Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone: Sowing Terror


Human Rights Watch

July 1998

Following are brief excerpts from Section V of Sierra Leone: Sowing Terror, a report from Human Rights Watch. The full report is available on the HRW web site ( For more information contact Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104; TEL: 212/972-8400; FAX: 212/972-0905; E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Overshadowed by conflict in Liberia and events elsewhere on the continent, Sierra Leone has largely escaped the attention of the international community. Over the past seven years, aside from the involvement of diamond mining firms, international interest has focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of the internal conflict and, to a lesser extent, finding political or military solutions to end the violence. Until recently, human rights concerns have largely taken a back seat to emergency relief, support for military interventions, or efforts to negotiate peace between the various warring parties.

The recent surge in atrocities against civilians in Sierra Leone has raised a limited level of awareness from the international community regarding the human rights implications of the crisis. In general, the plight of civilians in Sierra Leone has had to compete with other refugee-related emergencies for the attention of international players. This competition, often with crises in Europe, combined with a general lack of funds for UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, has resulted in insufficient responses to the political, humanitarian, and human rights situation in Sierra Leone. ...

In June 1998, a team of three experts from the World Bank visited Sierra Leone to discuss and refine a program for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) with the Sierra Leonean government. The World Bank, UNDP, and other donors have agreed to fund this program, to be carried out by ECOMOG. The United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) will have the critical role of monitoring and assisting with the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants and assuring the respect for international humanitarian law during this process. The success of this program and the humane treatment of former combatants from all sides will be crucial to bring about an end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.

A major challenge to the international community is developing policies and providing assistance that protect human rights and promote peace and stability in the long run. Some past and present policies of governments and international organizations, as discussed below, have targeted only short-term political, economic, or military objectives, while ignoring fundamental human rights concerns. As the reinstated Kabbah government rebuilds national institutions of justice, and ECOMOG creates a new national army, the international community is presented with a unique opportunity to promote human rights in Sierra Leone. ...

As required by its mandate, UNOMSIL should insist that ECOMOG respect the rights of demobilized combatants and that high standards are maintained throughout the training of the new Sierra Leonean army in international humanitarian law. Linked with this responsibility, UNOMSIL should work closely with ECOMOG to monitor arms flows and recruitment in support of AFRC/RUF. Human Rights Watch received numerous allegations that the AFRC/RUF was continuing to receive arms from outside the country, via land and air. In order to monitorand deter military support to the AFRC/RUF, a strong presence of UNOMSIL will be necessary to monitor arms trafficking, in particular along the porous border with Liberia. The monitoring of the Liberian border should be performed in conjunction with ECOMOG forces in Liberia. ...

ECOWAS and ECOMOG have played key roles in recent political negotiations and military interventions respectively in Sierra Leone. As part of bilateral security accords, Nigerian forces and Guinean forces have been in Sierra Leone since 1995 to help the NPRC and, later, the Kabbah government to fight the RUF. The Nigerian and Guinean forces were in Sierra Leone at the time of the May 25, 1997 coup, and later reinforced ECOMOG's efforts to oust the AFRC/RUF.

Following the 1997 coup, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) called on ECOWAS to restore constitutional order to Sierra Leone. When their negotiations with the AFRC/RUF failed to achieve progress, ECOWAS imposed an economic embargo, which was later reinforced by an October 1997 U.N. Security Council global arms and oil embargo and restrictions on international travel by AFRC/RUF members and their families. ECOMOG enforced these sanctions with the permission of ECOWAS and the Security Council. With the failure of diplomatic efforts and the escalation of tension, ECOMOG's mandate was upgraded from sanction enforcement to actual military intervention to oust the AFRC/RUF. The ECOMOG contingent in Sierra Leone is led by Nigerian Commander Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe and composed of approximately 9,000 troops, predominately Nigerian with several Guinean support battalions. As of June 23, Gambia, Ghana and Niger had all promised to send troops to reinforce ECOMOG. In late July, ECOMOG announced that it was finishing the transfer of its headquarters from Monrovia to Freetown and that an additional 3,500 troops would soon arrive. ...

ECOMOG holds the key responsibilities of disarming and demobilizing combatants as well as forming and training the new Sierra Leonean army. ECOMOG commander Maxwell Khobe has stated that the new army will be ethnically and regionally balanced. ECOMOG's past human rights record in Liberia and problems in the present, however, underscore the need for UNOMSIL to provide assistance and closely monitor the disarmament, demobilization, and training processes to assure that the new army is founded upon principles of respect for international humanitarian law.

Misinformation regarding the security situation in Sierra Leone has created serious risks for both Sierra Leonean refugees and civilians within the country. ECOMOG, along with Sierra Leonean government and some U.N. officials, has downplayed the capacity of the AFRC/RUF and portrayed the security conditions in Sierra Leone as safe and returning to normal in many districts. This information has contrasted sharply with reports from aid organizations with a field presence as well as from other U.N. officials. ...

The United Kingdom, European Union and United States

Since May 1998, the United Kingdom, European Union (E.U.), and United States have issued several strong statements denouncing the human rights violations committed by the AFRC/RUF in Sierra Leone. On May 21, 1998, the U.S. Department of State and European Union issued a joint statement which expressed their grave concern over the atrocities. ...

In June, the U.S. and E.U. sent a joint high-level assessment mission to the region led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Julia Taft which resulted in financial pledges for humanitarian assistance in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. These calls for an end to atrocities against civilians and financial commitments for humanitarian assistance should be combined with long-term support from the U.S. and the E.U. that promotes human rights and the rule of law. ...

Both the U.S. and U.K. have played significant roles in recent political and military developments in Sierra Leone. The U.S. is the single largest donor in response to the Sierra Leonean crisis, having contributed $53 million in food, humanitarian and other aid in fiscal year 1998, including support for ECOMOG. The British have led fund-raising efforts at the European Union for the 1996 elections, ECOMOG, and other assistance. Both the U.S. and the U.K. have provided support for the Nigeria-led ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. In May, the U.S. StateDepartment announced $3.9 million for logistical support to ECOMOG through Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE). PAE is a U.S.-based military logistics firm contracted to provide transportation, communication, and other support to ECOMOG. The U.K. has contributed 2 million pounds (U.S. $ 3.3 million) to a U.N. trust fund for peacekeeping activities in Sierra Leone, some of which may be used to support ECOMOG.

This support for ECOMOG should be accompanied by close monitoring of its conduct and complemented by additional efforts to protect human rights. The U.S. and U.K. should closely monitor the performance of ECOMOG in international humanitarian law observance and in its disarmament, demobilization, and training efforts. In particular, the U.S. and U.K. should insist on high-quality training in international humanitarian law for the new Sierra Leonean army and on the humane treatment of demobilized combatants from all sides. The U.K. has sent an evaluation team to Sierra Leone to consider a police training program to Sierra Leone. The success of these types of initiatives in contributing to building institutions that protect human rights will depend largely on their careful design and monitoring of their implementation.

Both the U.S. and the U.K. have encouraged negotiated solutions to end the violence, most recently during talks at Abidjan in November 1996 and at Conakry in October 1997. Since the scale of atrocities has increased, the U.K. has been cautious about promoting negotiations with the AFRC/RUF. In an interview with Human Rights Watch, U.K. High Commissioner Peter Penfold stated that the U.K. was not pushing in "public or in private" for negotiations with the AFRC/RUF. The U.S. has taken a more open stand, stating that it "did not preclude any possible option that might lead to peace. ECOWAS, with the support of the international community, must explore every political avenue and determine the best way to proceed."

The U.S. elaborated that the RUF and former junta leadership must first, however, "unambiguously and honestly renounce" atrocities against civilians before talks could begin.

Link to Global Policy Forum's page on Sierra Leone

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