(1) Accountability for Past Abuses
(2) Rebuilding the Judiciary and Law Reform
(3) Training and Monitoring of the Army and Police
Thank you very much for convening these hearings and inviting Human Rights Watch to testify. My name is Binaifer Nowrojee. I serve as counsel with Human Rights Watch's Africa Division I have been with the organization since 1993. Prior to that, I served as staff attorney on Africa for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights from 1989 to 1992. I have been involved in human rights research and advocacy on West Africa since 1989.
After ten years characterized by unspeakable brutality and widespread human rights abuses against civilians, the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone between government forces and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) appears to be over. Human rights abuses in Sierra Leone have significantly decreased following the deployment of 17,000 United Nations (U.N.) peacekeepers.
The May 14, 2002 elections are a significant milestone, and the signs of hope are many: over 47,000 combatants have been disarmed and demobilized; hundreds of thousands of refugees are returning home; civilians abducted from their villages during rebel attacks are being reunited with their families; the government revenue from Sierra Leone's vast diamond wealth has gone up; and on May 14, Sierra Leoneans went to the polls to elect their president and parliamentarians.
While Human Rights Watch is encouraged by Sierra Leone's progress, its long-term prospects for peace are dependent on continued attention, not only to the rebuilding process within Sierra Leone, but also to developments in the sub region. As Sierra Leone's brutal conflict comes to an end, violence and insecurity are rapidly escalating in Liberia. At this time, Guinea is playing a destabilizing role in providing support to the Liberian rebels. The renewal of war in Liberia poses a real threat to sustainable peace and security, not only to Liberia, but also to Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Within Sierra Leone, the peace remains fragile. The new government is beginning the process of establishing and consolidating its authority in the face of enormous challenges. The transition period, however, provides a rare opportunity to develop new state institutions with strong human rights components integrated into their structure, and to create me chanisms that can secure and enforce respect for human rights throughout the society.
The deep-rooted issues that gave rise to the civil war-a culture of impunity, endemic corruption, weak rule of law, and the inequitable distribution of the country's vast natural resources-remain largely unaddressed. For decades, the majority of Sierra Leoneans have been betrayed by the state institutions responsible for representing and protecting them; embezzlement and abuse of authority resulted in the near collapse of most government institutions; the army and police intimidated, extorted money from, and sometimes colluded with the rebels; and the judicial system was largely subject to political manipulation and bribe taking, leaving justice unattainable for most.
Unless there is significant reform to Sierra Leone's justice and law enforcement institutions, combined with a committed effort to address the root causes of the war, the recent signs of hope will likely, and sadly, be short-lived. Human Rights Watch believes the following three issues should be among the priorities:
In order to have a future built on respect for human rights and justice, accountability for the horrific atrocities, which have characterized the war, is of paramount importance. Those accused of war crimes also have a right to a fair and speedy trial. Former rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and Westside Boys continue to be detained without due process guarantees.
During the war, the overwhelming majority of abuses were committed by RUF rebels and former Sierra Leonean Army soldiers (from the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and later West Side Boys). These abuses included the summary execution of civilians; amputation of limbs; widespread abduction of thousands of civilians who were later recruited as fighters and used for forced labor; the widespread sexual violence against women and girls including individual and gang rape, sexual assault with objects such as firewood, umbrellas and sticks, and sexual slavery; the use of civilians as human shields; and the wanton destruction of property. However, serious abuses were also committed by the government-allied civil defense forces militias, including the systematic use of child combatants and the torture and execution of prisoners, and soldiers from the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group), including the summary execution of suspected rebels and their collaborators.
Two important international justice mechanisms can play an important role in this regard. The Special Court for Sierra Leone, a groundbreaking U.N. effort that combines international and domestic mechanisms and laws, is charged with bringing to justice key leaders responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as certain violations of Sierra Leonean law committed since November 1996. The court is envisioned to try some twenty to thirty of those from all warring factions who have both direct and indirect command responsibility for the most serious abuses and violations. Once constituted, the special court is to be operational for at least three years. In April 2002, the chief prosecutor and the registrar were appointed, and the Special Court is expected to bring its first indictments by the end of 2002. Human Rights Watch believes the Special Court can play an important role not only within Sierra Leone, but also to address the involvement of regional players, such as Liberian president Charles Taylor, in providing logistic, financial, and military support to the RUF.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), mandated under the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, seeks to establish an impartial historical record of the conflict, promote reconciliation and healing, and make preventative recommendations for the future. The TRC will give victims and perpetrators a forum to address the horrors of the war. Once constituted, the seven TRC commissioners, three international and four Sierra Leoneans, will determine the commission's format. The TRC will operate for one year, after a three- month preparatory phase, with the possibility of a six-month extension.
Despite considerable efforts to establish the TRC-spearheaded by UNAMSIL and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights-it has yet to commence operations due in part to serious funding shortfalls and bureaucratic delays within the U.N. In order to be most effective, it should not ignore the conditions that gave rise to the war and give equal attention to abuses committed by all sides of the war, including the collusion between the national army and rebel forces; the clandestine business dealings between rebel forces and businessmen, elected representatives, government officials and peacekeeping forces. Additionally, it should examine the involvement of regional players who provided logistical, financial and military support to rebel groups.
The government must, as a matter of priority, create a justice and law enforcement system that promotes the rule of law and respects human rights. The Ministry of Justice, the courts, the law enforcement agencies, and the prison administration are all institutions that must be developed to guarantee official accountability.
In order to establish the rule of law, it is imperative that the national judicial system, which has all but collapsed, be strengthened. While there were serious problems with the judicial and legal systems before the conflict, the ten-year war has clearly exacerbated them. At present, the law courts are only functional in the capital and two other provincial towns. There is an insufficient number of judges, magistrates, prosecutors and courtrooms, which has led to huge backlogs, and the prolonged unlawful detention of hundreds. Corruption within the legal system is endemic, and scores of cases, many involving key politicians, are being blocked or protected from further investigation or prosecution. Additionally, legal reform efforts are needed to change antiquated discriminatory laws that do not meet international human rights standards.
The local, or tribal courts, and the often-discriminatory customary law on which they are based, must also be reviewed, revised and properly regulated. An estimated seventy percent of the population relies on customary, or tribal law, which is adjudicated through the local courts. These local courts are often discriminatory, particularly to women, and frequently abuse their powers by illegally detaining persons or charging excessively high fines for minor offences.
Now that the government's ability to generate state revenue has improved, it must show a commitment to the rule of law by providing adequate resources to the judiciary for the hiring and training of quality personnel. The international community should also increase funding and provide technical support to human rights groups providing legal aid services to the indigent.
The United Kingdom (U.K.) has since 1998 made a significant commitment to the Sierra Leone legal system through their Law Development Project, which seeks to restore and strengthen the legal institution and update the legal code in Sierra Leone. Human Rights Watch commends this effort and hopes other donors will follow suit.
The national Sierra Leone army and police have over the years been the source of considerable instability, corruption and indeed suffering. From extortion at military and police checkpoints, to rape of women in police custody, to high-level army collusion with rebel forces, to the execution of alleged rebels and collaborators, their acts have enjoyed near immunity from prosecution. Their history of serious and systematic human rights abuses, particularly by the then Sierra Leonean soldiers who in 1997 formed part of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Party and later West Side Boys, is well documented.
Since 1999, the British-led International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) has endeavored to reform, restructure and rehabilitate the army, now called the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). Some 14,000 Sierra Leonean soldiers, many former rebels, have now been retrained and are currently deployed countrywide. Some 130, mostly British, Canadian, and Australian officers are, and will for years to come, be embedded into key decision making positions within the Ministry of Defense, military headquarters and battalions and brigades country-wide.
The hands on approach and tight supervision of the newly trained army appears to be rendering results; human rights monitors have received very few reports of indiscipline and blatant abuses against civilians. A few high- level officers and several lower level officers have, in fact, been suspended from their positions for corruption and mismanagement, something that would never have happened in years past.
However, since 1999, the army has been unable to hold court martial boards and try their own cases. In 2001, British advisors and Sierra Leonean officers rewrote the Rules of Procedure and Standing Regulations for Court Martial Boards so as to bring them up to international standards. The new regulations were in October 2001 submitted to the office of the Minister of Justice for approval. However, they have yet to be approved, and as a result no court martial can take place. There are currently eight military personne l, including two officers, who have cases pending. If corruption, indiscipline and impunity within the military are to be addressed, these regulations must be passed and cases involving the RSLAF must begin to be adjudicated.
Since 1998, the Commonwealth secretariat, largely funded by the U.K. government's Department for International Development (DFID), has led a significant effort to restructure and retrain the beleaguered Sierra Leone Police (SLP), including the secondment of a British Inspector General. For decades the SLP was used as a repressive arm of the one party state, and their institutionalized corruption led to considerable mistrust, fear and disrespect. The focus of the current training effort, called the Commonwealth Police Development Task Force (CPDTF), has been on ending political interference of the police, and addressing problems with senior police management, which was saturated with deeply corrupt and unprofessional officers. However, the three full- time staff and nine part-time CPDTF consultants, who are largely Freetown based, are unable to provide sorely needed ‘hands-on' supervision and mentoring on the basic building blocks of policing. The CPDTF has, however, set up an internal investigation unit to look into complaints of corruption, mismanagement and unprofessionalism, and has commendably dismissed many, and indeed prosecuted several, police officers for corrupt practices. They have also made an effort to establish special units to respond to domestic and sexual violence.
Human Rights Watch continues to receive frequent complaints of corrupt, unprofessional and in some cases abusive practices by police, including the taking of bribes at checkpoints or to investigate complaints; inability to conduct proper criminal investigations; intimidation of local businessmen; impounding of vehicles and fabrication of claims for the purposes of extortion; and encouraging out of court settlements between perpetrators and victims.
While the task of rehabilitating the police force is eno rmous, and the CPDTF has made significant strides, Human Rights Watch believes the current training approach-which at British pounds 12 million [approximately U.S. $18 million] for three years is very expensive-is failing to provide the back to basics training and day to day supervision needed to transform the police into a truly professional force. We therefore urge the international community to revisit the current training model and adopt one that provides for the imbedding of supervisors and trainers into all levels of the police force.
Prospects for sustainable peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea remain tenuous as the intertwined conflicts continue to spill over the borders, offsetting gains that are made in each country to restore calm. As Sierra Leone's brutal conflict comes to an end, violence and insecurity are rapidly escalating in Liberia. At this time, Guinea is playing a destabilizing role in providing support to the Liberian rebels
The conflicts of the Mano River Union countries, encompassing Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, have shown a ready potential to overflow and destabilize each other. A long-standing web of shifting military and political alliances exists among the three governments and the various armed opposition groups. Accountability for serious abuses is practically nonexistent, and military impunity in all three countries remains a serious problem. The area is also awash with hundreds of ex-combatants willing to cross over to any side as mercenaries.
Charles Taylor, both as leader of the former Liberian rebel group known as the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and as president of Liberia since 1997, bears primary responsibility for much of the long-standing aggression and violence in Liberia and the sub-region. For years, Taylor helped fuel the Sierra Leonean conflict through his arming and support of the RUF rebels, as well as facilitation of illegal diamond exports from rebel-controlled areas. In return, when Taylor's government came under armed attack from Liberian dissidents in 1999, 2000 and 2001, RUF forces assisted in expelling them from Liberia.
Only five years after Liberia began a shaky transition to peace, the country is once against immersed in war. Since June 2000, fighters from the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have launched repeated hit-and-run attacks moving steadily towards the capital Monrovia.
Both Liberian government forces and LURD are responsible for committing war crimes and other serious human rights abuses against civilians, including summary executions of civilians, rape of girls and women, abduction, and looting and burning of villages. In the face of renewed rebel action, the Taylor government has become increasingly intolerant of dissent and, since the imposition of a state of emergency in February 2002, has intensified its harassment and intimidation of the independent press, civil society groups, and legitimate political opposition groups who have been imprisoned, harassed, beaten and in a few cases, killed.
Despite being subject to an arms embargo continuously since 1992, the Taylor government continues to procure weapons. In some cases, the weapons were forwarded to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, breaking a second embargo. U.N. investigators have documented a network of arms brokers and transport companies that provided false documents and relied on lax controls in Slovakia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan to arrange illegal weapons purchases. In 1999 and 2000, respectively, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire knowingly provided false cover for arms shipments destined to Liberia. The illicit flow of arms to Liberia continues. Evidence strongly suggests that a plane that crashed outside Monrovia in February 2002 carried an illegal military cargo for the Taylor government. The flight was one of three suspicious flights from Chad, using planes fraudulently registered in Moldova and filing false flight plans. U.N. investigators were blocked from investigating the crash.
Liberia's illicit arms purchases are often financed through off-budget spending, or payments not accounted for in the budget. For example, income received by the United States-based Liberian International Shipping and Corporate Registry (LISCR) was twice used to pay for Liberia's arms purchases. After LISCR refused to engage in the practice, as of August 2000, other off-budget outlays of maritime funds were utilized. U.N. investigations also established that in 1999 a timber company paid for an illegal arms shipment. In an important move, the U.N. Security Council recently ordered Liberia to audit its shipping and timber revenue to ensure that the funds are no longer misused.
The escalating conflict and growing lawlessness in Liberia has the potential to upturn the fragile peace in Sierra Leone. A growing number of Liberian refugees and combatants are crossing the Sierra Leone border, and the area threatens to become unstable once again. Hundreds of excombatants from Sierra Leone, who may later pose a threat to Sierra Leone, have crossed into Liberia to fight as mercenaries either for the Liberian government or for the LURD. Since 2001, LURD forces operating from Sierra Leone have been clandestinely recruiting and operating a supply line along the Sierra Leone/Liberia border. Liberian government troops and LURD rebel soldiers often cross from Liberia into Sierra Leone for the purpose of looting, to sell on looted goods, to buy provisions, to escape fighting, and, in a few cases, to abduct people who are then forced to work as porters for them. Liberian army deserters are also to be found on the Sierra Leone side of the border, where they could present an additional security threat. There appears to be no consistent policy on the part of either the Sierra Leonean government or the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, on how to address this problem.
There is an urgent need for border security to be strengthened, including screening to ensure that combatants are clearly distinguished and separated from civilians seeking refugee protection in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leonean government needs to establish an adequate police presence along the border areas, and to establish a status determination body to screen combatants from refugees. Additionally, there is a need for improved policing to ensure that refugees are adequately protected and to guarantee the civilian nature of all refugee camps. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should ensure as a priority the civilian nature of the refugee camps, increase the number of international protection staff, and work closely with neighboring host governments to establish screening mechanisms at the border to separate Liberian combatants from refugees.
At this time, the government of Guinea is playing a destabilizing role in providing considerable logistical and some military support to the Liberian rebels that operate from Guinea. Evidence indicates that this support is being given with the knowledge and support of high-ranking Guinean officials, including the president.
Domestically, President Lansana Conté remains largely intolerant of opposition and turns a blind eye to frequent abuses by his security forces. A November 2001 constitutional referendum that removed a two-term limit on the presidency, and virtually ensures him of lifetime rule, is widely believed to have been manipulated in his favor.
Guinea's support to the LURD intensified after the Liberian government, assisted by Sierra Leonean rebel fighters and Guinean dissidents, launched a series of cross-border attacks into Guinea in late 2000 and early 2001. They attacked towns and refugees camps containing Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees, causing thousands to become further displaced and killing and wounding hundreds of refugees and Guinean civilians. These Liberian- led incursions into Guinea were opposed by Guinean government forces, backed by members of Sierra Leonean civil defense force militias and Guinea-based LURD fighters. They pushed back the Liberian and RUF forces, and the Guinean army also carried out helicopter, artillery and ground attacks into RUF-held areas of northern Sierra Leone, killing scores of civilians and burning villages.
In view of the close links between the Guinean government and the LURD rebel forces in Liberia, the participation of Guinean troops in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, should give cause for concern. The Guinean contingent of UNAMSIL is currently deployed in Sierra Leone's Pujehun District, which borders Liberia, raising fears that this area too could become a base of operations for the LURD, enabling them to strike into Liberia from two directions. Human Rights Watch recommends the replacement of the Guinean forces in the UNAMSIL operation in Sierra Leone with non-West African troops that are not implicated in the sub-regional conflict. At a minimum, the Guinea battalions should be removed from Pujehun District, and not be deployed near the Sierra Leone/Liberia border where the likelihood of their involvement in Liberian rebel support and/or refugee intimidation is higher.
For the past few years, United States (U.S.) policy on Sierra Leone has concentrated on ending Liberian government support for the RUF, supporting the U.K. military actions in Sierra Leone, and providing humanitarian assistance. Additionally, the U.S. pledge of U.S. $15 million over three years to the proposed Special Court for Sierra Leone was the largest of any contributing nation. The U.S. total humanitarian and emergency contribution in FY 2001, including grants to aid and refugee agencies, through USAID for food relief, assistance to refugees, and development programs was U.S. $75 million.
U.S. pressure on the Liberian government to address human rights abuses has commendably been strong and consistent. Relations between the U.S. and Liberia deteriorated as President Taylor's role in fueling the war in Sierra Leone became more evident. In accordance with the U.N. sanctions imposed in May 2001, the U.S. prohibited the importation of Liberian rough diamonds. The Bush administration continued the Clinton policy of isolating Taylor politically and diplomatically, although less publicly. Administration officials have stressed that until Taylor ceases efforts to destabilize the sub-region, U.S. policy will remain unchanged.
The U.S. has been much less vocal about condemning Guinea's flagging human rights record and its destabilization of Liberia. The U.S. has expressed concern about the human rights situation in Guinea in its annual human rights report to the U.S. Congress, but has not made any public statements expressing concern about Guinea's role in supporting the LURD incursion. The closest it came to doing so was in a March 1, 2002 statement in which the U.S. ambassador in Monrovia condemned the renewed fighting in Liberia and called on the Liberian government to take steps to respect human rights and the rule of law. Although it stopped short of naming Guinea, the statement did call on "all parties in the region to cease supporting any group that seeks political change through violence and to respect their neighbor's borders."
The U.S. now has an important role to play vis-à-vis Guinea's support for the LURD. The U.S. is beginning a long-delayed training program for the Guinean military, focusing on border security military to assist that country in defending against the destabilizing activities of the RUF and Charles Taylor in Liberia. In June 2001, the Bush administration notified Congress of its intention to provide U.S. $3 million in non- lethal training and equipment to the Guinean military to assist that country in defending against the destabilizing activities of the RUF and Charles Taylor in Liberia. Congressional concerns about abuses by the Guinean military led to additional reporting and monitoring requirements. The training is designed in four six-week segments for four companies, but will pause after the first two to conduct an impact assessment, which will include monitoring of the troops' behavior once they are deployed on the border, as well as a human rights assessment. State Department sources state that the U.S. has urged President Conté to curtail his support for the LURD, and that the second phase of the U.S. training would be predicated on a cut-off of Guinean support for the LURD.
Additionally, the U.S. has been involved in efforts to address regional security and peacekeeping efforts. In 2000, a program called Operation Focus Relief (OFR) was initiated by former President Bill Clinton to train and equip seven battalions of West African troops for peacekeeping with the U.N. in Sierra Leone. The training was conducted by U.S. Special Forces. The first phase of the program trained two Nigerian battalions that were deployed in January 2001 to serve with UNAMSIL. The second phase, which ended in August, trained troops from Ghana and Sene gal. The third phase, involved three further Nigerian battalions. For FY 2001, OFR was budgeted at U.S. $24 million in peacekeeping funds, as well as U.S. $32 million in Department of Defense funds for equipment and transportation. The U.S. also deployed three military officers to work with the Sierra Leone army as part of the British training program. These officers, as well as other U.S. Embassy officials, had some responsibility for monitoring the performance of the U.S.-trained troops. In addition, for fiscal year 2002, Congress approved U.S. $26 million for the West African Stabilization Program, part of the U.S.'s voluntary peacekeeping operations budget, which includes $8 million in additional training and equipment for the troops trained for peacekeeping in Sierra Leone, known as Operation Focus Relief.
While the election brings much needed peace and security to Sierra Leone, serious human rights issues remain. After a decade of civil war, Sierra Leone's state institutions and economy have been destroyed, and a culture of violence, corruption, and impunity has taken root. The transition period, however, provides a rare opportunity to develop new state institutions that have strong human rights components integrated into their structure, and to create mechanisms that can operate to guarantee, secure, and enforce respect for human rights throughout the society. In particular, the transitional justice mechanisms, the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as judicial-rebuilding are important. In addition, continued monitoring, transparency, and accountability among the state security and law enforcement agencies are also key.
Steps must also be taken to address the spreading conflict in Liberia, abetted by Guinea's support of the Liberian rebels. There is likely to be a further escalation in human rights abuses against civilians as the area of fighting widens, causing more death and displacement in Liberia. As a result, the fragile peace in Sierra Leone could easily be destabilized as a result of a spillover of the Liberian war.
This is a dire prospect indeed for the people of a region that has already endured so much war, wanton abuse and human suffering over more than a decade. It is imperative, therefore, that all possible efforts are made by the international community to establish conditions for a sustainable peace and the protection of human rights in all three countries in the sub region. To achieve this, the international community will need to adopt a comprehensive sub-regional approach if there is to be any hope.
- Human Rights Watch urges the U.S. government to work with all relevant parties in the international community to bring sustained pressure to bear on all the Mano River Union countries to: (1) End cross-border attacks and illicit weapons flows; (2) Cease support for armed rebel activity; (3) Respect the rule of law and human rights; (4) Prevent and punish war crimes and other human rights abuses; (5) Create state institutions that are transparent and accountable. In particular, allow judicial independence and ensure that state security and law enforcement forces have clear and public directives governing the duties of its officers, with strict enforcement, and punitive action for violations.
- Continue to sustain attention on institution building that promotes respect for the rule of law and human rights.
- Provide greater support to civil society groups and the independent media in the Mano River Union.
- Condition all U.S. military assistance to Guinea, scheduled to begin in May 2002, on an end to Guinean support for the LURD rebels.
- Continue to call for the maintaining and strengthening of existing U.N.-mandated controls on the flow of weapons that could destabilize the sub-region, and to establish the mechanisms necessary to break the cycle of impunity. Illicit weapons flows into the sub-region should continue to be monitored, and Guinea's role in the Liberian conflict should be investigated and ended. The U.N. should mandate the placement of international military observers and human rights monitors along the Guinea/Liberia and Sierra Leone/Liberia borders to monitor and investigate cross-border attacks.
- Advocate for the replacement of the Guinean forces in the UNAMSIL operation in Sierra Leone with non-West African troops that are not implicated in the sub-regional conflict. At a minimum, the Guinea battalions should be removed from Pujehun District, and not be deployed near the Sierra Leone/Liberia border where the likelihood of their involvement in Liberian rebel support and/or refugee intimidation is higher. Work to secure and get commitments for the deployment of an adequate number of troops along the Sierra Leone/Liberia border to prevent cross-border attacks.
 U.S. Embassy Office of Public Affairs, "Statement Regarding Renewed Fighting in Liberia made by U.S. Ambassador Bismarck Myrick at the American Embassy," March 1, 2002.