The Sierra Leone Web



ON 30 JULY 1998

Mr. Secretary-General
Distinguished Representatives
Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, I wish to express my sincere gratitude to you Mr. Secretary-General, the entire United Nations system and the other sponsors and co-sponsors in organizing this special Conference. Let me also express our thanks to all the distinguished representatives of governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations present here to participate in this meeting.

Mr. Chairman,

We see this gathering as an act of solidarity with the people of Sierra Leone. More importantly, we see it also as a concrete assurance of your determination to join forces with us in finding substantive solutions to the critical political, social and economic problems, including those which emerged over the past fourteen months, and which continue to afflict our people. For this we are grateful.


Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Representatives,

We recognize that the primary responsibility of Government is to safeguard the security of the State as well as the life and well-being of our citizens. Political stability is a hallmark of that responsibility. The truth of the matter is that in the last thirty years of our history as an independent nation, Sierra Leone has experienced three military coups, at least seven attempted coups, and two so-called "palace coups" in when one military regime displaced another. During this period a culture of military indiscipline, lack of accountability, compounded by greed and economic mismanagement, took deep roots in our country. The political and economic situation in Sierra Leone was thus precariously unstable.

It was against this background that in 1996 the people of Sierra Leone took that dramatic step forward towards reversing that situation by electing once again a government of their choice. The election, observed by the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the United States Labour Congress, and many other non-governmental organizations, was declared free and fair. I was elected and given the mandate to bring to an end to the political and economic problems which had marred and stifled the progress of our nation far too long.

Equipped with this mandate, we embarked on realistic programme of economic rehabilitation and reconstruction. As a result, investors' confidence was restored to a considerable extent. Mr. Chairman, Distinguished representatives, our performance in this regard, during those fifteen months of democratic rule, is on record.

Concurrently with the programme of economic reconstruction, my Government gave priority to the process of ending the rebel war which had devastated the country for over four years. Consistent with its policy of peace and political reconciliation, it concluded a negotiated settlement with the leadership of the rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The settlement which became known as the Abidjan Peace Accord, was concluded with the assistance of the Government of Cote d'Ivoire, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Commonwealth.

While my Government was fully engaged in implementing the Agreement, including the granting of general amnesty to all members of the RUF; facilitating the work of a joint commission for the consolidation of peace; mobilizing United Nations and other international assistance for demobilization of combatants, the RUF rebel movement was busy undermining the Agreement by continuing its atrocities against innocent citizens, including children. The RUF also obstructed United Nations involvement in monitoring implementation of the Abidjan Accord. My Government has in its possession credible evidence that the leader of the RUF had no intention of implementing the Agreement he had signed with us in 1996.

My Government was however determined to enhance and strengthen the security of the State by ensuring that the army would henceforth devote itself entirely to its primary task of defending the nation and its democratic institutions.

Our best endeavours notwithstanding, unpatriotic elements of the army, in May 1997, suddenly struck again by brute force, toppled the democratically elected government and confiscated power. The most bizarre feature of that dastardly act was that the army not only overthrew the democratically elected government by force, it entered into an unholy alliance with the RUF rebels who had absolutely no agenda other than to loot, kill, rape and maim innocent citizens. During the nine-month illegal occupation of the seat of power, this unholy alliance of junta and rebels unleashed terror, violence and death on the people of Sierra Leone. In the view of many observers, the extent and gravity of their inhuman behaviour have surpassed many gruesome atrocities perpetrated on innocent civilians in other parts of the world; behaviour which, in many ways, defy human and rational comprehension.

Mr. Chairman, distinguished representatives,

The international community will soon observe the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is in the spirit of the principles enshrined in that document, and on behalf of the thousands of innocent Sierra Leoneans, including children, victims of gross human rights abuses by the junta, that we have decided to show you a short video of some graphic details of the atrocities. The irony, a sad one I must add, is that most of the pictures were taken by the junta itself. For what purpose, one may ask? They will now have to explain to the people of Sierra Leone and to the international community at large, why they recorded those incidents. I must caution that some representatives here may find the video too graphic and gruesome to watch.

Despite the killings and acts of terrorism, Sierra Leoneans remained steadfast and refused to succumb to the hated military-rebel dictatorship. At last, and faithful to its mandate, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), through its monitoring group ECOMOG, reversed the coup on 12 February 1998. With extraordinary professional skill, ECOMOG took over Freetown from the junta, and members of my Government were able to resume their functions upon my return to the capital on 10 March 1998. This successful and happy reversal of the events of May 1997, were made possible through the efforts of our people, with the assistance of ECOMOG, the OAU, the Commonwealth, and the United Nations, among others. I wish, once again to express our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to all the governments, especially the Government of Nigeria, and organizations which responded generously in our hour of need.

Following their expulsion, remnants of the junta/RUF rebel alliance retreated to remote but economically vital areas of the country, and in furtherance of what they callously describe as "operation no living thing" unleashed more gruesome atrocities such as the deliberate amputation of hands, limbs, and other parts of the human anatomy, as well as the burning of civilian homes, villages and plantations. The United Nations and its specialized agencies, the European Union, and Amnesty International, have all seen evidence of these and have published reports on the atrocities committed by the rebels against innocent civilians, including children.

Incidentally, notwithstanding the acts of murder and terror which the rebels and remnants of the junta continue to inflict on innocent civilians, my Government, in a spirit of national reconciliation, recently extended by two weeks, its offer to receive members of the junta and rebels who lay down their arms and surrender to ECOMOG.


Mr. Chairman,

Peace and security should, obviously, be considered in the context of our capacity to pursue and achieve those objectives. Indeed, we cannot talk about peace-building without reference to the material elements -- the blocks, mortar and tools – needed for the foundation of such a structure of national development. Our plans for reconstruction and long-term economic recovery are attainable. However, in the final analysis they would be meaningless, if we do not vigorously deal with the complicated problems of security. As you are aware, our original plans were derailed by the events of May 1997. So our strategy for long-term development, and our current security needs are in fact complimentary.

ECOMOG, assisted by the Civil Defence Force (CDF), has continued its objective of restoring security in those parts of the country where the rebels and remnants of the junta continue to operate. But, Mr. Chairman, ECOMOG has been experiencing logistics and related problems in its effort to rid the affected areas of those destructive elements, and to restore normal community life there. There is thus an urgent need for additional material and logistics support for ECOMOG, which until now has been sustained almost entirely by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, assisted by the Republics of Guinea and Ghana, as well as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Additional peace-keeping forces committed by other sub-regional States cannot be deployed for lack of funds. Permit me in this connection, to express our thanks to the Security Council for its recent unanimous decision to establish a United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone. We have now signed the status of mission agreement, and we look forward to the deployment of the first batch of observers who, as expected, would be working closely with ECOMOG.

Mr. Chairman, we fear that unless assistance for ECOMOG is forthcoming, as a matter of urgency, the rebel activities will not only continue and create more human tragedy, but will also drain our limited resources. We will, unfortunately, be compelled by circumstances to divert our attention from the important task of medium and long-term economic development effort for the improvement and well being of our people.

Meanwhile, I should add here that the poor conditions of the roads, bridges and social infrastructures such as schools, administrative and health facilities in the rural areas of the country, have greatly deterred progress in establishing normal lives in those areas, and have seriously compromised our capacity to resettle refugees and the displaced. The urgent need for continued humanitarian assistance, including medicines, health care services and food, cannot be overemphasized. I have no doubt that this conference, while assessing the programme of economic recovery, will also give the plight and vulnerability of refugees and the displaced the attention which they deserve.


Mr. Chairman,

I have spoken briefly about the culture of the military indiscipline and lawlessness which have pervaded our society over the past several years. Where do we go from here? My Government has now embarked upon a comprehensive and far-reaching restructuring of the entire security forces. After consultations with Parliament and various components of society, we have decided to disband the unpatriotic army. Details of our proposals for demobilization of former combatants are contained in the Conference documents which are before you. It is our hope that after due consideration, adequate resources for its implementation will be forthcoming.

At the same time, I implore you to carefully examine the political, financial and other implications of demobilization, namely, the integration of former combatants. Obviously, our current unemployment problems -- many of them attributable to the coup and the rebel conflict, especially among youth -- would be compounded by the demobilization process. Again, this is why our long-term economic recovery programme is closely linked with current realities of security.

Looking ahead, we also plan to initiate a fresh recruitment process to put in place a new military. In this exercise we shall ensure that recruitment is based on competence, professional integrity, loyalty to our democratic institutions and patriotism. Equally important is that we shall take into account ethnic and regional considerations and ensure that the new security force truly reflects the diversity of our nation. As to the size of the new military, many Sierra Leoneans have expressed concern about the percentage of the old army which should be retained. The Government has, however, decided to keep its options open. Although experience in the Civil Defence Force (CDF) will be useful, it will not be the sole criterion for recruitment into the new army. The CDF will, as its name implies, be a civilian security system at the district and local levels. Some members would return to their previous or new civilian occupations. Those who wish to do so would be called upon for national service, as and when necessary.

Mr. Chairman,

As part of the long-term strategy of security, we shall also look into the question of whether we should in fact have an army at all. The Costa Rican and Panamanian formulas should provide some guidance in this regard. However, I should emphasize that before considering this as an option, we should definitely have to take into account the availability of a regional or sub-regional multilateral force, such as ECOMOG, to meet the security needs of small and relatively weak states such as Sierra Leone. The availability of such a force would, undoubtedly, enable us to devote our limited resources to economic development, improve the literacy rate in our country, facilitate employment opportunities and job training, and thus help to eradicate some of the causes of political and economic instability which have plagued the nation over the past several decades. I therefore urge participants at this Conference to seriously consider this idea because of its potential for sustainable development and lasting peace in our part of the world.


Mr. Chairman, distinguished representatives,

I am proud to say that Sierra Leone as a nation, under the present democratically elected government, is based on the rule of law. This is why in the treatment of the members of the junta who were rounded up and detained, the Government has resorted to the existing legal process of trying these persons in a court of law after due investigation. No new offences have been created for this purpose. The procedural charges which were effected were made merely to speed up the trials which would otherwise have lasted for over a year. Due process has not been denied nor compromised.

My Government has insisted and continues to insist that the trials should be transparent and fair. They are held in public, with the accused persons given every opportunity and facility to defend themselves. The trials are witnessed by international observers, comprising lawyers from the International Bar Association, the United Nations, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. In addition to observing the proceedings, these observers are given unrestricted access to the accused persons. They also avail themselves of the opportunity of meeting the Attorney-General as often as possible to discuss relevant maters pertaining to the trials.

Also, following the ousting of the junta in February, many members of that illegal regime and their collaborators surrendered themselves to the security forces for their own personal safety, and for fear that the citizens against whom they had perpetrated much atrocities, might take revenge. About fifty percent of those now in custody belong to that category. My Government has set up an independent Committee headed by one of the most senior practicing lawyers and a former Director of Public Prosecutions in the country, and with members drawn from civil society, to investigate the reasons for their detention. Based on the investigation the Committee will order the immediate release of those against whom no charges relating to the coup or the role of the junta can be preferred. The Committee has been in session since June, and it is hoped that at the end of its assignment, within a few more weeks, there will be no one in custody against whom a charge would not have been preferred.

A third on-going process involves those members of the junta and their collaborators who are soldiers. They are currently facing various charges before a court martial for their alleged roles in, and following the coup.

Again, let me emphasize that these trials are held in public. They are transparent and open to international observers and the media. They are conducted under the existing military law applicable to such trials, which are not dissimilar to what generally obtains in other common law jurisdictions.

Just before my departure for this Conference, Corporal Foday Sankoh, the leader of the RUF rebels, called on his supporters to stop their atrocities. Corporal Sankoh is a Sierra Leonean, and as far as we are concerned, like every other Sierra Leonean he is subject to the rule of law.

In spite of several constraints now facing my Government, and considering the gravity of the crimes committed by those on trial, as well as the justifiable anger of the public openly manifested against the accused persons, we have resisted the popular clamour for revenge. We have also resisted the demand for the enactment of draconian laws and measures to deal with the present situation. Instead, we shall ensure that the rule of law prevails in these matters, because we are convinced that this is one important way of strengthening our fledging democracy and nurturing the principle justice which we espouse.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished representatives,

Throughout this troubled period in the annals of my country, you have not only shared our pain and agony, but you have also translated your concern for the welfare of our people into practical action. For this, we are most grateful. The convening of this special conference and your presence here today underscore the reality of the current situation in Sierra Leone; articulate our immediate concerns; re-examine some of the strategies which we have devised to restore and maintain security, and achieve long-term political and economic stability in our country.

I shall closely follow your deliberations, and trust that they will, subsequently, yield concrete results which will form part of the solid foundation for national development which we are committed to reconstruct for our people who continue to pay the heavy price for their defence of democracy.

I thank you.