14 September 2004
According to some human rights advocates, the United Nations needs to do more to ensure lasting peace in Liberia. Longtime activist Kerry Kennedy says the disarmament process will not succeed unless the root economic causes of the decades-long civil war are addressed.
According to Ms. Kennedy, opposition groups continue to control Liberia's natural resources. A peace agreement signed last year has led to widespread disarmament, and an election is planned for next October. However, Liberians continue to suffer from a lack of basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter, and Ms. Kennedy says increased attention to economics is necessary to prevent civil war.
"The U.N. must not only disarm the combatants, which it has done to a large extent, but ensure that revenues from natural resources presently extracted by members of warring factions and forces of the former government go into state coffers," she added. "Otherwise those warring factions will simply purchase more arms if the election does not go their way."
Ms. Kennedy is the founder of the Center for Human Rights of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, named in honor of her father, a U.S. senator who was assassinated in 1968. She believes that stabilization can be achieved only if the government controls revenue from Liberia's main industries of timber, rubber, gold and diamonds.
Todd Howland, director of the center, calls the current U.N. program to establish peace misguided.
"The framework and the tools that are being applied by the international community are most appropriate for ideological conflict, where you move from the battleground to the ballot box," he said. "In this particular instance, there needs to be a new and creative way for the United Nations and international community to respond to the fact that this is a war about resources."
U.N. envoy Jacques Klein has praised the progress in Liberia, saying a failed state is being transformed into a democracy. Ms. Kennedy says she met with Mr. Klein during a recent trip to Liberia to advocate a greater focus on using the resources of Liberia to help the Liberian people, but he said the United Nations was limited in what it could do.
"His response was agreement that the U.N. has done a great job and pride for the people who have worked for him and a tremendous amount of frustration that the donor community has not lived up to its pledges," she said.
U.N. officials say their job in Liberia is increasingly difficult because only a fraction of the $520 million pledged during a February donor conference has been received.