Rev. Jesse Jackson
President and Founder
Rainbow Coalition
Chicago, IL

Dear Rev. Jackson:

We are writing to you as President Clinton's Special Envoy for Democracy in Africa on the urgent matter of the crisis in Sierra Leone. Horrendous human rights abuses against civilians have characterized this conflict, and the current crisis demands a strategy to protect the civilian population. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to put the issue of protection of civilians in Sierra Leone on the forefront of your agenda and to ensure that the U.S. government makes a forceful and public stand on this issue. This includes actively providing support to countries that are willing to send their troops to Sierra Leone for that explicit purpose.

In particular, we urge you to call for a new, augmented force to replace UNAMSIL, the United Nations operation in Sierra Leone, in order to make a coordinated effort to defend Sierra Leonean civilians. There is a dire 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 abuses 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. In addition, international forces must 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.

It is clear that the misguided 1999 Lomé accord, which provided a blanket amnesty for grave human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, has unraveled. The amnesty offered under the Lomé accord has been an utter failure, signaling to rebels who committed horrible abuses that they would not be held accountable for their crimes. There should be no effort to revive or give credence to any such amnesty in the future. Instead, the U.S. should now work with the U.N. to take steps to establish mechanisms for the investigation of gross human rights violations with a view to the eventual apprehension and prosecution of those found responsible. The U.S. should be working to ensure the deployment of United Nations human rights monitors in Sierra Leone to provide better information on atrocities that may be taking place outside Freetown. Collecting this evidence is a key first step toward holding perpetrators accountable, and, with time, deterring further atrocities.

The crisis in Sierra Leone cannot be solved without addressing the question of weapons supply for the rebels. We therefore urge you to focus on the need to tighten the United Nations arms embargo on Sierra Leonean rebels. There have been numerous reports of weapons shipments to the RUF over the past year, in violation of a U.N. arms embargo that has been in place since 1997. Illicit arms deliveries to the rebels reportedly have been possible with help from neighboring Liberia, which is also subject to an arms embargo, and Burkina Faso. The reported role played by Liberia in supporting the rebels demands that the U.S. be extremely wary of using President Charles Taylor as an intermediary in this conflict.

The Clinton Administration has often been reluctant to use effective and forceful public diplomacy to highlight human rights issues in Africa, which has fed misperceptions about U.S. policy. It is therefore critical that your mission to West Africa use every opportunity to ensure that the U.S. clearly weighs in on the side of protecting civilians from further atrocities in Sierra Leone.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to meeting with you upon your return.

Sincerely,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director

cc:

  • Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Ambassador Howard Jeter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Gayle Smith, Senior Director for African Affairs, National Security Council