Sir Emyr Jones Parry
U.K. Ambassador to the U.N.
For over a decade, Human Rights Watch has monitored crisis and conflict in West Africa, documented human rights abuses, and pressed for action to stop the abuses. Human Rights Watch welcomes the trip by the Security Council to West Africa that you will lead later this month and hopes that it will bring needed attention to ongoing human rights concerns there. We are writing to identify a few of these key concerns and to suggest steps that the Security Council could take to address them, including the consideration of an arms embargo against all parties to the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire; promoting the rule of law by ending impunity for the horrific crimes committed during the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia; addressing bad governance in Sierra Leone; and stopping the use of child soldiers. We have below outlined our key concerns and recommendations for action the Security Council could take.
1. Côte d'Ivoire
The conflict-ridden West African sub-region is a sad showcase of the human rights and humanitarian costs of the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The widespread availability of small arms to abusive actors, in West Africa as elsewhere, greatly contributes to further atrocities and makes peace harder to achieve. Human Rights Watch therefore believes an international arms embargo against all sides to the Ivorian conflict and indeed the establishment of a panel of experts to monitor the implementation of this embargo, would greatly reinforce the possibility of peace and respect for human rights in Côte d'Ivoire and neighboring countries.
Background on conflict in Côte d'Ivoire
The conflict in Côte d'Ivoire that broke out in September 2002 nominally ended in July 2003 several months after the signing of the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement. However, the country has made little progress towards peace. The peace process is not only deadlocked, but it is unraveling. Since the beginning of the year Côte d'Ivoire has become a more deeply divided and dangerously polarized society. At the moment, we are gravely concerned about reports of arms imports to Côte d'Ivoire. New arms supplies entering the country on either or both sides could produce renewed attacks on civilians of the kind we documented in a report on the 2002-2003 conflict. During that conflict, the government procured weapons from overseas and rebels in the north apparently obtained arms via Burkina Faso, among other sources.
At present Côte d'Ivoire is effectively split in two with government-held areas in the south and territory controlled by rebels in the north. Civilians continue to suffer at the hands of both sides and their associated militias, and from the economic hardship engendered by the conflict.
Ivorian military, gendarmes, police forces and pro-government militias continue to commit serious abuses in Abidjan and other parts of the country with total impunity. Most recently a demonstration by opposition groups in March 2004 was the scene of a violent crackdown by the security forces that lasted days and, according to a U.N. report, took at least 120 people's lives, many of them from indiscriminate fire by security forces. The Ivorian government admitted that those responsible for the deaths included government-backed militias it termed "parallel forces."
The breakdown of law and order in the northern, rebel-controlled area of Côte d'Ivoire has also led to abuses of civilians due to the proliferation of armed groups and a general atmosphere of lawlessness. There have also been more specific threats to particular groups such as Liberian refugees and members of ethnic groups perceived to support the Ivorian government.
Ivorian conflict could destabilize peace in neighbouring countries
Credible sources have indicated to Human Rights Watch that in anticipation of a resumption of hostilities, combatants from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Burkina Faso, including children and refugees, are being recruited by both the Ivorian government and the rebel coalition known as the ‘New Forces.' The allegiance of these individuals is all too easily bought by state and non-state actors alike with the promise of looted goods or a few dollars. These militias, private armies of thugs, and roving groups of fighters routinely commit abuses against, and often terrorize civilians.
Despite considerable effort by the international community to bring about sustainable peace and stability within the sub-region, a chain is only as good as its weakest link, and today that link is Côte d'Ivoire. If the situation in Côte d'Ivoire is not brought under control, it could draw in roving combatants from those nearby countries. A return to all-out war in Côte d'Ivoire could threaten many lives and also jeopardize the United Nations efforts to stabilize both Sierra Leone and Liberia. The Linas-Marcoussis agreement meant to bring about an end to the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire was signed nearly one and a half years ago and yet a return to war seems more and more possible.
- In keeping with our policy of advocating curbs on the flow of weapons to forces, be they governments or non-state actors, that commit gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, we urge Council members to give due consideration to an arms embargo against all sides in the Ivorian conflict and to setting up a panel of experts to monitor the embargo.
2. Sierra Leone
The United Nations has made a tremendous investment to end the horrific abuses in Sierra Leone and to create a more stable society based on respect for the rule of law. However, if issues of bad governance are not sufficiently addressed, Sierra Leone could once again slide back into conflict. Human Rights Watch therefore urges you to use your visit to Sierra Leone to both privately and publicly pressure the government to take more concrete steps to combat corruption within the public and private sector. We further urge you to raise your concerns about the levels of corruption in Sierra Leone with the donor community and other relevant stakeholders there.
Sierra Leone's devastating civil war, characterized by egregious human rights abuses by all sides but especially by rebel forces, was officially declared over in January 2002. A confluence of factors helped end the war, including the commitment of British troops to stop a rebel advance against the capital, Freetown, in 2000, the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force, and a U.N. arms embargo against neighboring Liberia. But despite the disarmament of some 47,000 combatants and the successful completion of presidential and parliamentary elections in May 2002 and more recently local elections in April 2004, the deep rooted issues that gave rise to the conflict-endemic corruption, weak rule of law, crushing poverty, and the inequitable distribution of the country's vast natural resources-remain largely unaddressed by the government.
Corruption within both the public and private sectors in Sierra Leone remains endemic and a source of serious human rights abuses. Meanwhile, the state of the countries schools, hospitals and clinics are in complete disarray and public service employees sometimes go for weeks without pay. Scandals involving the misappropriation of public and international donor funds to key ministries including health and education are common place. For example, earlier this year the United States and European Union expressed significant concern about the siphoning off of donor monies given to the National Electoral Commission to run the 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections. A recent report by Sierra Leone's auditor general obtained by Human Rights Watch established that large sums of donor aid had been embezzled by commission members.
The Sierra Leone Army and Sierra Leone Police have over the years been the source of considerable instability, corruption, and human rights violations, yet they have enjoyed near-complete immunity from prosecution. Efforts by the British-led International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT), which since 1999 has endeavored to reform, restructure, and rehabilitate the army, have led to considerable improvement in the professionalism of the force. However IMATT has been unwilling to expose and refer for trial corrupt high-level officers, preferring instead to have them removed and transferred into foreign diplomatic posts. While there have been improvements in the behavior of the police, reports of extortion, bribe-taking and unprofessional conduct remain common.
The government Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), created in 2000 largely due to pressure from international donors, has been subject to political interference and there have been very few convictions for corruption-related offenses. In October 2003, the first of three judges from other Commonwealth countries arrived in Sierra Leone, funded by the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) in conjunction with DFID, to hear corruption-related matters within the High Court. However, the work of the ACC needs to be able to fulfill its mandate without political interference.
- Security Council members should insist that the Anti-Corruption Commission be allowed to function without political interference, and that those involved in security sector reform - namely the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the civilian police unit within the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards corrupt practices within the army and police.
3. Promoting the Rule of Law in West Africa
The wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire have been characterized by horrific violations against civilians including the widespread use of child soldiers, systematic sexual violation against girls and women, amputation of limbs, and abduction of civilians. In over a decade and a half of conflict, tens of thousands of civilians have been murdered and millions driven from their homes. However, those responsible for orchestrating policies of abuse are rarely brought to justice. The Council has in recent years made a laudable effort to integrate human rights and the rule of law concerns into U.N. peacekeeping missions. However, there also needs to be a greater commitment by the Security Council to address accountability for serious past crimes.
Human Rights Watch strongly believes that accountability for serious crimes is at the core of laying the foundation for the rule of law and respect for human rights in post-conflict societies. We welcomed the initiative on "Justice and the Rule of Law: the U.N. Role," by the United Kingdom Security Council presidency in September 2003. We share the belief as expressed in the background paper produced by the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations on this initiative which affirmed that: "‘The rule of law' underpins all the Council's work on prevention of armed conflict and the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security," and that the concept of rule of law includes "bringing to justice those who have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights."
Human Rights Watch urges you to use this visit as an opportunity to promote the rule of law by speaking out and taking action on three issues which are key to the struggle against impunity in West Africa:
- Sierra Leone: Security Council members should call for Nigeria to surrender former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and urge African heads of state to call for the same.
- Côte d'Ivoire: Security Council members should denounce abuses by government and rebel forces, insist that pro-government militias be disbanded and speak out on the imperative of accountability for abuses committed since the beginning of the Ivoiran conflict in September 2002.
- Liberia: Security Council members should insist the National Transitional Government of Liberia oppose a general amnesty to members of former warring factions, and they should speak out on the imperative for a genuine accountability process for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Liberia's internal conflict.
Human Rights Watch has consistently called on Nigeria to arrest and surrender former Liberian president and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Shielding Taylor from justice contravenes international law, undermines Nigeria's express commitment to combat impunity, and poses a threat to stability in the region. Allowing Taylor to remain in exile as an indicted war criminal also undercuts the investment made by the international community to ensure justice for the crimes committed in Sierra Leone.
Human Rights Watch is concerned that neither the U.N. Security Council nor the Secretary-General have explicitly called for Nigeria to hand Taylor over to the Special Court. We therefore urge you to speak out on this issue and, while in the sub-region, unequivocally call for Nigeria to immediately hand Taylor over to the SCSL. We further urge you to discuss the issue with other African heads of state, particularly Sierra Leonean President Kabbah and Ghanian President Kufour, and urge them to take a similar stand.
In partnership with the Sierra Leoneon government, the United Nations has played an instrumental role in helping to bring a measure of accountability for human rights crimes committed during Sierra Leone's decade-long war by establishing the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The SCSL, which has a mandate to bring to justice those "who bear the greatest responsibility" for atrocities during the war, has already made important progress to achieve its objectives. The SCSL has conducted investigations; indicted suspects from all sides; included charges of child recruitment in all and crimes of sexual violence in most of the indictments; issued decisions on important areas of developing international jurisprudence; conducted outreach to make the court's work accessible to the local population; and commenced its first trials on June 3, 2004.
The SCSL currently holds nine indicted war criminals from all sides of the conflict, including former Sierra Leone government minister Hinga Norman. However, former Liberian president Charles Taylor, indicted by the SCSL on seventeen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in contributing to the deaths, rape, abduction and mutilation of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's civil war remains a fugitive from justice. Taylor is currently in exile in Nigeria after being forced from power in August 2003.
Human Rights Watch has also received credible information that Charles Taylor's exile in Nigeria poses a continued threat to stability in West Africa. Sources inside Liberia have told us that Taylor remains in frequent contact with members of his former government and that an insurgency composed of fighters loyal to him, including combatants from the former Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU), and Special Security Service (SSS) as well as numerous Guinean dissidents are undergoing training in Liberia near the border with Côte d'Ivoire. We understand this insurgency is being supported by business ventures in which Taylor holds an interest that is not recorded publicly, and that the insurgency's activities may include destabilizing Guinea. The U.N. peacekeeping force in Liberia has expressed concern about the allegations of troop training, but so far has found no evidence to support them. During your visit we urge you to explore this information with the U.N. peacekeeping mission and regional governments, most notably Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea.
On May 31, 2004, the SCSL Appeals Chamber ruled that Charles Taylor is not immune from prosecution before the Special Court, rejecting arguments by his lawyers that he is immune from prosecution because he was a sitting head of state at the time of indictment. This landmark ruling affirms the principle that no one should be above the law when it comes to the most serious crimes and removes any legal basis for Nigeria continuing to harbor Taylor. The international community should comply with the court's ruling and ensure that Taylor is brought before the Special Court.
Since the outbreak of internal conflict in Côte d'Ivoire in September 2002, Ivorian military, gendarmes, police forces, pro-government militias and combatants from several rebel factions have committed egregious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Abidjan and other parts of the country with total impunity.
Human Rights Watch welcomes the Security Council's efforts to investigate these violations, including the report by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on the deadly crackdown by Ivorian security forces following the March 2004 demonstration and the international commission of inquiry on violations committed since September 19, 2002. We are similarly encouraged by your expressions of determination to bring to justice those responsible for these abuses, including the May 25, 2005 statement by the Security Council President requesting that the Secretary-General submit recommendations on various options for ensuring that justice is attained. In light of these actions, we urge members of the Security Council to:
- support these expressed commitments during your mission by condemning all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place in Côte d'Ivoire during and since beginning of the conflict in September 2002;
- call on the Ivorian government and rebel forces to end all ongoing abuses, including those committed by militias associated with the former warring parties;
- reaffirm the importance of accountability for these crimes; and
- explore with all stake-holders options for holding accountable those involved in these violations.
Human Rights Watch is also very concerned about the growth of and egregious violations committed by Ivorian government backed militia. Since 2000 the government has increasingly relied on government-backed militias for both policing matters and, since 2002, to combat the rebellion. Drawn mainly from youth supporters of President Gbagbo's party, these groups were a lightly-veiled mechanism to intimidate and abuse political opposition and those, who by virtue of their religion, ethnicity and/or nationality, were thought to oppose the government, most notably Muslims, northerners and West African immigrants mostly from Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Guinea. Some of these militias have reportedly been armed an trained by the country's security forces.
The militias have often operated in tandem with government security forces. Under the umbrella group name of the "Young Patriots," these civilian militias have been reputed to have close links to the Presidency and also, possibly, to the cocoa industry. Militias have been active both in Abidjan and other urban settings as well as in the rural areas, particularly where there has been ongoing violence against the immigrant communities who are the primary source of labour on cocoa and coffee plantations.
Since 2002, thousands of militant youth, many from Gbagbo's Bete ethnic group have enlisted into the state security corps, including the gendarmerie, police and military. It has been reported that some radical members of these institutions have disobeyed orders from their hierarchy. We are told President Gbagbo's administration has promoted these so-called patriotic elements within the military and the gendarmerie at the expense of more moderate hierarchy. The regime is increasingly relying on these groups for their security. This leads to a rather confusing picture with respect to the security forces responsible for recent abuses, especially given that perpetrators most often didn't wear identifying insignia.
- We urge your delegation to insist that these pro-government militias be disbanded, that there be an investigation by the government to reveal the identity of the so called ‘parallel forces,' and that those found guilty of involvement in human rights abuses be held accountable by a competent judicial body.
From 1989 to 1997 Liberia was engulfed in a devastating civil war, which ended following a peace agreement and the subsequent election of former warlord Charles Taylor as president. In 2000, civil war broke out again when rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and later the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) waged war to unseat then President Taylor. As in the previous war, the renewed conflict was characterized by egregious violations against civilians by all sides including summary execution, forced recruitment, widespread use of child combatants, rape and sexual violence, internal and external displacement, looting and banditry.
We note with concern that the 2003 peace agreement, while not purporting to create any amnesty for crimes committed during the conflict, states that a recommendation for a general amnesty will be considered by the transitional government at a future date. Bearing in mind the United Nations' rejection of the use of amnesty laws for serious violations of human rights and the strong trend by U.N. bodies against impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights crimes, we strongly urge Council members to advise the National Transitional Government of Liberia against pursuing any amnesty for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by persons involved in the internal conflict.
Human Rights Watch applauds the inclusion of comprehensive rule of law component within the United Nations Mission in Liberia and looks forward to seeing how the four areas of this component - the police, judicial, corrections and human rights - are fully implemented. For efforts to promote the rule of law to be complete, however, we believe that there must be accountability for past abuses. Members of Liberian civil society have repeatedly stressed to Human Rights Watch researchers the need for accountability. We urge the Security Council to encourage the human rights section of UNMIL, together with members of the UNMIL policing section, to thoroughly investigate and document serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed during Liberia's long internal conflict. We believe that this would make an important contribution to supporting the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established pursuant to the peace agreement, and efforts to bring accountability for serious past crimes.
- We urge the Security Council to affirm publicly the importance of ensuring accountability for serious crimes committed during Liberia's internal conflict. As in the case of Côte D'Ivoire, we urge the Security Council to make recommendations concerning possible accountability options, and for the Council to publicly express readiness to consider international assistance to ensure justice for these crimes.
4. Children and Armed Conflict
We encourage you to use your trip to West Africa as an occasion to follow-up the Council's important recent resolution on children and armed conflict (Resolution 1539, adopted 22 April 2004). Human Rights Watch welcomed the adoption of this resolution, and particularly its strong provisions demanding accountability and action by governments and armed groups that recruit and use child soldiers in violation of their international obligations.
The resolution specifically calls on violators named in the Secretary-General's October 2003 report on children and armed conflict to prepare concrete action plans to end their recruitment and use of children as soldiers. (para 5 a) This provision applies directly to four parties in Côte d'Ivoire-Forces armies nationals de Côte d'Ivoire (FANCI), Mouvement pour la paix et la justice (MPJ), Mouvement populaire ivoirien pour le Grand Ouest (MPIGO) and Movement patriotique de Côte d'Ivoire (MPCI)-as well as three parties in Liberia-the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). These plans, as you know, are to be prepared within a three-month period, i.e. by July 22, 2004.
In addition, resolution 1539 requests the Secretary-General to promote effective follow-up at country level, including by designating a focal point to engage the relevant parties in dialogue in order to produce the action plans, and engaging relevant stakeholders in regularly monitoring progress (para 5b).
Because the July 22 deadline is quickly approaching, we believe that your visit is a particularly opportune time to remind parties of their obligations, and to monitor follow-up of your resolution at the country level. Specifically, we recommend:
- That during your visit to Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, Council members meet with representatives of the parties named in the Secretary-General's report, to reinforce the necessity of devising concrete, credible, and time-bound action plans prior to the deadline established, and communicate the Security Council's intention to consider imposing targeted and graduated measures, such as an arms ban, on parties that do not complete and implement such plans;
- That during meetings with the U.N. country teams in Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, your delegation request information about effective follow-up to resolution 1539, including the designation of the focal point, the status of dialogue with relevant parties to develop action plans, and the involvement of relevant stakeholders in reviewing progress regularly, as specified in para 5b.
- That in each country you visit, Council members encourage strong and effective implementation of the Accra Declaration and Plan of Action on War-Affected Children in West Africa (adopted April 2000), in line with para 12 of resolution 1539, which supports and encourages regional organizations in their efforts to strengthen the protection of children affected by armed conflict. We also encourage the Council to meet with the ECOWAS Child Protection Unit to discuss its work and ways that it might be strengthened.
We believe that if Resolution 1539 is effectively implemented, it will bring about significant progress in ending the use of child soldiers. We hope that you will use every opportunity during your trip to reinforce the importance of this resolution and its intended goals.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We wish you a productive trip and stand ready to assist you with any further questions you may have.
Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director, Africa Division
Joanna Weschler , U.N. Advocacy Director
cc: Members of the Security Council