Sierra Leone

UNAMSIL Press Briefing 17 Jan 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
(Near Verbatim)

Good morning and welcome to today's briefing. I'm pleased to welcome our guest, David Hecht, Public Relations Officer for the Special Court. He will give you an update on the work of the Special Court and he will be prepared to answer your questions. After that my colleague Masimba will give you some update on UNAMSIL news.

David Hecht: Early this month, the Special Court of Sierra Leone began to move to its permanent site in New England near the center of Freetown. Construction is still under way. Only the Registry, the administrative branch of the Court, has so far relocated there. The registrar, Robin Vincent, said we are going to operating on the construction site for the next six months, but we are on our way to becoming an International Criminal Court on schedule to complete our mandate.

We live in a half-acre site for the Court which was provided by the Government of Sierra Leone. The land is rocky with thick undergrowth and had a number of condemned and abandoned buildings in it, including a former prison training school. In August 2002 the registry contracted the Sierra Leone company, Sierra Construction Systems, to begin clearing the site. The company also erected a perimeter fence, renovating two of the former cells of the prison school which will be used as a detention center for the Court, and it laid the foundation for the complex of offices. One hundred eighty-eight prefabricated container site structures were shipped from Slovenia and arrived on the docks of Freetown in December 2002. A team of technicians also arrived from Slovenia and over the holidays worked with Sierra Construction Systems to assemble the structure into 15 office blocks. Some staff of the Registry worked over the holiday period to move documents and equipment out of the bank complex and into six of the newly assembled office blocks. The rest of the Registry staff moved in when they returned from leave. The Registry can now begin to expand, said Mr. Vincent.

We are extremely grateful for the Bank of Sierra Leone for having let us use their building and for the Government of Sierra Leone's assistance in making the arrangements. We have started to run out of space there for the new employees that are coming on board. The overall employees of the Court is set to increase from 70 to over 200 in the coming months. New recruits have already been employed in the Registry with skills in areas such as information technology, security, and witness and victim support. Staff members will also increase for other branches of the Court, in part for the judges and the defence. The Prosecutor has already recruited most of his staff by the end of November 2002. They will continue working in their temporary premises until their offices on the permanent site are complete.

The final phase of the construction will be the courthouse. The Registry is currently tendering bids for the design. The building is to be completed in mid 2003. It will be the centerpiece of the Special Court complex and a landmark for the city of Freetown. The office of public affairs will soon be inviting journalists to tour the site. Those of you who came on the tour we organized a few months ago may find the site hard to recognize with all the building that is taking place.


Q: When will the Prosecutor start making arrests and handing out indictments?

Mr. David Hecht: That question which is everybody is asking since the Special Court became established can only be answered by the Prosecutor.


As the United Nations Security Council on 14 January debated measures to protect children in armed conflict, top UN officials stressed that "naming and shaming" parties that continue to recruit and use child soldiers will send a clear signal that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions.

"By exposing those who violate standards for the protection of children to the light of public scrutiny, we are serving notice that the international community is finally willing to back expressions of concern with action," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said at the outset of the day-long open debate involving over 40 speakers. Naming the parties that continued to use child soldiers will also ensure that "the hard-won gains in crafting a protection regime for children are applied and put into practice on the ground," he added.

The meeting was sparked by the Secretary-General's recent groundbreaking report on children and armed conflict, which for the first time lists 23 parties to conflicts on the Council's agenda, including both governments and insurgents, that continue to recruit or use child soldiers. Besides focusing on the situations in Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia, the report also highlights other hot spots not on the Council's agenda where demobilization and/or reintegration programmes for child combatants are under way.

Mr. Annan said this morning that the list represents an important step forward and has "opened a new era of monitoring and reporting on how parties treated children during conflict." He added that following systematic monitoring and reporting on compliance by listed parties, targeted measures against those who continued to flout their international obligations should be considered.

In his statement to the Council, UN Under-Secretary-General Olara A. Otunnu, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the list of parties breaks new ground - signaling the end of impunity for those who exploited and brutalized children and the beginning of an "era of application."

Mr. Otunnu welcomed the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the limit for compulsory recruitment at 18, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which classifies the conscription, enlistment or use of hostilities of children under 15 as war crimes. "The most pressing challenge now is how to translate those measures into a protective regime that can save children in danger," he said.

He therefore urged Council members to use the list to send a clear message that parties to conflict will be held accountable for their actions. Mr. Otunnu recommended that the Council seize the momentum of the day to, among other things, call on parties to immediately stop recruiting child soldiers. He suggested that the Council consider taking targeted measures against the mentioned parties, including travel restrictions on leaders and their exclusion from any governance structures and amnesty provisions.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said that at any given time, an estimated 300,000 children across the globe were serving as soldiers -- living proof of the world's systematic failure to protect children. She was convinced that the naming and shaming of those parties who recruited or used child soldiers would help to establish a culture of accountability, one that could counteract the prevailing cruelty and indifference which children face and prevent such abuses from occurring in the future.

Ms. Bellamy urged Council members to consider the list in all their deliberations, and to update it regularly, expanding its scope to include parties to armed conflict in situations not now on the Council's agenda. The list could be used not only to pressure those who violated children's rights, but also to support and encourage progress. For its part, UNICEF would use the list to intensify its advocacy efforts, both globally and locally, she said.

She also said recent allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced children and women in West Africa has served as a wake-up call for the entire international community. The message was simple -- efforts to protect children and women in such circumstances had been inadequate. She called on the Council to follow up on its recent Presidential Statement on the Protection of Civilians, which encouraged States, particularly troop contributing countries, to adopt the six core principles developed by the Inter Agency Task Force to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation.


After submitting a revised mandate for the United Nations Peace-building Support Office in Liberia (UNOL), Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that he is still waiting to hear from Freetown about the proposed changes.

In a letter to the President of the Security Council released yesterday, 16 January, at UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General says the Government of Liberia's initial reaction to his proposal was that the text was being carefully studied and that its response would be conveyed soon.

Last November, the Council asked the Secretary-General to make recommendations concerning the mandate of UNOL as part of its comprehensive strategy for dealing with the situation in Liberia. The 15-nation body suggested that the Office work to offer assistance to the Liberian authorities and to the public for strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law, contribute to and monitor the preparation of free and fair elections in 2003, and enhance and monitor respect for human rights in Liberia.

The Council also proposed that UNOL promote national reconciliation and resolution of the conflict, support the Government of Liberia in the implementation of peace agreements to be adopted, and engage in an educational campaign to present accurately UN policies and activities regarding Liberia.

"These changes to the mandate of UNOL should increase its capacity for objective reporting on the situation in Liberia," the Council President said in a letter to the Secretary-General, who had proposed extending the Office's mandate for an additional year until 31 December 2003.


Members of the United Nations Security Council on 10 January voiced concern that the Government of Sierra Leone has not yet fully re-established control in parts of the country, including the diamond-producing areas, and urged authorities in Freetown to make rapid progress with this, including by adopting a policy for the diamond sector.

Reading a statement to the press, the current Council President, Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière of France, said members shared the concerns of Secretary-General Kofi Annan about the regional security situation, reiterating the importance of relaunching the political dialogue among Mano River Union countries. They stressed the need to find a solution to the conflicts in Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, and encouraged the efforts undertaken by States engaged in helping to find such a solution.

Council Members welcomed the initial work underway in the Special Court for Sierra Leone and reiterated their full support for the Court as well as for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "These are important elements of the reconciliation process in Sierra Leone," Ambassador de La Sablière said.

The statement welcomed the progress made by the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) in its restructuring and the first two phases of its drawdown plans. Members underlined the importance of the Government continuing to strengthen the army and police, including through adequate logistical and infrastructural support, so that they can soon assume full responsibility for security.

Members also welcomed the news of progress with reintegration, and encouraged this to continue so that all ex-combatants will have received training by the end of 2003. "They also expressed their willingness to visit Sierra Leone on the occasion of the next Security Council mission in the region," the Council President said.

Earlier, Council members heard a briefing on the Secretary-General's latest report on UNAMSIL, and in their statement commended Mr. Annan and the Mission for their role in maintaining peace in Sierra Leone and for providing a platform for post-conflict reconstruction.


United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) on 10 January helped respond to an attempted break-in where shots were fired as a number of people attempted to raid a military compound on the outskirts of Freetown early Monday morning.

The shooting occurred when the Sierra Leone Police, the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed forces (RSLAF) and UNAMSIL responded to an early morning call about an attempted break-in at a military barracks at the Aureol Tobacco Company in Calaba Town just outside the capital, Freetown.

A number of people were arrested and are now detained. The Sierra Leone Police and the RSLAF Military Police are jointly conducting a full investigation.

Yousef Hamdan: Thank you, Masimba. Let me just add one piece of information for you. In early February there will be an event that you may be interested in and that is the inauguration of the National Commission on War-affected Children as well as the inauguration of the very important radio programme, Voice of Children. Mr. Olara Otunnu, the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict is going to visit Freetown at that time during the first week of the month of February and he will be here for the inauguration of the Commission as well as the Voice of Children. This is what we have for you today and we will be ready to answer some of your questions.


Q: What are your findings on this recent attack on the Engineering Unit at Wellington? Is it true that it was the second attack on that Engineering Unit?

Mr. Hamdan: We informed you of what the role of UNAMSIL was concerning that incident. Acting in its support role, UNAMSIL helped in repelling the attack and the attack failed. It is within the competence of the national security authorities to take it up from there. Since that incident, the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) and the Armed Forces of Sierra Leone (RAFSL) have conducted a full investigation of the matter. Since this is purely the sphere of their competence, it is for them to give information as to what they have achieved so far. SLP has a public affairs officer who I am sure would be happy to answer whatever questions you have on the follow-up to that incident.

As far as UNAMSIL is concerned it has a support role. It played that role, and it is not part to the follow-up investigation. It is simply within the competence of the police and military police of Sierra Leone. I read as you did in the newspapers that this was not the first attack in that particular location. But I don't have any UNAMSIL information on that earlier incident that was mentioned in the press today. Unfortunately Maj. Shekari, the Military Spokesman, is unable to attend this meeting. I am willing to check whether we have any information as regards to a similar incident a month earlier.

Q: Human Rights Watch came out with a report recently with a lot of accusations against peacekeepers, the former RUF, ECOMOG, etc. What is UNAMSIL's reaction to these accusations?

Mr. Hamdan: I'm aware of the human rights report. I only received it this morning. I know that there are some accusations towards UNAMSIL. I need to get from the Human Rights Section a response to that and I will make sure that in next week's briefing you will get a response to those allegations in the report. What I can tell you now is that the OIOS, which is the Office of Internal Oversight Services, has dealt with this matter. UNAMSIL has done a vigorous work in order to get to the bottom of those allegations. There is a report as regards to the allegation forwarded by the Office of Oversight indicating that UNAMSIL has and will take the strongest measures in order to deal with any allegation.

This morning I discussed with the Human Rights Section the issue with the report and they had promised this morning that they are going to provide me with their response. I will be happy to share that response with all of you. It is possible that we could bring in a next week a guest from the Human Rights Section in order to give you an update.

Q: Would that be too late?

Mr. Hamdan: I don't think it would be too late. If you could come around, I may be able to give you the information earlier.

Q: UNAMSIL is rounding up its mission in Sierra Leone. Do you think the Wellington incident is an early warning sign to make them review their mandate of staying?

Mr. Hamdan: You say UNAMSIL is wrapping up early. I don't know if this is an accurate description of the situation. There is a drawdown, adjustment process that is going to be commensurate to the security situation, and every concern is going to be addressed. The Secretary-General submitted a report to the Security Council who will decide. The main point to remember is that any drawdown is going to be an adjustment, carefully reviewing what is the situation on the ground.

Q: What is your own general assessment about last Monday's incident(?). What assurance can you give Sierra Leone since UNAMSIL has started withdrawing its troops?

Mr. Hamdan: My assessment is that the entire country is stable. There was an unfortunate incident and it took a very short time to put it out. That incident proves that there is adequate means to respond to such incidents in a professional, competent and effective manner. This is what the government has done with help from UNAMSIL. However, in order to give an assessment as pertains to that particular incident, this is not for me to give because one needs to look into the investigation that is being conducted by the government of Sierra Leone. As far as I can tell you, the security situation as a whole is stable. There is a government press release regarding some incidents on the border of Liberia. The situation there now is stable, that all security forces concerned are prepared for any eventuality on that international border.

Q: Can you tell us which areas of the country the government has not established itself? Can you explain what are the problems specifically in the diamond mining area?

Mr. Hamdan: The Secretary-General's report mentioned the (lack of) government control specifically in the diamond area and the progress that has been made, but the indication is that there is more work to be done and this applies to government control, to licensing issues.

Q: Has illicit mining increased in the area?

Mr. Hamdan: I wish I could give you a detailed report on the illicit mining. But I'll be happy to give you more information later. Thank you all very much and we will see you next week.

UNAMSIL Headquarters, Mammy Yoko, P. O. Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone Tel: 232-22-273-183/4/5 Fax: 232-22-273-189