Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
The current crisis in Sierra Leone, in which Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels have clashed with U.N. peacekeepers, taking hundreds hostage, suggests that the fragile Lomé peace accord of July 1999, so often violated by the RUF, has now fully unraveled. Although the focus of current media attention is the abduction of U.N. peacekeepers, civilians will once again bear the brunt of RUF atrocities if the crisis leads to international paralysis.
It is time for the international community to recognize that the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), hampered by a lack of commitment from member states, has failed. The United Nations must now take firm steps to protect the civilians who are at grave risk.
To avert further tragedy in Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch calls on you to urgently:
- press U.N. member states, especially those with the necessary troops and resources, to help protect civilians in Sierra Leone by deploying forces with this explicit mandate, together with the necessary logistical and material support;
- assist in the creation of a unified authority to oversee all international forces operating in Sierra Leone, as well as local forces loyal to the government of Sierra Leone, and ask the Security Council to give these unified forces a clear mandate to undertake essential tasks, including deployment throughout the country as quickly as possible to protect civilians in vulnerable areas and recognizing that the security of Freetown is essential to any such effort;
- insist that all forces unified under the new authority show zero tolerance toward human rights abuses, not only by rebel forces, but also by soldiers within its own ranks, including pro-government forces that have been responsible for serious human rights abuses in the past, and seek Security Council endorsement of this policy;
- deploy human rights monitors throughout the country as quickly as possible to collect evidence of abuse as a first step toward bringing those responsible to justice and, with time, deterring further atrocities.