Human Rights Watch condemned the United Nations for acting as moral guarantor of a peace agreement that includes a blanket amnesty for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone's civil war.
The United Nations facilitated the peace talks, which were held in Lome, Togo, and a U.N. spokesman said yesterday that the Secretary-General's Special Representative would sign the agreement.
The spokesman also said the U.N. would add a notation to the agreement, that it would not recognize the amnesty for gross violations of human rights. But the notation will not be binding on the warring parties.
"Everyone wants this terrible civil war to end," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "But the peace deal can't simply ignore eight years of atrocities. The U.N. should know that any peace built on impunity is unlikely to last - and may well serve as an invitation to more atrocities in the future."
"For example, the peace nogotiations that ended the Angolan civil war included six successive amnesties and Angola is once again back at war," Takirambudee added.
Takirambudde noted that Human Rights Watch has documented atrocities committed by the rebel forces as recently as two weeks ago, despite a ceasefire in effect since May 24. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has systematically targeted civilians for murder, rape, amputation, and torture, among other war crimes.
According to international law, amnesties cannot be granted for crimes of such gravity.
"The U.N. should never have gotten involved in an accord that contains such an amnesty," said Takirambudde. "Rather than fixing its mistake, the U.N. is trying to cover up for it."