
the principle of sovereignty even in a country where no
authority seems to exist. Charles Taylor claimed from the
start that the armed intervention was illegal and members
of ECOWAS such as Cote d'ivour and Senegal were opposed to
the intervention as an overstepping of the body's(ECOWAS)
bounds( Adisa 220). There were also claims that the ECOMOG
intervention violated the OAU's noninterference rule. In
the terms of charters and mandates of organizations such as
the UN, The OAU and ECOWAS, armed intervention and the
legality of it is not always clear. Wars such as Liberia
have challenged actors within the international community
to debate the principles of sovereignty and the conditions
necessary for armed intervention to take place.
As shown in Somalia, Bosnia and Liberia, there are further
complications aside from issues of legality in regards to
outside forces intervening in regional conflicts. It is
questionable as to how much they can do to protect the
civilians and slow the war. Even if they can continue to be
seen as neutral, the war could continue indefinitely
requiring foreign governments to put troops in harms way
for long lengths of time. ECOMOG forces have been in
Liberia for almost five years now and although some
progress has been made, the warring parties continue to
fight. When ECOWAS and ECOMOG came close to negotiating a
peace settlement in 1990, the result was only a political
stalemate which gave another faction, the United Liberation
Movement of Liberia for Democracy(ULIMO), a chance to
organize itself and start a military offensive. It is still
to be seen if a successful procedure for armed intervention
can be found. For those that debate the issues of
intervention as an option in regional conflicts David
Wippman(160) writes that the ECOWAS intervention
illustrates one obvious point: "it is easier to get in than
to get out."
The Liberian war is also an example of a non-classical
refugee situation. The actors are not governments or
states, most often they are incompetent teenagers on drugs
wielding Ak-47s. Those fleeing do not fit the criteria laid
out by the 1951 convention on refugees and the following
protocol. Although the more liberal definition of the
Organization of African States does apply; the United
Nation High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) is still
governed by its own mandate.
Over 1 million of those uprooted in 1993, more than the
total number of Liberian refugees in other countries, were
internally displaced(U.S. Committee 58). They were not
seeking asylum in another country because of a well founded
fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality or
political opinion. Most fit the "the victim" category
described by Zolberg, Suhrke and Aguayo(269). These are
people simply fleeing violence, that threatens their lives
very abruptly. Their plight is not planned or organized, it
is sudden. They may awake one day to hear soldiers three
houses down killing or torturing someone so they flee in
any way possible. The Liberian war has created scattered
bands of refugees and displaced persons across the entire
region. It gets very confusing sometimes. There are
Liberians in Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Cote d'ivoire and
Sierra Leone. There are internally displaced within Sierra
Leone, Sierra Leoneans in Liberia, and Liberians that were
refugees in Sierra Leone but have crossed back over and are
now internally displaced within Liberia.
From the standpoint of those organizations trying to assist
these populations the nature of the refugee populations
created by the Liberian war creates many challenges. As in
many recent refugee crises around the world, there arises
the question of mandates and just how far they extend. The
UNHCR has continually had to extend the outreach of its
mandate. In Liberia they have had to distribute aid to
internally displaced people and also make sure that they
are protected. With so many factions holding different
parts of the country it makes it difficult to distribute
relief in a uniform fashion. ICRC and UNHCR workers have
been denied entrance many times into areas such as the
Nimba region in Northern Liberia(In Liberia A2, A3).
Because of this many vulnerable populations are not
reached. The nature of the war also makes it difficult for
these organizations to work simply for the reason of
safety. ICRC delegates, have been both killed and wounded
within Liberia. The ICRC UNHCR, along with many other
NGO's, have had to cease operations numerous times within
Liberia because it was no longer safe for their workers to
operate(ICRC Returns 1).
Safe areas such as churches have been attacked by factions
seeking reprisals against a target ethnic group and large
numbers of people including assistance workers have been
killed(Liberia: willful slaughter. 3). Little repatriation
has been allowed to occur throughout the war and refugee
populations have not significantly decreased throughout the
6 years. In correlation with the protracted conflict in
Liberia, the international organizations such as UNHCR and
the ICRC find themselves in a protracted relief situation
in dangerous conditions.
The Liberian war illustrates the challenges that the
international community, the actors in the region, and the
human populations face in the wake of a weak-state
conflict. It is a tremendous challenge for international
aid organizations and governments to react to, it is
difficult for other states to intervene militarily and the
extreme brutality imposed on the local populations puts
increasing pressure on the international community to do
both these things
Prelude To War
Much of Liberia's turmoil can be traced back to the state's
origins. In 1822 a small group of emancipated slaves
settled in what is now Monrovia. The movement was sponsored
by the American Colonization Society and financed in part
by the administration of President James Monroe(Liebenow
12). The idea was to settle freed slaves in Africa. The
motives of the AMC and its the resettlement movement were
varied. Some saw resettlement as a mechanism for ridding
Northern and Southern cities of a class they did not think
could be successfully integrated into the American "Melting
Pot"(13). Others such as southern planters feared that a
high number of freed blacks would create a symbolic threat
to the institution of slavery(13). There were also
religious leaders wanting to use Liberia as a beachhead to
The lieutenant representing the American Colonization
Society, John Stockton, reportedly forced the local King at
gunpoint into selling the land for Monrovia for
approximately $300 dollars worth of beads, tobacco,
mirrors, food and rum(Beyan 66). Much as a result of this
coercion, Monrovia was created in 1822. Those former slaves
that settled Monrovia became known as the
Americo-Liberians. Tensions grew between the new settlers
and the local populations as the settlers continued to take
more land and at the same time forced members of the local
population into positions of field hands.
The settlers also imposed forms of government similar to
those of the United States(Liebenow 16). In the beginning
the settlers were under the rule of white governors
appointed by the ACS; but in 1847 they broke ties with the
ACS and proclaimed Liberia an independent state(16).
The new Liberians sought to adopt many of the symbols of
government of the United States. They established a
Republican form of government with executive, judicial and
legislative branches similar to those of the United States.
They also adopted an American flag and currencies
resembling those of the United States(Beyan 95).
Surprisingly the settlers adopted many of the attitudes
from the U.S. that had helped to enslave them. As written
by David Wippman(160), "The Americo Liberians also
recreated the social hierarchy they had experienced in the
anti-bellum South, but with themselves as the socially
dominant, landowning class." He continues: " They
considered the indigenous population primitive and
uncivilized and treated it as little more than an abundant
source of forced labor."
Despite the fact that they only constituted 5% of the
population, for the next 130 years the Americo-Liberians
controlled the country's economic, political and social
life. The indigenous Africans were regarded as second class
citizens and most lived in the interior regions largely
unexplored until the 1900's( Sesay 30, 31). During the
1920's the Liberian government raised funds by providing
"contract laborers" to plantation owners in Spanish-held
islands off the coast of Africa(Liebenow 47, 48, 49). These
laborers were usually forced members of the indigenous
population. In 1930 the league of nations found the
Liberian government guilty of promoting a form of
slavery(56). A League report in 1931, described Liberia as
a "Republic of 12,000 citizens with 1,000,000
In 1944 President William V.S. Tubman took office and
implemented a "Unification Policy," that was aimed at
integrating the indigenous population into the Liberia's
economic and political life (Liebenow 60). Tubman's "Open
Door" policy opened up much of Liberia's interior to the
development of business and industry. This gave rise to the
Firestone rubber industry and plant in the Nimba region of
Liberia. Under Tubman's policies the indigenous people's
situation was improved but the dominance of the
Americo-Liberians was not diminished(Liebenow 70).
Tubman held office until his death in 1971 and was
succeeded by William R. Tolbert. Tolbert's tenure was
characterized by corruption and unrest. Organized
opposition also began to rise during the Tolbert years.
There were riots in 1979 over the government's decision to
raise the price of rice of rice by over 50% (Leibenow 170).
The average monthly income at the time was $80 dollars and
the price increase put the price of a bag of rice at around
$30 dollars(170). Many farmers perceived the price increase
as disadvantageous to themselves and advantageous to
President Tolbert and his agriculture industry(Ruiz 6).
The demonstrations became violent when a crowd of some
10,000 unemployed migrants from the interior began looting
stores and rice ware-houses (Ruiz 4). During the police
response, more than 40 people were reportedly killed and
500 injured(4). Tolbert's leadership became so alarmed that
it called upon president Sekou Toure to dispatch Guinean
troops to restore order( Liebenow 172). The situation
became such that many observers were concerned that "any
group of determined protesters could... have stormed the
Executive Mansion and brought about the fall of the Tolbert
Shortly after the rice riots Tolbert was overthrown in a
coup lead my Master Sergeant Samuel Doe. Doe and a unit of
the Liberian National Guard forced their way into the
government mansion tied Tolbert and most of his government
ministers to telephone poles in the capital, murdered them
and dumped them in mass graves(186). Thirteen other cabinet
ministers were tried and executed on television. Upon
taking power Doe suspended the constitution and imposed
martial law. The new president had promised to combat
corruption and to redistribute wealth among the country's
sixteen recognized ethnic groups(Ruiz 4).
A member of the Krahn tribe, Doe elevated members of his
own ethnicity to high positions in the government and more
importantly in the military(Liebenow 168). The military and
the police under the Doe regime were known for their
flagrant human rights abuses(Sesay 45). There were reports
of looting, arson, arbitrary arrests, and rapes. He vowed
to return the country to civilian rule, lifted the ban on
political activities and scheduled elections for the
following year( Ruiz 4) . The elections took place on
October 15, 1985 . When the first election results showed
that Doe would lose heavily, Doe's supporters changed the
established vote counting process and substituted their
own. The elections were criticized by outside observers as
having been rigged and a month after the elections there
was a failed coup attempt(Liebenow 293, 294). The U.S.
surprisingly validated the election results and supported
Doe with substantial amounts of aid-money throughout the
Inter-ethnic tensions among Liberia's indigenous
populations exploded in the wake of the coup attempt. The
leader of the attempted coup was a member of the Gio,
living in the Nimba county. Krahn soldiers rounded up
hundreds of Gios and Manos, tortured them and then dumped
their bodies into mass graves near the beach in
Monrovia(Sensay 46). The seeds of the war had been planted.
It was no surprise that the International Lawyer's
Committee for Human Rights reported in 1986 that "Liberia
is rife with talk of revenge " and predicted correctly that
"The possibility of massive reprisals against the Krahn if
President Doe is violently removed from power is conceded
by all sides"(Ruiz 5).
Outbreak Of War
In December of 1989 Charles Taylor invaded Nimba County
with a few hundred men. Their force had been trained and
backed by Libya. Taylor who served in Doe's government had
fled to the U.S. after being accused of embezzlement. He
evaded authorities when extradition agreements had been
arranged and then disappeared for some time until he ended
up in Libya(Sesay 47). Taylor and his group called
themselves the National Patriotic Front of Liberia(NPFL).
The Armed Forces of Liberia(AFL) retaliated against Gio and
Mano elements of the civilian population in Nimba county.
Hundreds of Gio and Mano civilians were massacred and the
outrage of those that survived encouraged them to join
forces with Charles Taylor(Ruiz 5 ). This created the
climate for much of the ethnic conflict and massacres that
followed in the war.
In response to the AFL actions, members of the Krahn and
Mandingo tribes were attacked by the NPFL. The Krahn were
attacked because of their affiliation with Doe and the
military and the Mandingo were attacked because of their
perceived alliance with the government. Thus the ethnic
based civil war had begun.
Taylor's small scale incursion quickly spread to
countrywide inter-ethnic war. Taylor's recruits, often
young boys in their teens, had taken control of Nimba
county within one month(French 1,2). The fighting spread
rapidly as Taylor gained new recruits. He quickly gained
control of county after county and by March 1990, 120,000
refugees had fled to the countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea,
and Cote-d'ivour(Noble A4).
By July 1990 Taylor's forces reached the capital of
Monrovia and demanded the resignation of president Doe.
The Liberian war was characterized from the very beginning
by extreme brutality against civilian populations. In many
cases civilians have been targeted and massacred by the
different military factions. Their were reports of physical
abuse, rape, mutilations, people forced to eat their own
body parts, elderly being burned alive in their huts and
unborn babies being ripped out of mother's stomach's with
bayonets(Ruiz 5). As the war raged on in the early month
many civilians either fled to Sierra Leone or sought refuge
in churches and other buildings. These too became targets.
On July 30, 1990, AFL soldiers entered St. Peter's Lutheran
Church, which was a designated Red Cross shelter with
approximately 2000 people of Gio and Mano dissent. The
soldiers opened fire on the civilians killing 200 to 300
people(Willful Slaughter 3). Many of the survivors fled to
the former U.S. Agency for International Development
compound. AFL soldiers later stormed the compound, captured
more than 350 people, and reportedly shot them on a nearby
beach(Aderiye 115). The war has been characterized by
numerous such slaughters killing Liberians, foreigners and
aid-workers. The military leaders have been mostly
responsible for generating ethnic attacks and reprisals.
Amnesty International and Africa Watch reported in 1991
that General Doe had ordered a shoot to kill policy against
anyone engaged in "suspicious activities"(Noble A9). Many
times this has translated into anyone suspicious of
belonging to the wrong ethnic group. Rebel forces have also
often gone on killing sprees into Krahn territories
attacking and killing unarmed civilians. High civilian
losses and victimization have come to be typical of weak
state or ethnic wars. Liberia proves this well. The
conservative death toll in 1994 placed the number killed in
the war at an estimated 150,000(French 2 ).
By the end of July 1990, Charles Taylor's force had fought
its way into the capital. There was also a splinter
faction, the Independent National Patriotic Front of
Liberia (INPFL), lead by a break away Taylor lieutenant,
Prince Johnson. With 500 fighters, Johnson had successfully
taken over a section of Monrovia by the end of
July(Liberians A2). The situation in the capital became
desperate. President Doe was holed up in his government
mansion protected by only a few hundred troops. Throughout
July and August there were major battles within the
capital. AFL, NPFL and INPFL troops were said to brutalize
the local population. There were reports of rebels dressed
in bizarre wigs and costumes indiscriminately killing
anyone suspected of being a Doe supporter(Liberians A3).
Prince Johnson was photographed personally executing
civilians, including a Liberian Red Cross worker who was
handcuffed to a French relief worker(Ruiz 7).
With the UN and U.S. not committing to any intervention the
Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) were
pressured to act. Thousands of Liberians had fled to
different member states such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and
Cote d'ivour, and hundreds of nationals from ECOWAS states,
were trapped without food, water, shelter or medicine. In
August of 1990 foreign nationals from ECOWAS states and
abroad were refused permission to leave Charles Taylor held
territory(Rebel A3). ECOWAS, consisting of 13 member
states, has traditionally had differences in levels of
political and economic development and also between many of
the francophone and anglophone states. Under a 1978
protocol member states that can not resolve an
intra-community dispute peacefully are to submit such
disputes to the ECOWAS heads of state for
resolution(Wippman 166). The protocol only dealt with
aggression between or among signatory states and did not
address aggression coming from within. Under the protocol
member states were to provide military assistance in the
case of external aggression.
Upon meeting for a conference on the Liberian war in
Freetown, in early August 1990, the attending heads of
state called for all of the parties to obey an immediate
cease fire and announced that an ECOWAS cease firing
monitoring group(ECOMOG) would be established in Liberia
"for the purpose of keeping the peace, restoring law and
order and ensuring that the cease-fire is
respected"(Wippman 167). It was not exactly clear how the
force was supposed to monitor a cease fire that did not
exist. This meant that they would have to enforce a cease
fire therefore getting involved in the fighting. There were
criticisms of the intervention by members within ECOWAS
such as Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso which criticized the
intervention as violation of a sovereign countries
affairs(Adisa 217). There were also criticisms from members
of the warring factions such as Charles Taylor. For the
most part the international community including the
Organization of African States (OAU) has cautiously
approved the force. ECOMOG was the second half of what was
to be a two part effort in Liberia. Through diplomatic
means the members of the ECOWAS would push for a peace
settlement in the Liberian war and ECOMOG would then
supervise and maintain a cease fire(Akabogu 83, 84, 85).
The force was to originally avoid military engagements.
Leaders had hoped that the mere presence of the Ecomog
contingent would force Charles Taylor to agree to a peace
fire and the ECOMOG force would then be able to keep its
Upon arrival the ECOMOG forces were attacked by Charles
Taylor's forces and saw quickly that it would be difficult
not to get in involved in the fighting. On his way to a
meeting scheduled at ECOMOG headquarters, Charles Doe was
capture and killed by Prince Johnson's troops(Liberia's
A2). Despite Doe's death no one faction was able to claim
power and the fighting continued.
Within one month ECOMOG had developed into an offensive
force. In October 1990, ECOMOG forces started an offensive
campaign to push Charles Taylor's NPFL out of the Monrovia(
Barret 34 ). Often fighting side by side with INFPL and AFL
forces, ECOMOG was able to push Taylor's forces out of
Monrovia by the end of October. ECOMOG secured the capital,
freed thousands of civilians and foreign nationals trapped
within Liberia and made it safe once again for relief
agencies to begin their work in Monrovia. In November of
1990 an interim government was established and a former
University professor, Amos Sawyer was installed as interim
With the ECOMOG intervention and the establishment of an
interim government the war did not come to a stop. From
1990 on ECOWAS has tried to bring about cease-fire
arrangements failing many times with Charles Taylor
refusing to participate. The Conotou agreements of 1992 and
Accra agreement of 1995 both collapsed with new outbreaks
of fighting. Amidst ECOWAS's attempts for a peace
settlement through negotiations with the warring factions
the conflict widened and new militias sprouted up adding to
The war expanded in 1991 into Sierra Leone, further adding
to the instability of the region. NPFL forces joined forces
with Sierra Leone dissidents and invaded the country in
March. The invasion was seen as a retaliation by Taylor for
Sierra Leone's support for ECOMOG. From 1991 on it is
difficult to track the actors in the Liberian war. ECOMOG
has had continued skirmishes with the NPFL and other
factions, there have been 29 failed cease fires, and it is
very difficult to track the number of small militias
roaming the country.
Although ECOMOG has succeeded to a great extent in
protecting and allowing humanitarian assistance to the
civilian population it has still had no great success in
stopping the root of Liberia's turmoil, the war itself.
Because of questions over ECOMOG's neutrality, the United
Nations Observer Mission in Liberia was created in 1992.
Its function is to supervise the negotiation of a
cease-fire and disarmament of all sides.
In December of 1994, a cease fire was agreed upon by the
warring factions. Upon success of the cease fire, plans
were made by UNOMIL and UNHCR for the disarmament of the
warring factions and the repatriation of refugees. Except
for low level skirmishes, the cease fire held through the
early months of the year. In early April of 1995, there
were reports of fighting between new factions in five
different counties. The fighting has created a new influx
of refugees to the ECOWAS areas(United Nations 1995: 7). In
addition to the new fighting, the governments of Tanzania
and Uganda have announced the withdrawal of their troops
from ECOMOG forces. Nigeria also announced a downsizing of
their forces in late 1994(French 1).
With the recent resurgence of conflict and continued
movement of refugees and displaced as a result of it, it is
hard to judge where the Liberian peace process stands.
After almost five years of efforts by the regional and
world diplomatic communities, the fighting in Liberia
continues. The United Nations reports that the peace
keeping operation is economically burdened and funds have
had to be borrowed to sustain it. The total assessment of
contributions to all peace keeping operations as of March
28, 1995 was $1,663 million(United Nations 1995: 3). With
continued fighting, economic and political constraints and
new military factions, it is questionable as to how long
the commitment will remain. There is a chance that the
actors involved may act as the U.N. did in Somalia;
unwilling to continue peace keeping operations and leaving
the warring factions to fight it out amongst themselves.
Civilian Movements, Tragedy and The International and Local
As a result of the war 85% of Liberia's citizens have
become refugees or displaced persons within their own
country(Update 2) . Their situation has been one of
hardship and difficulty. Often becoming a deliberate target
of the war, these people have faced massacres from the
beginning of the war and there are still reports of
targeted killing of civilians by military factions. Many of
the refugees or displaced persons caused by the Liberian
war have not been able to reach assistance offered by the
international community. This has occurred either because
they have not been able to reach the safe or aid
distribution areas because of fighting or detention or the
relief agencies have not been allowed or could not get to
vulnerable groups because of violence or refusal of passage
by military authorities.
The refugee situation in Liberia has also been of a
continous nature. Because of the continued reconfiguration
of actors and territories in the war the refugee situation
has not been able to reach a leveling off. In 1993 the IFRC
estimated that the total number of refugees and displaced
person caused by the Liberian civil war was
2,050,000(Update 1). At different times repatriations have
occurred but it is questionable as to whether they were
successful because many of these people are suspected as
having to flee again because of renewed fighting. In 1994
some 775,000 Liberians refugees had fled their country and
an estimated 1,000,000 were said to be internally
displaced(Liberia 2). In addition to the Liberian refugees
and displaced, there were also 260,000 Sierra Leonean
refugees, 100,000 in Liberia and an estimated 400,000
displaced(U.S. Committee 65). Country breakdowns are as
Liberia: 100,000 Sierra Leoneans refugees
Sierra Leone: 16,000 Liberian Refugees
Cote d'ivoire: 360,000 Liberian Refugees
Guinea: 375,000 Liberian refugees
200,000 Sierra Leonean refugees
Ghana: 20,000 Liberian refugees
Nigeria: 4,000 Liberian refugees
UNHCR reported that about 50,000 Liberian refugees
repatriated in 1993, 1994 but it is estimated that most of
these refugees have fled because of renewed fighting late
in 1994(U.S. Committee 58).
There are a number of different organizations that have
worked at assisting the refugee and displaced populations
in the various countries affected by the war. Both the
UNHCR and either the ICRC or the IFRC has been working in
each country affected by the war. The local Red Cross
Societies have also been very active in aiding and
assisting refugees and displaced. Some of the other
organizations working in the region are UNICEF, The World
Food Program, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) of Belgium,
Holland and Luxembourg, Religious NGO's, World Health
Organization (WHO) and the International Rescue Committee(
Project 2). The war has disrupted most of the agricultural
activity in Liberia and also Sierra Leone, and has also
destroyed most of the infrastructure necessary to provide
water and electricity. Because of this it has been these
organization's prime responsibility to provide these things
to the civilian populations. The initial response by the
UNHCR and other aid organizations was criticized by the
U.S. Committee For Refugees as being "inadequate,
apparently due largely to their lack of cooperation and
coordination"(Ruiz 18). Conditions of refugees were
characterized as "truly life threatening" by the U.S.
Department of State in 1990(Ruiz 18).
The escalation of the Liberian crises fell on the timeline
with a budget crises within UNHCR. UNCHR'S Refugees
magazine said, "UNHCR is on the grip of an unprecedented
financial crises. It is a sad fact that the organization's
response to the [Liberian] emergency has been severely
constrained by a shortage of funds"(Ruiz 19). Much of the
assistance has been focused in Monrovia because of the
presence of ECOMOG troops and the relative security there
compared to the rest of the country. In response to
escalating acts of violence against civilians, the ICRC set
up a center to provide refuge to members of the Gio and
Mano tribes in June of 1990. With increasing tension in the
early days of the war. The ICRC set up four more centers in
Monrovia by August( ICRC Returns 1). Continued fighting has
made it difficult for the national and international aid
organizations to provide a continual level of assistance.
ICRC delegates have been forced to flee Liberia numerous
times because of fighting. In August of 1990 its delegates
were forced to flee Freetown until their return in November
(1). In June of 1990 United Nations personnel were pulled
out after an attack on the United Nations Development
Program(UNDP) compound(Aid 2). The Liberian Red Cross
disintegrated in June of 1990 and its former president was
forced to flee(Update 2). It was not until December of 1991
that all of the 13 national committees were able to
The ICRC set up tracing operations in cooperation with the
other societies in the region in 1990. The ICRC and the
Liberian Red Cross Society (LCRCS) have also been very
active in distributing drinking water. Much of the
infrastructure for water treatment in Liberia was destroyed
in early fighting. In April of 1991, the ICRC launched a
program to restore the White Plains Water Treatment plant.
The plant was able to run at 46% of its capacity by the end
of the year(Repatriation 5). The Liberian Red Cross has
been mostly responsible for distribution of drinking water,
collecting waste and providing food and blankets.
The ICRC has also assisted the thousands of orphans created
by the war. In 1991 an assistance program was launched in
Monrovia for abandoned children, providing them with food
and drinking water. By the end of 1991 the IFRC had
established 450 food distribution points along the 1000-km
border with Cote d'ivour(Food 1,3). UNHCR has provided care
and maintenance services(health, sanitation, educational
and improved water supplies) to refugee populations and
also development assistance in support of self-sufficiency
programs in other countries(Project 2).
The governments of those countries receiving refugees from
the Liberian war have pursued an open door policy, granting
asylum to Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees and allowing
settlement in local communities. Few restrictions have been
made on farming or employment. In many countries such as
Sierra Leone, a large number of the refugees coming from
Liberia or those displaced Sierra Leoneans have been
accommodated by the local populations. This has also
occurred in the villages along the Liberian, Cote
The UNHCR and local national societies have encouraged and
sponsored self-sufficiency programs. In Guinea agricultural
projects were sponsored by UNHCR with some 30,000 refugees
involved(Update 3). Because of this food rations were
reduced in 1993. In Sierra Leone, at Waterloo refugee camp,
opportunities for education and income generating
opportunities were sponsored by Cause Canada(Tarn 13). In
Guinea, UNHCR and the national society have distributed
tools for agriculture and construction. The aim has been to
move from aid to development. Africare has sponsored
self-sufficiency projects in Cote-d'ivour and has also
supported income generating projects run by the
International Rescue Committee(Liberia 3). Much of the push
for self-sufficiency within the host countries has come
from continued conflict in Liberia and doubt that any
repatriation will be able to occur soon. "The aim is to
move from aid to development, to free refugees from
external dependence, especially since voluntary
repatriation no longer seems viable"(Update 3). The U.S.
Department of State has also put pressure on UNHCR to focus
more on self-sufficiency projects for this very reason.
The steady state of conflict made most large scale
repatriation impossible. Most of those repatriated are
thought to have been forced to flee once again because of
renewed fighting. In late 1991 most of the foreign citizens
of other West African states were able to be repatriated
home by the ICRC(Liberia 5). Still the U.S. State
Department predicts that very few refugees are likely to
return home because of instability(5).
Efforts in July 1993 at obtaining a peace accord collapsed
over the next year with the failure to disarm soldiers and
also the armament and proliferation of new militias. 1994
saw the further breakdown of the situation in Liberia with
the formation of an estimated seven new militias, an
attempted coup in Monrovia and renewed military
offenses(French2). The United Nations issued an appeal in
July of 1993 for a massive repatriation of 570,000
refugees. This was to be in accordance with a successful
cease fire, disarmament and elections that were to have
been held in 1994(Liberia 4).
New fighting has displaced another 200,000 in Liberia and
caused 160,000 new refugees to seek asylum in Guinea and
Cote-d'ivour(United Nations 1995: 5). In addition to new
conflict in Liberia, the refugee situation has also
worsened in Sierra Leone. New fighting in the western
region of the country has created some 35,000 new refugees
A special task force has been set up in Liberia by the
United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator. The task force
consists of United Nations organizations, non-governmental
organizations and national authorities. The task force has
coordinated relief programs and provided established plans
for income-generating quick impact projects and trauma
counseling(United Nations 1995: 2). It is estimated that
approximately 90, 000 persons live in shelters provided by
the national and international relief community( 2). In
early 1995 the Untited Nations had only 41% of its
projected humanitarian budget for Liberia(2). Rice rations
distributed throughout the UN guided task force have been
reduced because of delays in shipments.
The relief effort in Liberia and the surrounding nations
has continued despite difficult conditions and protracted
fighting. It is certain that relief groups such as the ICRC
and UNHCR will continue activities but it is speculative as
to how long and to what extent the combined international
relief effort will be maintained. With decreasing budgets
and continued fighting, donors and actors may lose their
will to support the relief effort in Liberia.
Weak States characteristically are among the world's
poorest. They have weak economies, and usually lack a
strong institutional base. Zollberg, Suhrke and Aguayo,
discuss the commonality of one party, civilian or military
governments common in weak states of sub-Saharan Africa.
They mention a tendency for these kinds of states to break
down into "gangster" government or "kleptocracy"( 256). In
situations such as this their is usually a tendency for
those holding power to violently suppress those suspected
as posing a revolutionary challenge. The authors point out
that actions taken against suspected challengers of the
status quo become " a pretext for using terror against
targets extended well beyond activists to encompass the
social groups and strata from which they might be expected
to emerge"(256). In Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia and
other African States, this extended targeting has been
ethnically oriented. With this tendency, degeneration into
violent, ethnic conflict occurs. Because of this "weak
states", such as Liberia, are refugee and conflict prone.
In these conflicts the actors are usually very numerous and
not well defined, much of the aggression by armed parties
is carried out directly against civilians and many of those
uprooted may not fit the criteria outlined in the United
Nations 1951 convention definition of refugee. The
breakdown of many classified "weak states" during the
1980's and 1990's has brought about new refugee situations
and challenges. According to Professor Barry Stein(Stein
7), the Liberian war can be a model of the modern refugee
Some of the techniques and responses that have emerged as a
reaction to these new situations have been military and
humanitarian interventions, the establishment of
safe zones and the informal expansion of the mandate of the
UNHCR and other aid organizations. In addition to refugees,
modern conflicts have produced great numbers of those being
classified as internally displaced. In Liberia the number
of internally displaced is greater than those classified as
refugees. In many conflicts, UNHCR finds it difficult to
reach internally displaced. They are often out of reach of
UNHCR workers. Internally displaced don't necessarily fall
under the provisions relating to the rights of the
refugee(namely the 1951 UN convention Relating to the
Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol). The ICRC claims
that internally displaced are legally protected by
international humanitarian law "concerned with protecting
those persons during a conflict who are not or no longer
taking part in hostilities"(The Role 2). Still there status
with regards to UNHCR's mandate remains unclear.
Although protected areas have existed for quite some time.
The "Safe Haven" launched in Iraq in 1991 was of a
different nature and caused much debate. It was said that
the operation "fell outside the traditional framework of
international law"(Sandoz 18). Safe zones prior to the one
in Iraq were established either by the parties involved or
with their consent. The complications of this also arise in
Liberia. In the establishment of protection zones it is
necessary for all sides to be in agreement. In the case of
Liberia, the protected zones were set up under the
protection of ECOMOG troops, whose intervention has been
opposed by the warring factions, most notably Charles
Taylor's NPFL. This itself can undermine the neutrality and
negotiating ability of a peacekeeping force. There has been
evidence of this in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia.
The ECOWAS intervention in many aspects can be seen as
successful. It is an example of a regional response to a
conflict and refugee crisis by an organization that has no
prior role or history of doing such a thing. Regardless of
the fact that the fighting has not been stopped, the force
has brought about a certain level of stability in the
region and allowed the safe distribution of aid to large
numbers of civilians.
The current state of the UN gives only more support to
regional interventions coupled with international relief
and finance. The UN has shown itself to be overburdened and
under budgeted in regards to humanitarian interventions.
Making this worse is the international communities
unwillingness to commit troops or support for UN
intervention (as seen in Liberia and most recently Rwanda).
This has not been standard, as in the case of Haiti, but
after the collapse of the UN's Somalia mission and the
stalemate in Bosnia-Herzogovina, it seems unlikely that
western nations will show much enthusiasm for committing
troops to humanitarian interventions.
Taking this into consideration, regional solutions or
regional humanitarian interventions such as that in Liberia
seem to be the best reaction to modern refugee crises. If
regional solutions are to be the course of action, there is
still a lot that has to be refined and worked out. Do they
need security council authorization? When does the regional
intervention become a violation of sovereignty? How do you
keep troops primarily trained in offensive military
maneuvers neutral in a war situation?
If the leading western nations are unwilling to provide
contingents for international peacekeeping efforts, they
must at least provides financial support and guidance to
those regional organizations taking on the task. The new
alternative to the modern refugee crisis could be one in
which western nations, international humanitarian
organizations such as UNHCR and the ICRC, governments and
regional military forces work mutilaterally to provide
humanitarian assistance, protection for displaced
populations, and successful cease-fire and peacekeeping
operations. To some extent this has occurred in Liberia;
but the success is still unknown. Regardless of the
outcome, the regional intervention of ECOWAS can still be
seen as successful attempt at a regional solution to a
modern refugee crisis. It is a model that can be built upon
to provide constructive solutions to today's modern refugee
crises. This will require more definition as to the legal
guidelines of third party intervention, the rights of the
internally displaced and furthermore the financial and
diplomatic backing of the international community.
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