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Liberia Criticizes Amnesty Human Rights Report - 2002-04-09

Liberian officials are criticizing an Amnesty International report alleging Liberian security forces have used authority under the current state of emergency to commit gross human rights abuses. The report by the London-based human rights group is prompting political opponents of Liberian president Charles Taylor, to renew their calls for improved security conditions in the country.

Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea angrily rejected the Amnesty report. In remarks to VOA, the Minister charged that Amnesty International did not take into account what he says is the threat that rebels with the group known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD, is presenting to the country.

President Charles Taylor pointed to that concern in February when he imposed a state of emergency for an indefinite period of time. The measure allows authorities to arrest and hold, without trial, people who are suspected of taking part in rebel activities. Since February, a number of journalists and activists have been jailed after criticizing the state of emergency.

Political opponents of Mr. Taylor have said the government has failed to provide convincing evidence that rebel attacks have warranted the imposition of a state of emergency. They have accused him of using the measure as a tool to consolidate his power, as he tries to maintain public support ahead of presidential elections next year.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who ran against Charles Taylor in the 1997 elections, is one of a number of Liberian opposition leaders who is living in exile. Speaking to VOA at her home in Abidjan, she said the Taylor government must improve its human rights record if it wants the international community to believe next year's elections will be free and fair.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said prominent opponents of the government have not been harassed because the government seeks to avoid the negative publicity that it would get by harming them. But she said the average person, whose death or mistreatment would go unnoticed by the media, remains extremely vulnerable in the current conditions.

"There are many politicians who are there, who are resident there, and who continue to live relatively safely. So we have to say that. But that does not mean that Liberia is safe," she said.

That's the problem: It's the uncertainty of what could happen and the lack of recourse if something were to happen. That's what makes it unsafe. The confidence [is not there] that I can go to bed and sleep every night and not care whether or not something will happen to me; or that I can drive the street and if I run into some problem that I know I can be safe; or know that even if I have a problem, that I can go to a court and can seek redress. It's that uncertainty that makes it unsafe and that's what needs to be addressed," she said.

Opposition politicians who met in Nigeria last month called on the Taylor government to improve security in the country, before next year's elections. The government has invited opponents to attend a reconciliation conference in Monrovia in July.