Sierra Leone

David Scheffer: Briefing to Non-Governmental Organizations and Congressional Staff on Sierra Leone

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Washington, DC, March 8, 2000

Thank you for this opportunity to report on my recent visit to Sierra Leone. In my job as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, I have a global mandate to address atrocities wherever they occur and to work on mechanisms of accountability and prevention. One of the most horrific and challenging crime scenes in the world today is Sierra Leone and it has long been part of the work of the Office of War Crimes Issues in the State Department. Just prior to my departure for Freetown, I convened a meeting of the Atrocities Prevention Inter- Agency Working Group, which I chair, to take a close look again at the situation in Sierra Leone. The Group concluded that the situation remains very precarious and that effective preventive steps remain to be fully taken.

I had last been in Sierra Leone in February 1999, shortly after the massacre in Freetown. During my visit last month, I witnessed much change but also recognized that some key problems remain.

On February 21 and 22 I held lengthy and frank discussions with President Tejan Kabbah, Foreign Minister Sama Banya,
National Security Advisor Sheka Mansaray, Attorney General Solomon Berewa, former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma, Deputy Labor Minister and associate of Foday Sankoh, Indriss Kamara, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative Oluyemi Adeniji, UNAMSIL Force Commander General Jetley, ECOMOG Force Commander MG Gabriel Kpamper, ICRC's representative, Patrick Vial, representatives of several non-governmental organizations, and members of the Inter-Religious Council. At all of these meetings I was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Joe Melrose who works tirelessly on the issues that concern all of us and whose work I cannot praise highly enough. I also visited the Freetown office of Human Rights Watch and there, with the assistance of HRW staffer Corine Dufka (who is doing an outstanding and courageous job) personally interviewed 10 victims of extreme human rights abuses since July 7, 1999.

Prior to departing Freetown, I interviewed with a local television station. I have brought the transcript of that interview along for your information.

In these discussions and visits I stressed the following and also learned a great deal.

First, any crimes committed after July 7, 1999, are not covered by the amnesty in the Lome Agreement. There have been killings, rapes, abductions, lootings, forced labor, and training of child combatants since last July. Human Rights Watch and others have done a good job recording some of these crimes. I fear, however, that what we know is only the tip of the iceberg, as we are only beginning to get access to large parts of the country. Many of the crimes reported come from the Port Loko area. Until UNAMSIL can deploy into large portions of Sierra Leone in an effective and sustained manner, our knowledge of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law throughout Sierra Leone will remain very limited. We have to expect that news from the interior of the country will be every bit as shocking as what we know already, if not more so.

We believe that those responsible for crimes committed after July 7, 1999, should be held fully accountable under the law
for their actions. Given the current state of the Sierra Leone police and judiciary, there is little realistic prospect of achieving accountability in the near term. But we believe that the message should be widely publicized, particularly to rebel forces, that they enjoy no amnesty for post-July 7 crimes and that ultimately perpetrators must be held accountable.

Second, I stressed that the pardon and amnesty provided by Article IX of the Lome Agreement is predicated on bringing "lasting peace to Sierra Leone." If that lasting peace is not built, and Sierra Leone descends into another vicious internal armed conflict with atrocities, the pardon and amnesty risk being extinguished. The Attorney General confirmed this interpretation of the Lome Agreement. Therefore, the rebel forces and their leaders have much to gain from adhering to the terms of the Lome Agreement and achieving long-term peace and stability in their country.

Third, I went to Sierra Leone to encourage the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission required by
Article XXVI of the Lome Agreement. This is an absolutely critical step in the path toward peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone. The draft law for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was introduced in Parliament during my visit and I had the honor to attend that Parliamentary session in Freetown. The law was adopted on February 23rd. Earlier this year I consulted with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, about the content of the draft law. (Her office assisted in the preparation of the law.) Now the real challenge begins -- establishing the commission and launching its investigative mandate in the field. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will have foreign participation, and it will clearly require much foreign funding and technical assistance. I returned to Washington knowing that we must find within our limited resources in the State Department budget a contribution to the long-term work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We also need to help build the staff of the commission and help provide it with the facilities and equipment it will need to properly do its job. This will be one of the objectives of the forthcoming donors conference. USAID has pledges support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, together with assistance we are already providing for other commissions of the Lome Agreement.

Fourth, every one I spoke with cautioned me that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will not be able to perform
its responsibilities effectively if disarmament is not accelerated in the weeks and months ahead. They said that a failure to disarm will leave weapons in the hands of rebel soldiers who will intimidate and threaten those who otherwise might be willing to assist the commission in its truth-finding mission. An effective deployment of UNAMSIL in the country also is required to give the Truth and Reconciliation Commission access to all parts of the country, particularly the eastern and northern areas where rebel atrocities were so widespread.

Fifth, I discussed with President Kabbah and Attorney General Berewa as well as with the UNAMSIL Commander and Special Representative Adeniji the vital importance of regaining control of the diamond-mining area of Sierra Leone. I particularly stressed the opportunity that control of the revenue from the diamond mines would afford for the victims of the atrocities. Article XXIX of the Lome Agreement calls for the establishment of a Special Fund for War Victims. I suggested that even a small percentage of the revenue from the diamond mines be funneled into a regulated account for the Special Fund for War Victims and thus serve as a source for civil compensation for the victims, particularly the thousands of mutilated victims. President Kabbah expressed his support for this proposal. The challenge, of course, is to gain control of the diamond mining region, and I was told this is a task UNAMSIL is determined to undertake.

Sixth, I had hoped to see Foday Sankoh during my visit. But his sudden departure from Sierra Leone in defiance of the UN sanctions days before my arrival made such a meeting impossible. Now that he has returned to Sierra Leone, we believe he should remain there to focus on disarmament of his forces and other Lome Agreement priorities and travel again only with the prior approval of the UN Sanctions Committee.

Seventh, I learned from representatives of involved organizations such as the International Rescue Committee and the Inter-Religious Council that one of the greatest challenges facing Sierra Leone is the reintegration of rebel soldiers, particularly child combatants, in the DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) process. Unless there is gainful employment and a meaningful life to return to, rebels will be propelled back into the only profession most of them know. And that means the atrocities will continue. So a true preventive measure the international community can take now is to provide significant technical and financial assistance to reintegrate the rebel soldiers. On Saturday, the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives will officially launch its Youth Reintegration Training and Education for Peace Program in Freetown. But more must be done. The day after I left Freetown I traveled to Geneva and briefed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson; the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Rick Barton; and the ICRC General Delegate for Africa, Pierre Wettach, on my visit to Sierra Leone. Robinson is fielding a small team to assist with the start-up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She has decided to prolong and broaden the work of Bethuel Abdu Kiplagat, the Kenyan expert whom she has tasked to explore the possibility of establishing an international commission of inquiry on human rights violations in Sierra Leone. Robinson has asked Kiplagat to examine the issue of domestic and international inquiries throughout Africa with a special focus on Sierra Leone. His work necessarily will take some time to complete. But Robinson clearly wants to invest her energies in the newly created Truth and Reconciliation Commission and try to help it work effectively and efficiently. I told Robinson the U.S. is supportive of her approach and will help in every way we can with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Barton assured me that UNHCR is very active in reintegration planning in Sierra Leone.

In closing, I want to share with you just one victim's account of the continuing atrocities in Sierra Leone. This occurred on January 17, 2000. A young teenage girl was on a bus going to her father's funeral in the Port Loko area. She was ambushed and abducted by rebel forces enroute to the funeral. The young girl was taken to her house and told they would burn it down with her inside. She begged them not to. The rebels stole all the money and valuable belongings in the house. Then she was removed from the house along with nine other young girls and taken to a village unknown to her. For 3 days the young girl was raped repeatedly by four rebels, one of whom was the commander of the group. She was a virgin. She only escaped because one of the rebels had known her father and brought her father's photograph to her. She told him her father had died. The rebel facilitated her escape. But the nine other young girls remain in captivity and presumably are being raped to this day. I will never forget the utterly vacant stare of that young girl, whose life is now utterly shattered.

This young girl represents tens of thousands of victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the violence within Sierra Leone; many are mutilated or suffering from polio or other diseases. The challenges are many and the solutions hard to achieve. But the U.S. and others in the international
community and most importantly the leaders of Sierra Leone must keep trying.

Thank you for this opportunity to share this information. I would be pleased to address any questions.