The Sierra Leone Web


Speech by H.E. the President
Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
At the formal launching of the
National Commission for War-Affected Children
Freetown, Monday 24th February 2003


Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Whenever I have the opportunity to speak on issues directly related to the welfare of children, or to attend a public function for their benefit, I do so with a deep sense of personal obligation and satisfaction.

Over the past six years we have established a number of statutory Commissions to address such issues as corruption, elections, the activities of the media, and for truth and reconciliation. These are all necessary components of nation-building and the consolidation of the peace. However, the establishment of an institution dedicated exclusively to facilitate and monitor implementation of Government's policies for the benefit of children is, in my view one of the most far-reaching decisions we have made for the future of this nation. As the adage goes, 'children are the future.' At the same time, we should not forget that the future is also NOW, and that children occupy a vital part of the present world.


One of the barometers of a nation's development is the state and welfare of its children. For a country emerging from conflict, I believe that the prospects for sustainable development in Sierra Leone could be measured by the quality of care and protection we provide for the most seriously affected victims of the rebel war, namely our children. As I told the nation two years ago, on the fortieth anniversary of our independence, the development of children and the protection of their rights to growth in an environment of peace should be at the centre of our commitment to creating a self-reliant nation. The Commission we are here to formally launch is a concrete symbol of that commitment.

The idea of according special attention to the plight of children affected by the rebel war was of course based on their inherent and God-giving right -- the right to receive special care and protection, especially in times of crises. We solemnly reaffirmed this in the preamble to the Lomé Peace Agreement with the rebels. We also took the initiative of formalizing our obligation to protect, by including in the Agreement a provision for the establishment of a mechanism to benefit the most vulnerable victims of the conflict -- children.

As a Party to that great Magna Carta for children, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, Government was also required, and is still required, "to take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict" and to promote physical and psychological recovery and social integration of child victims of, among other things, armed conflict.

Of course, even the drafters of the Convention and similar human rights instruments realize that it is not always easy to translate those noble ideals into action, especially in developing countries such as Sierra Leone. This is where we wish to pay tribute to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ambassador Olara Otunnu, for mobilizing international cooperation and assistance to enhance our national effort for the benefit of the children of Sierra Leone.

I would like to extend a special welcome to you Ambassador Otunnu on this, I believe, your third visit to Sierra Leone since the outbreak of the conflict. You Mr. Ambassador, and the dedicated staff of UNICEF are, in a sense, part of the eyes of the international community. You have seen, first hand, the impact of the brutal and prolonged rebel war on our children. You have contributed immensely to the international response to their plight.

Your presence here today, Mr. Otunnu, is significant because you are among the leading pioneers of this new institution. In your 15-point "Agenda for Action for the Children of Sierra Leone" you used your diplomatic skill in articulating our concern for the welfare of child victims and perpetrators of the brutal rebel war. The Agenda paved the way for the establishment of the Commission for War-Affected Children. In a sense it also subsequently, amplified Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plea that the international community should not forget the people of Sierra Leone.

Chairman, while we celebrate the birth of this new mechanism for child advocacy in Sierra Leone, I think this is also an opportunity for me to touch on challenges that we face in ensuring that the Commission fulfills its responsibilities, indeed its obligations to the war-affected children. I can assure you that expectations are high. We can see these expectations in the eyes of the thousands of children who are still traumatized; children waiting eagerly to be physically and emotionally healed; children waiting to enjoy their inalienable right to live in a peaceful environment, their right not to be exploited by warlords and other disgruntled individuals, their right to adequate food and shelter, and of course their right to be heard.

Therefore, if this Commission is to function effectively, it must be equipped with all the necessary human and material resources we can muster here at home and abroad. The creation of a statutory institution of this nature is only the first step in addressing the needs of this vulnerable segment of our population. We have a collective responsibility to make the Commission fully operational.

Chairman, if it lacks dedicated Commissioners and personnel; if its structure is weakened by administrative ineptitude; if it is not afforded adequate financial resources for its operation; if it fails to secure the support of our development partners, it will be a Commission only in name. In fact one can venture to say that these would be tantamount to a collective infringement of the basic human rights of the war-affected children.

Our challenge then is to make this Commission work effectively. It must not be allowed to fail. We cannot fail the children. They deserve nothing less.

I would like to assure that my Government is committed to providing support for the activities of the Commission, as an integral part of its own national development strategy.

I now have the honour of formally launching the new National Commission for War-Affected Children.