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The Role of the International Community

The RUF's capture of U.N. peacekeepers and subsequent resumption of hostilities unleashed a wave of international condemnation against the RUF for having precipitated the collapse of the peace process. However, frequent violations that gave rise to the crisis had gone largely ignored for months by key members of the international community who did more to appease rebel leaders than confront them.

The moral guarantors of the Lome Accord: the U.N., OAU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Commonwealth of Nations, and the Government of Togo, all failed to condemn or apply requisite pressure on the RUF and ex-SLA/AFRC for their repeated attempts to delay and frustrate the peace process, for their continued acts of lawlessness and human rights violations against civilians.

Following the resumption of hostilities, most international actors acknowledged the importance of using military force to disarm the RUF, which occupied over 60 percent of the country. However, members of the international community demonstrated little willingness to do so themselves. With the U.N. unwilling to stiffen its mandate from peacekeeping to peacemaking, and without any international body willing to commit troops, the task of pressuring the RUF back to the negotiating table was left to the under funded, under-trained, and poorly led Sierra Leonean Army.

The collapse of the peace process forced most key members of the international community to reassess their respective policies toward Sierra Leone, but military objectives remained clearer than political goals. The collapse of the peace process effectively rendered obsolete most key provisions of the Lome Accord, including disarmament, the amnesty, the transformation of the RUF into a political party, and the inclusion of the RUF and AFRC in the government. Despite this, the U.N., U.S. and U.K. insisted that the Lome Accord must form the basis for any future peace.

Attacks on Guinean villages by RUF and Liberian forces that began in September, highlighted fears that the war could spread beyond Sierra Leone's borders.

United Nations

In May, the killing of at least ten and capture of some five hundred United Nations peacekeepers precipitated a collapse of the Sierra Leonean peace process, and forced the United Nations to reassess the viability of the l999 Lome Peace Accord, the efficacy of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, and the future of U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Prior to May, the RUF and rebel factions repeatedly delayed and frustrated the implementation of the peace process, especially after UNAMSIL attempted to deploy into the diamond-producing areas.

Contributing countries demonstrated minimal political will to change the mandate from peacekeeping to peace-enforcing. Instead, the Security Council responded to UNAMSIL's weaknesses by mandating successive increases in troop strength: from the original 6,000 in October 1999, to 11,000 in February (Resolution. 1289), to 13,000 in May (Resolution 1299). The secretary-general's sixth report on UNAMSIL recommended a further increase in troop strength to 20,500.

Internal divisions within the military and political leadership of the mission worsened the crisis. In his July 5 report on UNAMSIL, Kofi Annan said there had been "a serious lack of cohesion within the Mission." In part due to these problems, contributing countries were divided on whether or not to support the mission, the largest and most expensive in the world, at a projected $782 million for 2000-2001.

In response to problems within UNAMSIL and growing insecurity within the region, an eleven-member Security Council delegation visited Sierra Leone and four other West African countries in October. Their report reaffirmed the need to maintain military pressure on the RUF, yet failed to resolve differences over the need for a more aggressive mandate. On several occasions, UNAMSIL failed to aggressively interpret the part of their mandate that allowed for the protection of civilians "under threat of imminent physical violence." In June, Kenyan UNAMSIL troops abandoned the northern town of Kabala while under attack by the RUF. Jordanian UNAMSIL troops failed to adequately secure the strategic Freetown-to-Mile 91 highway from frequent attacks and ambushes on civilian vehicles by the AFRC/ex-SLA. Civilians described being robbed or abducted by the militias within view of the peacekeepers.

The human rights section under the UNAMSIL mission was mandated in January to have fourteen human rights monitors, but it never operated with more than nine and functioned without a permanent chief. They conducted regular and thorough monitoring missions but put out few press releases and lacked a regular channel for disseminating information.

On July 5, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1306, which imposed an eighteen-month ban on the trade in rough diamonds from Sierra Leone that did not have a government certificate, in a bid to prevent the RUF from funding its war. It also mandated setting up a five-person panel of experts to look into possible violations of sanctions and the link between the trade in diamonds and arms. The panel, which did several fact-finding missions to the region, was to present its findings by October 31.


In the first several months of 2000, ECOWAS, despite its position as one of the moral guarantors of the Lome Accord, did little to pressure the RUF to comply with its provisions. ECOWAS nations were openly dissatisfied with the lack of U.N. financial support for ECOMOG troops in Sierra Leone, and with the U.N. decision to deploy U.N. peacekeepers to facilitate the implementation of the accord instead of funding ECOMOG troops.

Following the collapse of the peace process, ECOWAS heads of state directly blamed and condemned the RUF and, in an emergency summit in Nigeria on May 10, announced their decision to use every means possible to defend Sierra Leone's government. They followed this up on May 29 by endorsing a proposal made by ECOWAS defense ministers and chiefs of staff to send an additional three thousand troops to Sierra Leone, on the condition that the United Nations would pick up the cost. At this writing, ECOWAS troops, mostly from Nigeria, were being trained by the United States. ECOWAS also called for UNAMSIL's mandate to be changed from peacekeeping to peace enforcement and called for the force to be headed by a West African.

Organization of African Unity

In May, the secretary general of the Organization of African Unity strongly condemned the killing and abduction of U.N. peacekeepers and the resumption of hostilities and backed up an ECOWAS resolution to deploy three thousand ECOMOG troops. In June, OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim appointed South African Ambassador to Ethiopia Kingsley Mamabolo as his special envoy to Sierra Leone. In July, a mini-summit on Sierra Leone was held during the OAU summit in Lome, Togo, between the OAU, ECOWAS, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In August, OAU Secretary General Salim visited Sierra Leone and donated U.S.$250,000 to the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Rearmament program and other institutions.

The European Union, United States, and United Kingdom

European Union

In May, the European Union issued a declaration condemning the RUF for attacks on UNAMSIL personnel and the violation of the Lome Accord. A May 23 resolution by the European Parliament condemned the "assumed participation of Burkina Faso, Liberia and Togo," in support for the RUF and their involvement in illicit diamond smuggling. In June, the E.U. expressed its concern that continued violations of arms embargoes in Sierra Leone and Angola were contributing to the continuation of these conflicts. Also in June, E.U. foreign ministers suspended aid to Liberia because of its support for the RUF rebels. In September, the E.U. general affairs council reaffirmed its support for the Lome Accord as the basis for future peace in Sierra Leone, and expressed its willingness to help the United Nations and Sierra Leonean government set up a special tribunal.

Since 1995, the European Commission had given Sierra Leone more than 94 million euros (U.S. $80 million) for development and rehabilitation projects over five years. Since the beginning of the year, an additional 12 million euro (U.S. $l0 million) was administered through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) for emergency humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone, and for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea.

United Kingdom and United States

The United Kingdom and United States continued to play a pivotal role in political and military developments in Sierra Leone. The collapse of the peace process prompted both countries to intensify their military engagement with and on behalf of Sierra Leone, while political issues were effectively put on hold.

United Kingdom

When Freetown, the capital, was briefly threatened by the RUF in May, the U.K. deployed over five thousand military personnel, including six hundred ground troops, to secure key strategic areas, and to advise and support both UNAMSIL and the Sierra Leonean Army. Although the bulk of U.K. forces were withdrawn by mid-June, two hundred soldiers remained in the country in order to strengthen a training team already involved in restructuring the Sierra Leonean Army before the May crisis. A further sixty advisers (to increase to ninety) were mostly deployed within the Sierra Leonean Defense Headquarters, and played a key role in advising and directing military operations.

During a June 8 visit, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook acknowledged that Britain was making a long-term commitment to Sierra Leone, and on October 10, further military assistance, including a hundred additional trainers, equipment for the Sierra Leone Army, an offer to provide officers to fill staff appointments at UNAMSIL headquarters, and an offer to provide a rapid reaction force of up to five thousand troops was announced.

After the renegade "Westside Boys" rebel faction took eleven British soldiers hostage from the training team on August 25, British forces were deployed and mounted an operation to free them. During the September 10 operation, one British soldier and some twenty-five Westside Boys were killed.

U.K. assistance to Sierra Leone since March 1998 was over GBP 70 million, including the funding of demobilization camps and humanitarian assistance. In coordination with the commonwealth secretariat, the U.K. provided funds for training and administration of the Sierra Leonean police, including the provision of the inspector general.

United States

Until the hostage crisis in May, U.S. policy toward Sierra Leone failed to attract high-level attention within the administration. Most U.S. officials continued to defend the amnesty under Lome, despite the February report by David Scheffer, ambassador at large for war crimes issues, who reported the ongoing atrocities and abuses, and acknowledged the inadequacy of mechanisms for accountability.

U.S. policy subsequently became more active. The U.S. worked to get the United Nations behind a more robust peacekeeping response to the crisis, and played a key role in moving the Security Council and the Sierra Leonean government toward the creation of a special court for Sierra Leone. During a July visit by Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering to West Africa, and in the testimony of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke before the Security Council hearings on diamonds in Sierra Leone, the U.S. publicly accused Liberia and Burkina Faso of supporting the RUF, and threatened sanctions against them.

In August, the U.S. launched a substantial operation to train and equip up to seven West African battalions, largely Nigerian, for duty with UNAMSIL. The administration stated that all participating troops would be vetted in accordance with U.S. law, which prohibits assistance to military units that have been responsible for serious human rights abuses.

In October, the U.S. hardened its position towards Liberia for its continued support of the RUF by imposing a visa ban on Taylor and other Liberian officials, their families, and close supporters.

The U.S.'s total humanitarian and emergency contribution in 2000, including grants to NGOs and aid agencies, was U.S. $55 million. In July the U.S. announced a $20 million aid package for training Nigerian and Ghanaian troops to strengthen the U.N. effort in Sierra Leone.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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