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Letter to U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committees on Liberia and Sierra Leone Regarding Sanctions and Arms Shipments

H.E. Mr. Kishore Mahbubani

Chair, Security Council Sanctions Committee on Liberia

Permanent Mission of Singapore

H.E. Mr. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury

Chair, Security Council Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone

Permanent Mission of Bangladesh

Your Excellencies:

We very much welcome the heightened attention the Security Council has given to U.N. sanctions against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone since that country slipped back into war in May of last year. The publication in December 2000 of the excellent report of the Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone is an especially notable contribution. We also welcome the recent tightening of sanctions on Liberia (all but the arms embargo postponed until May, pending review) and the formation of an experts panel to monitor compliance with these sanctions and investigate alleged violations. We are pleased that the Liberia panel will be able to draw extensively on the expertise of the Sierra Leone panel, whose mandate ended in December 2000 and four of whose former members have joined the Liberia panel. We understand that the Liberia experts panel has convened in New York for two weeks of meetings.

In the interest of advancing this work, we wish to draw your attention to unconfirmed but troubling allegations, circulated within the U.N. system, that the RUF continues to receive shipments of weapons via Liberia in violation of Security Council sanctions. These allegations were contained in a March 4, 2001, situation report sent to U.N. headquarters in Freetown by UNAMSIL personnel stationed near RUF-controlled areas in eastern Sierra Leone. The UNAMSIL report notes that, according to reports from local sources, helicopters carrying food, weapons, and ammunition were at that time making three to four deliveries per week from the interior of Liberia to Foya, near the Sierra Leone border, where the cargo was allegedly offloaded and delivered on vehicles to Koindu inside the rebel stronghold of Kailahun in Sierra Leone. The report also indicated that civilians witnessed seven truckloads of ammunition being transported to Pendembu, some 25 miles from Koindu, around February 28.

While we cannot verify any link, we are concerned that on March 9, shortly after these alleged arms shipments were said to have been delivered, hundreds of RUF fighters were involved in a major attack at Nongowa and other locations within the Parrot's Beak region of Guinea. We understand that RUF soldiers killed in the Nongowa attack were found to have been carrying what appeared to be brand-new weapons.

A further UNAMSIL communication, dated March 27, suggested that the various shipments described above might have been UNHCR flights and convoys delivering humanitarian supplies to the Guinea border region. We find this explanation unsatisfactory, given that the ultimate destinations noted are deep in RUF-held territory. Furthermore, UNHCR has indicated to Human Rights Watch that it had no reason to be near those areas. Human Rights Watch remains gravely concerned about the human rights situation faced by Sierra Leone's civilians, who continue to suffer unspeakable brutality at the hands of the RUF, including upon their return from refugee camps in Guinea. In addition, we are deeply troubled by the growing humanitarian tragedy in Guinea itself, where Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees - already victimized by horrific violence in their own countries - have been further terrorized by indiscriminate attacks and forced to flee once more. Liberia too has seen outbreaks of fighting that threaten civilian populations. Fighting in all three countries, largely concentrated in and around the areas bordering the RUF strongholds of Kono and Kailahun, and the potential for still greater bloodshed highlights the importance of the strict implementation of U.N. arms embargoes imposed on human rights abusers.

We strongly believe that the sanctions imposed on the RUF and Liberia require vigorous monitoring and enforcement to protect civilians from further atrocities and to hold the abusers, as well as their international accomplices, accountable for their actions. We therefore call on the Sierra Leone sanctions committee, the Liberia sanctions committee, and the Liberia experts panel to work together to promptly investigate these reports and make public their findings at the earliest opportunity.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Joost R. Hiltermann

Executive Director

Arms Division

Joanna Weschler

U.N. Representative

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