Freetown, 10 December 1999
UNAMSIL decries abuses of human rights in Sierra Leone
The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has expressed concern on the rising number of reported cases of human rights abuses in some parts of Sierra Leone and has urged the parties to the Lome Peace Accord to ensure that their followers immediately respect their human rights commitments under the Accord by bringing these abuses to an end.
In a press release issued in Freetown on 22 November, the Special Representative of the Secretary General Ambassador Francis Okelo noted with deep concern the continuing reports of abductions and other abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law being committed on civilians by former rebel elements and appealed to the parties of the Lome Peace Accord to respect their human rights commitments by ordering the immediate release of remaining abductees throughout the country. "Although UNAMSIL has in general observed a significant reduction in reported cases of human rights abuses since the signing of the Lome Peace Accord," observed Ambassador Okelo, "the pattern of violations now emerging in some parts of the country raises concern as it violates the law and would, if unchecked, fundamentally undermine the Accord".
Ambassador Okelo's comments followed persistent reports of human rights abuses by former rebel elements in the Northern Province especially in the villages around Port Loko along the Lungi-Port Loko road. According to reliable sources, including victims, abuses such as abductions, rape, looting of property and house burnings were occurring on almost daily basis in the area and had affected a large number of civilians, especially passengers in public transport vehicles. In an incident which took place on 17 November, former rebel elements identifying themselves as members of thew RUF intercepted a jeep belonging to a humanitarian organization 6 kilometers from Port Loko town and forced all its occupants, including lactating mothers and malnourished children to walk with them into the bush where some of them were subjected to physical assault including sexual abuse. Two days earlier, armed rebels attacked a village near Bundulai and killed one civilian after terrorizing the villagers and looting all personal and household effects from them. In a neighboring village, the rebels burned down a house belonging to a man who had reportedly fled from them as he was being abducted. And on 19 November, heavily armed rebel elements intercepted a passenger bus at a village called Mababu near Rogberri Junction, harassed the passengers and comprehensively looted all the property aboard the bus. Three women passengers were raped during the incident. During the week of 15-20 November, over five different incidents of this nature were reported along the Lungi-Port Loko road alone, all involving passengers of public transport vehicles. According to Ambassador Okelo, "in almost every incident, female victims of these attacks have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse. Male victims are forcibly used for labor, mainly to transport property looted from the population".
Meanwhile, abuses have continued in the Port Loko and other parts such as Kabala in spite of the stern message from Ambassador Okelo. A UNAMSIL human rights assessment mission that returned to the area on 29 November received reports that armed rebel elements had been responsible for three different ambushes on 27 November which resulted in abductions, rape and looting of property. In the first incident, which took place at a village called Mammy Nansi along the Port Loko- Rogberri road, a group of armed men -believed to be ex-SLA rebels- stopped a passenger vehicle, robbed the passengers and forced them into the bush. Two passengers, a man and a woman, were shot on the arm and shoulder respectively after they resisted the rebels' orders; a 3 year-old child was reportedly badly beaten up. The two wounded passengers were evacuated to Freetown to seek specialized medical attention. In the second incident which took place at Limpkakuru village along the Lungi-Port Loko road, a passenger vehicle was again stopped by a group of 15 heavily armed rebels who then abducted all the passengers; one of the abductees, a former SLA soldier who has since joined the DDR program told UNAMSIL that he was able to positively identify the attackers as being his former colleagues in the ex-SLA; the rebels physically assaulted the passengers and forced them to undress in front of them; they then separated the aged women from the young and raped three young girls after forcing them into the bush. The men and aged women were subsequently released but the whereabouts of the girls remain unknown. The third incident took place at Mankari village near Bundulai along the same Lungi- Port loko road. The attackers reportedly fired 4 shots in the air before embarking on a comprehensive looting of the village and abducting an unspecified number of people. Following the incident, most of the villagers reportedly abandoned the village. And in an incident that occurred on 29 November at Rosar village near the DDR camp in Port Loko, 15 armed ex-SLA combatants reportedly attacked a man and his wife who were at their farm collecting cassava and abducted the wife after forcing the man to flee. The woman was reportedly raped that evening by six men and only managed to escape the following morning.
Following these ongoing reports of human rights abuses, Amnesty International issued a strongly-worded public statement on 30 November calling on leaders of both the RUF and the AFRC to take action to end the abuses against civilians in Sierra Leone. "Former rebel leaders now in political office must exert their influence over their former fighters and urge them to end their attacks on civilians", said the Amnesty International statement. The statement by the London-based organization drew heavily from the press release issued by Ambassador Okelo regarding the abuses reported in the areas around Port Loko and Lungi. UNAMSIL will continue to investigate these and other incidents of human rights abuse in Sierra Leone, pursuant to its mandate.
Sierra Leonean Human Rights Committee monitoring implementation of Lome Peace Accord
he Sierra Leonean Human Rights Committee, which receives secretariat support from UNAMSIL, has just released the sixth edition of the "Lome Implementation Bulletin" in which it records last week's appointment of the Constitutional Review Committee as a significant step towards the implementation of the human rights provisions contained in the Lome Peace Accord. At the same time, however, the Bulletin notes that the number of reported cases of abduction now exceeds that of released abductees, which is a setback to the Lome Peace Accord.
The Human Rights Committee is a consortium of local and international organizations committed to the protection and promotion of human rights in Sierra Leone. On 29 July 1999, the Committee adopted a mechanism to keep track of the human rights provisions of the Lome Peace Accord. The Peace Accord, while dealing extensively with issues of direct relevance to human rights, made no provision for a body specifically and exclusively tasked with supervision of the implementation of the human rights provisions. The Committee has taken on this task and has been issuing public bulletins in which it makes periodic assessment on the status of the key human rights commitments, documenting the steps taken, programs initiated or achievements made in each thematic area. This assessment enables the signatories to the Accord as well as civil society actors to be in a position to tailor effective responses to problems and help identify areas in which additional work needs to be done. The Bulletin is circulated widely, both within Sierra Leone and internationally.
Human Rights Day to be Observed in Sierra Leone
The International Human Rights Day will be marked all over the world on December 10. As part of the commemoration for this important day, UNAMSIL is currently in the process of putting together a program for the day which will include a reception at which a speech from the UN High Commissioner for Human rights will be read by the Special Representative of the Secretary General Ambassador Francis Okelo.
December 10 1999 will mark the 51st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that has become the symbol of the international community's desire to protect and promote human rights throughout the world. In Sierra Leone, this day will also be used to create and promote public awareness of the Human Rights Manifesto of Sierra Leone, a document that was signed in June this year jointly by the Government, the UN and the Civil Society during the visit of High Commissioner Mary Robinson to Sierra Leone. The Manifesto declares and reaffirms the commitment of the signatories to the "unwavering and non-discriminatory promotion of all human rights for present and future generations in Sierra Leone" and fully recognizes the rights enshrined both in the Universal Declaration of Human rights and under the bill of rights of the Sierra Leonean constitution.
Local human rights NGOs benefit from international trainings with help of UNAMSIL
A number of Sierra Leonean human rights activists and NGOs leaders continue to take part in a series of international trainings organized through the support of UNAMSIL. These trainings are supposed to provide the local organizations with the tools necessary for the performance of their work in the areas of human rights monitoring, documentation and intervention, and fall under the mandate of UNAMSIL to build local capacity for the protection and promotion of human rights.
During the month of October, the president of the National Forum for Human Rights Joseph Rahall participated at an international workshop on the empowerment of African human rights activists. The workshop which was held in Dakar, Senegal, was organized by the International Service for Human Rights, an international training organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
In March 2000, two local human rights activists will participate in a training program in Washington DC organized by the International Human Rights Law Group, an organization working on human rights capacity building for groups in developing countries. The training will focus on lobbying skills and is aimed at enabling the Sierra Leonean human rights community to articulate its agenda at various international fora. As part of the training, the activists selected for this program will attend the next session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva where they will be allowed to address the human rights issues facing Sierra Leone.
At the same time, two other human rights activists are expected to attend a two-month training course in Geneva on "International Humanitarian Law and Diplomacy" which will be organized by the International Service for Human Rights. The beneficiaries of this program will then be expected to share their knowledge on the subject with their colleagues in the human rights movement.
The above training opportunities have been made possible through UNAMSIL.
Meanwhile, an intensive training program for Sierra Leonean human rights activists is scheduled to take place in Banjul, Gambia in February 2000. The training is being put together jointly by Interights and Alliances for Africa, both based in the United Kingdom. The training will focus on the use of the African Charter for People's and Human Rights and will be attended by over 20 activists from Sierra Leone. UNAMSIL has assisted the organizers in the identification of trainees and has collaborated closely with all potential participants.
UNAMSIL training the local Police, Army on human rights
The Human Rights Section of UNAMSIL has, over the last three months, carried out human rights trainings for over 300 officers of the Sierra Leonean Police Force as part of the mandate of the Mission to provide technical support to local governmental and non-governmental agencies in the area of human rights education. UNAMSIL is also working on a project to provide training on international human rights and international humanitarian law for the new Sierra Leonean Army.
The human rights training program for the police was launched last year at the Police Training College at Hastings but had to be abandoned in the aftermath of January 6 due to the destruction of the college and the evacuation of UNAMSIL personnel. In September 1999 the program kicked off again and has been taking place every week at the Kingtom Police Barracks in Freetown. The trainings include an introduction to basic international and constitutional rights such as the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of movement, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. The trainings follow an intensive and highly interactive methodology developed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the training of law enforcement officers worldwide. In Sierra Leone, the police training by UNAMSIL is conducted in close collaboration with the Commonwealth Expert Team as well as Forum of Conscience, a local non-Governmental organization (NGO) with a focus on human rights education for the police. The NGO is separately working on a training manual for the police titled: "Ten Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials in Sierra Leone" with technical support from UNAMSIL.
UN working with SL Government on creation of key human rights institutions
NAMSIL, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, is working closely with the Government of Sierra Leone to ensure the speedy creation of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the independent Human Rights Commission (HRC) pursuant to Articles XXV and XXVl of the Lome Peace Accord.
Between August and October, two international experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights undertook visits to Sierra Leone at the request of the Government to look into modalities of creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone. The consultants held extensive discussions with top government officials including the President and the Attorney General and agreed on the steps to be undertaken with a view to a speedy creation of the TRC. Following their visit, the consultants prepared a draft legislation on the TRC which has been widely circulated for comments. At the same time, the Special Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on National Institutions carried out two missions to Sierra Leone where he held discussions with the Government and the civil society on the creation of an independent Human Rights Commission in Sierra Leone. The idea of the creation of this institution was first proposed by President Kabbah in his address to the Nation in April and was reinforced by its inclusion in the Lome Peace Accord. Following his visit to Sierra Leone, the Special Adviser made extensive recommendations on the modalities of the creation of this institution.
With the creation of these two institutions, the Government of Sierra Leone will be in full compliance with its obligations under the Lome Peace Accord on the creation of human rights institutions. It is expected that members of the civil society in Sierra Leone, especially the human rights community, will play an active role in the deliberations leading up to the establishment of these important institutions.
UNAMSIL Helping Government/ Local NGOs with Reports under Convention of the Rights of the Child
An NGO working group on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) has completed the task of preparing a report to be presented before the Committee on the Rights of the Child when Sierra Leone comes under examination by the Committee on January 13 2000. The project was undertaken with key technical support from UNAMSIL. Through the help of UNICEF, a number of NGO representatives will be able to attend the session in Geneva. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL has been working closely with the Government in preparation for the session and has received assurances that the government will be sending a delegation to present its official report as required under the provisions of the Convention.