Sierra Leone

UNAMSIL Press Briefing 24 Jan 2003

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YOUSEF HAMDAN CHIEF OF PUBLIC INFORMATION

Good afternoon and welcome to today's briefing. Let me first tell you that the trip of Mr. Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has been postponed and a time is yet to be finalized. I will let you know as soon as possible when he is going to visit and when the briefing is going to take place. Mr. Rodolfo Mattarollo, Chief of the Human Rights Section in UNAMSIL, is here with us to answer your questions with regards to the Human Rights Watch report. In the meantime, we will start with Masimba who is going to give you the news.

Masimba Tafirenyika: SENIOR UN REFUGEE OFFICIAL VISITS SIERRA LEONE TO OBSERVE UNHCR OPERATIONS

Continuing her trip through West Africa, a senior official from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stopped in Freetown on 21 January, Sierra Leone, for scheduled talks with President Ahmed Kabbah. The Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Mary Ann Wyrsch, who is more than halfway through her mission to four West African nations, said during her two-day visit to UNHCR operations in inland areas of Sierra Leone that she was impressed with the progress made in the country despite a lack of resources. She also spent some time in Kenema and Nyandehu to observe the reintegration activities for returned Sierra Leoneans. UNHCR's operations in West Africa are particularly difficult because of the ongoing conflict in Sierra Leone and Liberia and the recent strife in Côte d'Ivoire. Funding poses an additional challenge to the agency, and a lack of resources caused the temporary suspension of its repatriation activities for Sierra Leoneans last year. Ms. Wyrsch is in the region not only to assess the operation of refugee camps but also to discuss administrative, financial and management issues with staff members there, as well as to meet with senior government officials and community leaders. From Sierra Leone, she is scheduled visit Liberia tomorrow and Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday. In Guinea, the first stop on her 11-day trip, Ms. Wyrsch expressed her gratitude to the government for its long-standing support to refugees despite the heavy strain it places on the country's tenuous economy. UNHCR estimates that Guinea is currently hosting more than 190,000 refugees, mostly from Liberia and Sierra Leone

UN ENVOY VISITS LIBERIAN REFUGEES IN C=D4TE D'IVOIRE

The United Nations top envoy for the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire continued her month-long mission in the region and made a stop on 22 January at a refugee camp housing thousands of Liberians seeking shelter from the sporadic fighting.

Carolyn McAskie, the Secretary-General's Humanitarian Envoy for the Crisis in Côte d'Ivoire, visited the refugee camp at Nicla, which is now home to some 7,000 Liberian, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

According to OCHA, the United Nations is gravely concerned for the well being of the camp's residents, as Liberian refugees have been discriminated against since the outbreak of violence in Côte d'Ivoire. Further complicating their situation are the roadblocks set up by youth groups to limit their movements. No neighbouring country has responded to the UN's request to provide them with asylum.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:

Q: A lot of Sierra Leoneans are worried about the disappearance of Johnny Paul Koroma who has been a key player in this country. I want to ask what's UNAMSIL is doing about it. Is it not another setback in the peace process?

Maj Galadima Shekari: The ongoing problem has very little to do with our operation in the mission. This is a national security problem. The national security agencies are working around the clock to see how best the problem can be resolved.

Mr. Hamdan: We'll now ask Mr. Mattarollo to briefly highlight to you the general policy of UNAMSIL with regards to any allegation of sexual abuse.

Rodolfo Mattarollo: First of all we greet the release of this new report of sexual violence against Sierra Leone as a very important step forward. We collaborate with NGOs, both national and international, in investigating cases and situations of abuse. In our view, the publication of this report which is available on the web is a very important contribution to clarify this dramatic period in the life of Sierra Leone and one of the most egregious human right violation and grave breaches of international humanitarian laws committed in your country during the protracted armed conflict. At the same time, we are very proud of a mention made by the authors of the report on page 72 and I quote, "The Physicians for Human Rights Report on conflict-related sexual violence was produced in collaboration with the UNAMSIL Human Rights Section and has contributed to focusing the attention of the international community on the issue of sexual violence."

That was the first report until the publication of the Human Rights Watch survey, the most comprehensive investigation on sexual violence against women in Sierra Leone during the conflict. Regarding the report recently published by Human Rights Watch, we see that they documented over 300 cases of sexual violence committed by rebels, page 3 and several cases of sexual violence by peacekeepers, page 4. To give you an idea of the universe of cases studied, we can read on page 27 the following: "MSF and farway (?) provided medical treatment and counseling to 1,862 female survivors of sex violence who had been raped or abducted during the invasion of Freetown on 6 January 1999. According to MSF, 55% reported having been gang-raped and 200 have become pregnant."

This is a matter of concern for Sierra Leone civil society and the international community. We should continue investigating and looking for ways for reparation and redress. At the same time, UNAMSIL has a politics of zero tolerance regarding these kind of abuses. It is not a secret that in the report several cases allegedly committed by peacekeepers are mentioned. In all these cases, UNAMSIL conducted investigations. There are five cases mentioned. In the five cases we conducted investigations. As in all the cases in which we received information through the Force or other structures as the Human Rights Section, investigations have been conducted. But there is more than that.

There is a politics of prevention of abuses consisting of the establishment of several committees and training programmes for peacekeepers, CIVPOL and personnel conducted by UNAMSIL Human Rights Section, namely the gender specialist and our colleagues that are working in the field. We have what is called the UPCC, UNAMSIL Personnel Conduct Committee in which the Human Rights Section is represented, to receive complaints from persons outside of the Mission on conduct impropriety by members of UNAMSIL. Reports can be made to the committee whether in writing or by telephone lines established for this purpose. The public awareness programme targeting both civilians and military in the code of conduct of UN personnel, with particular emphasis on the protection of vulnerable groups including women and children, has also been developed.

There is a second committee, the Inter-Agency Coordination Committee, that was also formed in Sierra Leone under the chair of OCHA to coordinate actions required to respond to initial allegations and to establish strenuous systems to stop further cases of sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers. These initial allegations are related to previous reports that you probably remember on humanitarian workers especially known as the Coordination Committee on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. This committee includes UNAMSIL, the government of Sierra Leone, OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, and international humanitarian NGOs.

Q: Will the Special Court succeed in Sierra Leone?

Mr. Mattarollo: These questions should be addressed to the Special Court. What I can say from a human rights point of view is that this behaviour when it is an expression of a widespread attack against the civilian population, when it is systematic and committed on a mass scale, can amount to crimes under international law. These are very serious human rights violations. But it is the prosecutor and the judges of the Special Court who should deal with these questions under the statute of the Special Court.

For us, from a human rights point of view, what we are doing is to carry out preliminary investigations because you have in your country two transitional justice bodies-the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and the Special Court. Our role was to conduct preliminary investigations during the period when these bodies were not established yet in your country. We continue giving some support when we are requested. For instance, we gave logistical and substantive support to the first mission of the forensic team in the judicial history of Sierra Leone last year. This is the kind of work we're doing regarding investigations, and we mentioned, we are actively involved in in-house training and training for NGOs for women and children's rights.

Mr. Hamdan: The spokesman for the Special Court, David Hecht, is here now. Perhaps he would like to make any comment with regards to this particular question.

Mr. David Hecht: Simply, what Mr. Mattarollo said is accurate. And the decision of who is to be prosecuted is the prosecutor's alone, and he's certainly looking at all the evidence. I'm sure he's aware of this report and taking that into account.

Q: Many Sierra Leoneans would like to see justice done. What punishment are you going to levy on those who will be convicted of these human rights violations?

Mr. Hamdan: Are you talking specifically of the cases in the Human Rights Watch Report?

Q: Yes.

Mr. Mattarollo: Again this is a question for the spokesman of the Special Court. Again, I have no difficulty to invite you to read the statute of the Special Court in which you have the catalogue of punishments, penalties that can be imposed for those people found guilty. The principal punishment is imprisonment for a specific number of years. This is the exact wording of the statute. But this is in case the person is found guilty by the Court for one of the crimes listed in the statute.

Q: What would be the punishment levied on peacekeepers who are guilty of sexual violence?

Mr. Mattarollo: There is a procedure in the UN that deals with these cases. When I said that this procedure was observed it means that when there were allegations, these allegations were investigated. In some cases it was an investigation within the Force and the Provost Marshall. In other cases the investigation was conducted by the Human Rights Section by our Child Rights Specialist or Gender Specialist. In these cases when there are grounds to think that one staff member is responsible for misconduct, one sanction is repatriation, and if this misconduct amounts to a serious breach of discipline or of criminal law, there are disciplinary or criminal investigations that should be carried out by the sender state in the case of peacekeepers. However, there is a responsibility of the UN and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the Headquarters in New York in following up these cases, in which way the sender state was acting when the person in question was repatriated. This is the established procedure.

Mr. Hamdan: I wish you a nice weekend everybody. Thank you very much.

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