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U.N. Must Clarify Position on Sierra Leonean Amnesty

Human Rights Watch today called on the United Nations to clarify its position on the amnesty provisions of the Sierra Leone peace accords. The accords were signed last week in Lome, Togo, by the government of Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General. The U.N. representative added a handwritten disclaimer that the U.N. would not recognize the amnesty as applying to gross violations of human rights.

In a letter to the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, Human Rights Watch urged him to seek a protocol to the accords, to be signed by both the government of Sierra Leone and the rebel forces, making clear that the amnesty is only for crimes against the state and not for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

"Time and again, the United Nations' experience has shown that peace accords built on impunity are shaky and do not hold," said the letter, which was signed by Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, and Joanna Weschler, the organization's representative to the U.N. "In Angola, for example, six amnesties have been granted as part of the peace process, and each has served as little more than an invitation to further bloodshed and atrocities."

The letter also called on Annan to recommend that the U.N. Security Council establish an international commission to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict and to study the possibilities for bringing their authors to justice before the courts of other countries, or before an international tribunal for Sierra Leone.

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