Human Rights Watch today called for new, augmented forces to replace UNAMSIL, the United Nations operation in Sierra Leone, in order to make a coordinated effort to defend Sierra Leonean civilians. In an open letter to Kofi Annan released today, it urged the U.N. Secretary-General to ensure that members states grant the international forces in Sierra Leone the means and capability to do the job.   
 
The U.N. forces in Sierra Leone are now being joined by British forces, as well as the local Sierra Leonean army, Civil Defense Forces, and former rebels now loyal to the government. West African peacekeepers may also join the effort. Other governments with the necessary military capacity have so far offered only logistic support in response to U.N. appeals.  
 
Human Rights Watch stressed the need for a new authority capable of co-ordinating the growing U.N. and non-U.N. efforts, one with a clear mandate and capability to quickly address the grave threats to the civilian population. The augmented force should adopt a policy of "zero tolerance" toward human rights abuse, including abuse committed by its own troops. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses on the part of all parties to the conflict in Sierra Leone including some of those now fighting on the government side.  
 
Recent reports have suggested that suspected members of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) have been summarily executed in Freetown in recent days. Human Rights Watch urged that the rights of captured combatants and suspected rebels be respected.  
 
Human Rights Watch welcomed the decision of the British government to send military forces to Sierra Leone and noted reports that U.K. forces were engaged in activities beyond the evacuation of their own nationals. Human Rights Watch urged other countries to follow suit. Other governments with the necessary military capacity have so far offered only logistic support in response to U.N. appeals.  
 
"Sierra Leone clearly needs more help from the international community," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "But it's not necessarily a question of greater lethal force. Sierra Leone needs defenders with the ability, the authority, and the paramount duty to protect the civilians who have borne the brunt of this terrible war."  
 
Human Rights Watch urged that international forces needed to have the ability to deploy throughout the country. While ensuring the security of civilians in Freetown may be the priority of the moment, the goal must be a widening circle of protection for civilians. The international community has the duty to ensure that the defenders are given the capabilities needed to meet these responsibilities.  
 
The United Nations should also endeavor to deploy human rights monitors in Sierra Leone to provide better information on atrocities that may be taking place outside Freetown, Human Rights Watch said. Previous experience in the civil war has shown that in periods of both offensive action and retreat, the RUF has often committed its most heinous atrocities.  
 
Collecting this evidence is a key first step toward holding perpetrators accountable, and, with time, deterring further atrocities.