Global Policy Forum

UN Gives Mixed Verdict on Amnesty

InterPress Service
July 9, 1999

MNESTY United Nations - The peace deal in Sierra Leone has placed the United Nations in an uncomfortable position, with UN officials praising the Wednesday accord but criticising the amnesty it grants to the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

UN officials Thursday underscored that, although UN envoy Francis Okelo signed the peace agreement Wednesday in Lome, Togo - along with Sierra Leonean President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh - the United Nations has not accepted the amnesty. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that the world body had rejected the amnesty in all matters applying to ''gross violations of human rights'' in a notation added to the agreement.

UN officials have agreed with human rights experts that the RUF has committed serious human rights atrocities, including massacres of government supporters. ''Some of the brutalities that are taking place (in Sierra Leone) are not acceptable in civilised society, and society is not going to be blind to that,'' said Secretary General Kofi Annan, who visited Sierra Leone on Thursday. ''So when I talk of peace and I make the point that it may not be perfect, it does not mean that one should ignore the justice aspect,'' Annan said.

Yet at the same time, Almeida e Silva conceded that Sierra Leone had the ''sovereign right'' to grant amnesty to the RUF, and that the United Nations would accept the Lome peace deal, which could end the country's brutal eight-year civil war. ''It is clear to us that the agreement is a political solution to years of suffering and destruction,'' he said. Almeida e Silva added that the United Nations will help to implement the accord, but that both parties must abide by the commitments that they made.

The United Nation's effort to walk the tightrope between accepting the peace deal and rejecting the amnesty has been pointed out by several rights groups, which bitterly attacked the UN-sponsored Lome accord. ''The atrocities in Sierra Leone have shocked the world,'' said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW). ''The United Nations must not sponsor a peace agreement that pretends they never happened.''

The accord gives the rebel groups four cabinet ministries and lifts a death sentence against Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader who was convicted of treason last year on charges of plotting the 1997 coup against Tejan Kabbah. Howver, rebel spokesmen have already rejected a demand from the accord to disarm under the watch of the Nigerian-led regional peace-keeping force, called ECOMOG.

Even in recent days, some Sierra Leoneans told HRW that they doubt the rebel group -which has been notorious for hacking the limbs off suspected opponents - will stick to the accord, just two years after the RUF broke a previous agreement signed in 1996 in Abuja, Nigeria. A 28-year-old woman told HRW that she heard one rebel recently say that ''just because it's 'ceasefire' doesn't mean that it's 'cease-loot' or 'cease-cut-glass','' a reference to the RUF's reputation for looting and for disfiguring civilians. A 12-year- old girl told the rights group that she had been raped repeatedly by RUF members on Jun. 25, and confessed, ''I could barely walk back to my village. Even now, I'm not right.''

Yet Annan and other officials have insisted that, for all its flaws, the current peace deal offers a chance to end the ruinous war between government forces and ECOMOG on one side and an alliance of former military officials and the RUF rebels on the other.

The United Nations estimates that the war has forced 2.5 million Sierra Leoneans to leave their homes, and the death toll, although not officially determined, is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. With the rebels in control of Sierra Leone's eastern diamond zones, it has proved difficult to defeat them entirely, although ECOMOG was able to restore Tejan Kabbah to power one year after his overthrow. The RUF nevertheless stepped up its battle in the capital, Freetown, in January and threatened even worse reprisals if Sankoh were executed.

Annan said in Dakar, Senegal, on Wednesday that the United Nations would support peace and reconciliation efforts, even if they were ''not perfect.'' UN officials plan to expand the UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to some 3,000 officers within the coming weeks. ''It's not a perfect situation,'' Almeida e Silva conceded. ''It's not a perfect world. And that's all we could do.''

More Information on Sierra Leone


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.