Since the beginning of the conflict in 1991, the plight of civilians in Sierra Leone has had to compete with the other refugee-related emergencies on the African continent and elsewhere for the attention of the international community. Insofar as Sierra Leone has attracted international interest, attention has focused on the humanitarian needs of the displacedCor on the protection of mining concerns in Sierra Leone's diamond fields. As one human rights worker observed in 1998, half the battle [has been] keeping Sierra Leone on the world's radar screen. 130 The January 1999 RUF occupation of Freetown brought more condemnation from the international community, but little more action. Only Sierra Leone's West African neighbors, in particular Nigeria, have put substantial resources into an attempt to keep the peace and restore respect for human rights and the rule of law.131 It is to be hoped that the visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to Sierra Leone in June 1999 will contribute to a reversal of this neglect.
ECOWAS, ECOMOG, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU)
In accordance with bilateral security accords, Nigerian and Guinean forces from ECOMOG have been stationed in Sierra Leone since 1995 to help the NPRC and, later, the Kabbah government fight the RUF rebels. After the May 25, 1997 military coup of the AFRC, and its establishment of a coalition government with RUF rebels, hundreds of additional Nigerian soldiers assigned to ECOMOG in Liberia moved to Sierra Leone to defend the Freetown airport from attack. The Nigerian troops attempted to take Freetown itself, but were forced to withdraw. On June 26, 1997, ministers of foreign affairs from ECOWAS countries, supported by the OAU, demanded the reinstatement of the elected government of President Tejan Kabbah and formed a ministerial committee to monitor the situation in Sierra Leone. When negotiations with the new rulers in Sierra Leone collapsed, ECOWAS imposed an almost total embargo on Sierra Leone, enforced by the Nigerian navy, which was later reinforced by an October 1997 U.N. Security Council global arms and oil embargo and restrictions on international travel by families of the rebel leaders.132
With the failure of diplomatic efforts for the restoration of peace and the reinstatement of the Kabbah government, ECOMOG's mandate was changed from sanction enforcement to actual military intervention to oust the rebel government. In February 1998, ECOMOG drove the AFRC/RUF forces away from the capital city of Freetown and reinstated President Kabbah, though it could not reestablish government control over the whole country; thus allowing the RUF resurgence and attack on Freetown in January 1999. ECOMOG now maintains security in and around Freetown, and has been able to expand its control to some other areas, although the rebels maintain their grip on much of the country.
Presently the ECOMOG contingent in Sierra Leone is led by Nigerian Major-General Felix Mujakperuo (who assumed command in March 1999) and is composed of approximately 14,000 troops, predominantly Nigerian, with Ghanian, Malian, and Guinean support. The cost of maintaining the troops is being borne mostly by Nigeria (which is allegedly spending approximately U.S.$1 million daily) and the other states that have contributed troops.133
In addition to its peacekeeping role, ECOMOG's mandate also includes the implementation of a program for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants (the DDR program), and training the new Sierra Leone army. Although ECOMOG has stated that the new army will be ethnically and regionally balanced,134 there is also a need to underscore the importance for UNOMSIL to provide assistance and closely monitor the disarmament, demobilization, and training processes to assure that the new army is founded upon principles of respect for international humanitarian law.
On the humanitarian front, ECOWAS and the OAU have been consistent in their condemnation of the atrocities of the rebels. For example, in December 1998, the ECOWAS Ministerial Committee on Sierra Leone issued a communiqué deploring the torture, mutilations, amputations, and mass killings of innocent civilians. In March 1999, Salim Ahmed Salim, the secretary-general of the OAU, delivered a report to a session of the Council of Ministers, in which he condemned the January offensive on Freetown by the rebels. The OAU also reaffirmed its absolute support for the efforts of ECOWAS and ECOMOG.
ECOWAS has played an important role in facilitating peace negotiations between the RUF leaders and representatives of the government of President Kabbah, which are taking place in Togo, whose president is the current chair of ECOWAS.
The United Nations
The United Nations' initial reaction to the 1997 military coup by the Armed Forces Ruling Council was to condemn it and to place sanctions against the government formed by the rebels. The United Nations Security Council commended ECOWAS on its efforts to restore the ousted government of President Tejan Kabbah and urged member states to assist ECOMOG with financial and logistical support. It also condemned the atrocities perpetrated by the rebels, in particular against women and children.135 The Security Council also made the determination that the crisis in Sierra Leone constituted a threat to international peace and security in the region under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, and that it would remain actively seized of the matter.
In July 1998, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to establish the United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), increasing the United Nations' military observer presence already in the country from approximately ten to seventy officers, along with civilian support and medical staff. UNOMSIL's mandate includes responsibility for monitoring and helping ECOMOG with the implementation of a program for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants (the DDR program); reporting on the security situation; monitoring respect for international humanitarian law, including at disarmament and demobilization sites; and advising the government of Sierra Leone and local police officials on police practice, training, re-equipment, and recruitment, in particular on the need to respect internationally accepted standards of policing in democratic societies.136
As RUF forces approached Freetown in late December 1998, the U.N. and other international agencies and foreign governments began withdrawing their staff from the country. On January 6, as the rebels entered the city, UNOMSIL completed its evacuation.137 The relocation to Conakry, the capital of neighboring Guinea, was followed by a substantial reduction in the number of staff, in particular military and civilian police. On March 3, the decision was made to allow the return of a limited number of staff to Freetown.138
On June 4, 1999, the U.N. secretary-general released his sixth report on UNOMSIL. The report noted a resurgence in rebel atrocities against civilians in recent months; the secretary-general's fifth report, issued in March, described similar atrocities committed during the rebel invasion and occupation of Freetown in January. Both reports also noted serious allegations that members of ECOMOG and the CDF had carried out summary executions of suspected rebels. The secretary-general described the worsening of an already desperate humanitarian situation across much of the country, noting that 2.6 million Sierra Leoneans, nearly half the population, were out of reach of humanitarian agencies, and that even where there was access, humanitarian efforts were still unable to reach all those in need.
The secretary-general also noted that ECOMOG had confirmed the involvement of the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso in the shipment and delivery of arms to the forces of the RUF. Accordingly, the secretary-general had proposed the deployment of ECOMOG troops and U.N. personnel along the Sierra Leone border. Welcoming the proposal in principle, the executive secretary of ECOWAS had responded that U.N. logistical support would be necessary, including helicopters, communications, and ground transportation.
As of June 4, 1999, UNOMSIL consisted of twenty-four military observers, including two medical personnel, as well as twenty-nine international and twenty-four national staff members. The secretary-general's sixth report stated that it was planned to deploy additional observers up to the maximum of seventy set by U.N. Security Council resolution 1181 of July 13, 1998, to increase the civilian staff by two political officers, and to restore the human rights section to its previous staffing level of five persons. The secretary-general drew the attention of the Security Council to the fact that, depending on the progress of the peace talks, it might well be necessary to deploy a sizeable number of infantry and other observers, along with the necessary equipment and military logistical support, if the U.N. were to deploy effectively to assist in the implementation of an eventual peace agreement.139 The secretary-general also envisage[d] a significant expansion of the civilian personnel, including those engaged in political, human rights and logistical support functions. 140 On June 11, 1999, the Security Council extended the mission of UNOMSIL for a further six months, until December 13, 1999.141
The Sierra Leone Contact Group
In July 1998, a Sierra Leone Contact Group was established, following a special conference on Sierra Leone held at U.N. headquarters in New York. The first meeting of the Contact Group, chaired by the United Kingdom, took place on November 5, 1998, with objectives to build up support for Sierra Leone's efforts to restore peace, democracy and human rights; to encourage further assistance to ECOMOG and contributions to the United Nations Trust Fund for Sierra Leone; to try to match specific ECOMOG requirements to donor offers; and to encourage the Government of Sierra Leone to develop political dialogue and national reconciliation beyond the programme for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and to encourage participation in it. 142 The meeting expressed strong support for a dual track approach endorsed by the ECOWAS summit held in October, by which efforts to strengthen ECOMOG would be accompanied by the opening of dialogue to achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation. 143
On April 4, 1999, the Contact Group held its second meeting, attended by representatives of twenty-two countries, the U.N., ECOWAS, ECOMOG, the European Commission, the Commonwealth, the World Bank and IMF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and once again reaffirmed support for the dual track approach and for the 1996 Abidjan Accord as a framework for a negotiated settlement. The group condemned atrocities committed by the rebels, called on all sides to investigate abuses, and expressed concern at support coming to the RUF through Liberia and Burkina Faso.144
The United Kingdom, European Union, and United States
The United Kingdom has provided more assistance to the ECOMOG and Sierra Leonean government forces than any other government from outside the region, and has also been the largest national donor to Sierra Leone of reconstruction aid and humanitarian assistance, committing more than ,30 million in total to Sierra Leone since the restoration of President Kabbah in March 1998.145 The assistance the U.K. has provided has included training and equipment for a new Sierra Leonean army.
The U.K.'s record on Sierra Leone has been tarnished by the government's handling of contacts between the government of President Kabbah and a U.K.-based private security company, Sandline International, during 1997 and 1998, which included the supply of a shipment of arms to Sierra Leone in late February 1998 in breach of the U.N. arms embargo (which applied to government as well as rebel forces). In February 1999, the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs issued a report, itself based on an investigation ordered by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and carried out by Sir Thomas Legg Q.C. Both the Legg report and the Foreign Affairs Committee were highly critical of both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the foreign secretary, though they concluded that the violation of the embargo was due to incompetence and mismanagement rather than intent.
According to the U.S., its policy towards the crisis in Sierra Leone is designed to achieve four goals: increase international support for ECOMOG; help ECOWAS leaders coordinate a negotiated settlement; curtail external support for the rebel forces; and provide humanitarian relief. To that end, the U.S. provided U.S.$3.9 million in equipment and logistical support to ECOMOG, and contributed over U.S.$55 million in humanitarian assistance in 1998. In 1999 it committed U.S.$5 million for logistical support and medical supplies and planned to seek approval for a further U.S.$5.8 million from Congress.146 In May 1999, the U.S. government promised to double its commitments to assist ECOMOG and the Sierra Leonean Government.147 The U.S. has also condemned external support for the rebels from Liberia. However, in a letter dated February 4, 1999 sent by seven members of the U.S. Congress to President Clinton, the members expressed dismay by the limited U.S. support for the efforts of ECOMOG.148
Through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the E.U. has been an important donor of non-food humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone, having contributed over 20 million ECUs (over U.S.$22 million) by 1998, mostly to support the activities of international humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In November 1998, the E.U. made a grant of 860,000 ECU to the OAU partly to support any post-conflict reconstruction that it undertakes in Sierra Leone. In April 1999, the E.U. approved Euro 5 million to cover emergency aid for displaced persons in Sierra Leone (and Guinea). The E.U. states that it has given Sierra Leone more than 111 million ECUs (U.S. $140 million) in emergency aid and for reconstruction of infrastructure and rehabilitation of victims of the war.149
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), formed in November 1995 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Auckland, New Zealand, has consistently followed the situation in Sierra Leone, condemning the 1997 military coup and suspending the right of the junta to participate in Commonwealth debates until the restoration of President Kabbah. CMAG has also denounced atrocities committed against civilians by the rebels. Since the restoration of President Kabbah, the Commonwealth has assisted with the reorganization and training of the Sierra Leone police force, together with UNOMSIL civilian police advisers.
130 Human Rights Watch interview, relief organization representative, Freetown, June 24, 1998.
131 Nigerian support, through ECOMOG, for President Tejan Kabbah was perhaps motivated partly by domestic politics and by the desire of former military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha to gain credit on the international stage in the face of condemnation of his own dictatorial regime. Nevertheless, and although the ECOMOG intervention has been neither as effective nor as respectful for human rights on its own account as Sierra Leoneans would wish, it is undoubtedly true that the situation for many Sierra Leoneans has been significantly ameliorated by the presence of the ECOMOG forces.
132 See Human Rights Watch/Africa, ATransition or Travesty,@ pp.38-41, for a discussion of the Nigerian role in the ECOMOG intervention in Sierra Leone.
133 InterPress Service, May 31, 1999.
134 Press conference led by Brig. Gen. Maxwell Khobe, Wilberforce military base, June 25, 1998, Freetown, Sierra Leone.
135 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132, October 8, 1997, U.N. document S/RES/1132 (1997).
136 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1181, July 13, 1998, U.N. document S/RES/1181 (1998) (sponsored by the U.K.).
137 Special Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York: United Nations, January 7, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/20, section II.
138 Fifth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York: United Nations, March 4, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/237, paragraph 6.
139 Sixth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York: United Nations, June 4, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/645, paragraph 55.
140 Ibid., paragraph 57.
141 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1245, June 11, 1999, U.N. document [S/RES/1245(1999)].
142 Third Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York: United Nations, December 16, 1998), U.N. document S/1998/1176, paragraph 8.
143 Ibid., paragraph 9.
144 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sierra Leone Contact Group Meeting: Chairman=s Concluding Statement (London, April 19, 1999).
145 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Statement on Sierra Leone (Private Notice Question Answered by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Robin Cook, House of Commons, London January 1, 1999), and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cook Welcomes Nigerian Support for Peace in Sierra Leone (Edited transcript of Press Conference by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, Nigerian Head of State General Abubakar and President Kabbah of Sierra Leone, Abuja, Nigeria, March 9, 1999).
146 U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Susan E. Rice speech to the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives, March 23, 1999.
147 The U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, made this pledge to the Nigerian President on May 5, 1999.
148 The letter was signed by Alcee L. Hastings, Cynthia Mckinney, Eva M Clayton, Amo Houghton, Vernon Ehlers, Albert Wynn, and Tom Lantos.
149 DG VIII Press Releases. Confirmed by Ms. Hals (DGVIII) on May 19, 1999.
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