The following statement to the press on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone was issued today by the President of the Security Council, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury (Bangladesh), on behalf of the Council:
On 8 March, the Secretariat briefed Council members about the human rights and humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone.
Council members view with deep concern reports of continuing human rights abuses, in particular gross violence against women and girls, being committed by rebel groups, especially as the International Women's Day is being observed today, as well as reports of a serious humanitarian situation especially in those parts of the country where United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone access is being obstructed.
This is unacceptable given the commitments made by all parties to the Lomé Peace Agreement to ensure protection and promotion of human rights and unhindered access throughout the country.
Council members fully support the Special Representative of the Secretary- General and the UNAMSIL Force Commander in their efforts to fulfil UNAMSIL's mandate, which includes provisions for the protection of civilians within its capabilities and areas of deployment, and to deploy throughout the country. They also encourage the Special Representative to continue to take a firm line with former rebel leaders over continued human rights abuses and non-compliance with the Lomé Peace Agreement.
Council members welcome the meeting in Bamako, Mali, on 2 March to facilitate the peace process in Sierra Leone and call upon all concerned to adhere to its recommendations.
Council members call on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh to genuinely order his forces to end immediately all RUF human rights abuses; to ensure immediate removal of all RUF roadblocks - for which there is no justification; and to return all weapons illegally seized from UNAMSIL peacekeeping forces, as he has previously agreed.
Council members urge UNAMSIL and the Government of Sierra Leone to investigate all reports of human rights abuses. They recall that there is no amnesty for crimes committed after signature of the Lomé Peace Agreement, and no absolute bar to prosecution of crimes committed before then.
These continuing reports of abuses by armed rebels underscore the need for all parties to work together to ensure full and early disarmament of former combatants in all areas. Genuine progress on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and on UNAMSIL deployment, will help to facilitate access and delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance and surrender of weapons.
The reports of continued violations of the Lomé Peace Agreement by the RUF (and ex-Sierra Leone Army) also underline the importance of maintaining an effective United Nations travel ban as stipulated by Security Council resolution 1132 (1997). There is no prospect of a relaxation of this ban until the RUF show that they are fulfilling their commitments under the Lomé Peace Agreement. Council members call upon all parties to strictly comply with the sanctions regime established by the Council.
Council members urged all interested members of the United Nations to provide expeditiously well-equipped troops to the expanded UNAMSIL.