Brutal violence and armed conflict plague many countries with tropical forests. But in only a handful has the sale of timber largely financed the wars. Liberia is one of them – along with Burma and Cambodia. Liberia’s former President Charles Taylor used timber money and private militias paid by logging companies to fight rebels and foment conflict in neighboring countries. To stop that, last year the UN Security Council imposed sanctions prohibiting the import of Liberian timber.
Now Taylor is gone and Liberia is trying to recover from his legacy of violence and economic mayhem. At the recent International Conference on Reconstruction in Liberia in New York, the developed countries pledged over five hundred million dollars in new aid. So is it time for the Security Council to lift its sanctions?
Art Blundell prepared a report on the sanctions and the country’s forestry sector called "A New Environment for Liberia". Blundell’s report provides his own synthesis of the situation, as well as the results from a workshop in Monrovia involving forestry officials, logging companies, donors, and NGOs. It suggests the Security Council should only lift its sanctions once: 1) the UN peace keepers deploy forces in forest areas to ensure they are safely under control; 2) the government ensures timber taxes can be accounted for; and 3) the forestry department is reformed and strengthened.
How this evolves will be fundamental for the future of Liberia and its three and a half million people, over half of whom live in rural forested areas. In recent years, timber has comprised more than half of reported exports and the IMF says forestry accounts for about one fifth of the country’s total economy. Some thirty companies hold logging concessions covering over two-fifths of the national territory. But many of those concessions may be illegal. The forestry department needs to review each of them and figure out which ones are legitimate. And that’s going to be a big task, because all of its files were looted during the war.
The Security Council is scheduled to review the timber sanctions in May. Hopefully by that time the country will have made clear progress on all the key issues. The future of Liberia’s forests and its rural people depend on that.
To request a free electronic copy of this paper or to send comments or queries to the author, you can write Art Blundell at: mailto:Arthur.G.Blundell.Adv99@Alum.Dartmouth.ORG