Taylor's Emergency Powers Put Civilians at Risk

February 12, 2002

In a press release issued by Amnesty International yesterday, the organization warned, "The state of emergency declared last Friday in Liberia is being used as a justification by the security forces to abuse power and commit human rights violations against the civilian population."

This magazine reported yesteday and several months ago the arrest and detention of young men and boys by Mr. Taylor's dreaded security agents for possible forced recruitment into the so-called Anti-Terrorist Unit.

Amnesty noted in the press release that, "Panic has spread amongst the civilian population amidst reports that security forces have been carrying out the detention and forcible recruitment of young men and boys, and harassment and arrests associated with dissident hunting and looting of civilian property by the security forces, which reportedly took place over the weekend. The actions of the security forces directly contradict public assurances made by President Taylor on Friday that the state of emergency would in no way affect the civil liberties of the Liberian people.

"These incidents are likely to lead to further abuses such as the rounding up and detaining or killing of "suspected dissidents" which may include political opponents, human rights activists and ordinary citizens.

"On Sunday 39 young men and boys were reportedly rounded up from various churches around Monrovia and forcibly taken to a field near Duala market. They were told they had to fight with the army and forced to sit with their shirts tied together for several hours. Many fled the normally busy market in panic, fearful that they too would be rounded up and forced to fight with the government army. Amnesty International is opposed to the recruitment of children into the armed forces and is concerned that those rounded up included children."

Regarding the state of emergency recently imposed by the Taylor regime, Amnesty wrote: "The fear is that the state of emergency will put pressure on normally independent and reliable sources of information to exercise extreme self censorship for fear of reprisal by the government. These measures will severely limit the outside world from knowing actual events taking place in the country and put civilians in an increasingly vulnerable situation and at greater risk of human rights abuses."

"The Liberian government should stop the current abuses being carried out by security forces and abide by its obligations under its constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, to which it is a signatory."

"As the situation in Liberia verges on total chaos and with the government showing little resolve to protect civilians from the actions of rebel groups or their own security forces, the international community must play a stronger role to ensure that civilians are protected".

In another development, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed concern about the renewed fighting in Liberia and urged those involved in the fighting to resolve their differences through dialogue.

According to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, "The Secretary General welcomed the efforts of the Liberian Government to ensure the safety of civilians and secure access for relief workers… He calls on all the dissident forces to respect human life and particularly the lives of civilians caught in areas affected by the fighting."

Mr. Annan also called "on all the States concerned to take appropriate action to prevent armed groups and individuals from using their territory to prepare and launch attacks on neighbouring countries."

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