The Sierra Leone Web


Address by H.E. President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
to the Fifty-seventh session
of the United Nations General Assembly
Friday 20 September 2002


Mr. President
Mr. Secretary-General
Distinguished Delegates:

Two years ago I came to the rostrum of this august Assembly with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, my country had just witnessed an unprovoked attempt to derail the peace process. The United Nations mission (UNAMSIL) was still recovering from a brazen affront to its military capability and the authority of the Security Council. On the other hand, I was optimistic, first of all because the people of Sierra Leone had once again demonstrated their resolve to maintain their struggle for peace. I was also optimistic because the Security Council had responded appropriately, by giving UNAMSIL additional responsibilities within its mandate, and by increasing the troop level of the mission.

Today, I stand here with only one feeling, an overwhelming feeling of joy. At long last the rebel war in Sierra Leone is over. All combatants have been disarmed and demobilized. Reintegration is well under way. Over 55,000 ex-combatants are currently engaged in reintegration programme activities, ranging from formal education and vocational skills training to small scale trade, agriculture and community development. While the NCDDR (the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) is concentrating on the integration of ex-combatants, another national agency, the National Commission for Social Action is actively engaged in programmes that will benefit all categories of victims of the brutal war, particularly the most vulnerable population groups.

Most heartening of the recent positive development was the affirmation, four months ago by the people of Sierra Leone, that they would never forgo their constitutional right to choose their leaders freely through the ballot box. They sent a resounding message to the entire world that in Africa it is still possible to hold free and fair elections.

Mr. President,

Our objective was not merely to win the rebel war, but to defend the right of our people to live. We fought against a brutal attempt by a few who, with the assistance of forces within and outside the sub-region, were determined to assume power and gain unimpeded and perpetual access to our mineral resources. My primary objective as the democratically-elected leader was for us to win the peace. Today, I am pleased to say here that the people of Sierra Leone are working assiduously to win the peace.

We share the view that there cannot be real peace in Sierra Leone without justice. The support that we have so far received for the establishment of the Special Court to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious breaches of international humanitarian law and the national laws of Sierra Leone, should also be regarded as part of the peace dividend.

We are also convinced that we cannot speak about lasting peace in Sierra Leone without national reconciliation. Making the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) fully operational, after its inauguration in July 2002, has now become one of our major preoccupations. Let me add however that inadequate international support for the TRC could jeopardize prospects for national reconciliation which, you will agree with me, is one of the prerequisites of lasting pace.

Mr. President,

The victory that the people of Sierra Leone have so far achieved in the peace process is theirs, but not theirs alone. It is also a victory for the United Nations, ECOWAS and the entire international community. Indeed, it is a victory for humanity, for all those who cherish the dignity and worth of the human person. Therefore, let me take this opportunity on behalf of every Sierra Leonean, to express our profound and sincere gratitude to the United Nations family, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its monitoring group, ECOMOG, other regional, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations for their support in our prolonged struggle. This was a partnership for peace and security that we will never forget.

Mr. President,

With your permission I am obliged once again to single out for commendation some of our special friendly states who played a crucial role in that effort. I refer to the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Republics of Guinea, Ghana, Mali, and the United States of America and China, among others. We will always remember their place in the great partnership for peace and security that has wrenched Sierra Leone from the verge of total destruction. This is what collective responsibility is all about in our interdependent world.

Mr. President,

While we celebrate our mutual success, we should at the same time be aware of the challenges that we face, not only in Sierra Leone but also in the Mano River Union and West African sub-regions. Our success notwithstanding, the situation in our part of the Continent continues to pose a threat to international peace and security. That threat will remain and could increase if we fail to consolidate the gains that we have made in Sierra Leone. I should therefore like to reiterate my recent appeal to the United Nations and the international community as a whole to remain engaged in our national effort to consolidate our hard won peace. I was encouraged that following the May 2002 elections, the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council underscored the need to further consolidate what we have achieved so far.

The people of Sierra Leone and the international community have made considerable investment in material and human resources to bring us to the stage where we find ourselves today. It would be a terrible mistake if by sheer complacency, and the failure to adopt the appropriate course of action, we allow the country to slip back into armed conflict. We share the view of the Secretary-General, expressed in his latest report on UNAMSIL that the organization should ensure that the next phase of the Mission does not jeopardize the progress achieved so far in stabilizing Sierra Leone.

Mr. President,

Beyond Sierra Leone there are ominous signs of spill-over conflicts hovering around the sub-region. It would also be tragic if we underestimate the current threat to peace, and go on procrastinating about ways of preventing a spill-over.

How then do we go about ensuring, at least in the short run, that Sierra Leone sustains its newly-won peace? How do we contain the current hostilities in other spots across the border with Liberia? The need to address these questions has become more urgent as we approach the end of the current mandate of UNAMSIL. While looking forward to the new phase of this important instrument of peace, I thought that I should draw the attention of the Security Council through the Secretary-General, to some of the issues that could be taken into consideration and linked to the exit strategy of UNAMSIL.

Recently, I shared my thoughts on this and related matters in a letter which I addressed to the Secretary-General. The letter has since been circulated as a Security Council document S/2002/975 of 29th August 2002. Permit me Mr. President, to highlight some of the issues raised in that communication. These are issues related to the capacity of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the Sierra Leone Police to perform their respective functions more effectively throughout the country; the challenges facing us in the integration of all ex-combatants; the risks following from the turbulent situation in neighbouring Liberia, and particularly its repercussions for peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the Mano River Union as a whole; the danger of the apparent absence of a strategic plan by the international community to address the situation in Liberia, especially as the country approaches crucial elections next year; and finally, the delay in responding to the request for international assistance to ECOWAS in ensuring security on the borders shared by Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We are pleased that the Secretary-General has taken these and other issues into account in preparing his recommendations to the Security Council for a measured and phased down sizing of UNAMSIL. This will ensure that we do not provoke a new sense of insecurity in a population that has been traumatized for so long. I am also confident that the Security Council will consider the recommendations carefully, especially in the light of the Secretary-General's own assessment that the conflict in Liberia still constitutes the most serious threat to the stability that now prevails in Sierra Leone. Who will forget that the ten-year rebel war in Sierra Leone was launched from the territory of Liberia?

Mr. President,

The current state of peace and security in Sierra Leone and the rest of the Mano Union sub-region is obviously a matter of constant concern to us. However, as a member of the global community we are also seriously concerned about impediments to international cooperation for economic and social development; about threats to international peace and security, including the nuclear arms race and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations; and about the rights of such vulnerable population groups as children and people with disabilities. All these often require appropriate multilateral agreements or arrangements to ensure that they are effectively addressed.

Never since the end of the Second World War has multilateralism become such an essential tool for resolving international disputes and for enhancing the well-being of peoples everywhere. Sierra Leone therefore attaches the utmost importance to the strengthening of multilateral cooperation as reflected by such recent conferences as the Financing for Development, and Sustainable Development. These provide effective platforms for articulating the interests of all states, and for devising common strategies to collectively address problems that would otherwise overwhelm the capacities of individual countries or regions.

It is therefore self-evident that we must continue to pursue the multilateral approach to these and other international issues.

The consequences of diminishing or bypassing the multilateral approach in matters that affect the lives of millions of people worldwide could, be disastrous for us all.

Two years ago in the Millennium Declaration, Heads of State and Government, in the spirit of interdependence, made a commitment to work together in achieving specific goals in areas such as of peace, security and disarmament, human rights, good governance and poverty eradication. These goals are all underpinned by a strong belief in the principles of multilateral cooperation and shared interests.

Specifically, those commitments by the world leaders, in the Millennium Declaration, to meet the special needs of Africa, are of special significance to us. This is not only because Africa has the largest number of countries classified as least developed, and where almost half of its population lives in abject poverty, but also because we have all benefited and stand to benefit from the resources of each other. In spite of its current level of overall development Africa has a lot to offer to the rest of the world. Of course we Africans realize our responsibility, first and foremost, to develop and implement strategies for improving the quality of life of our people, and also for strengthening our capacity to contribute more effectively to the economies of our partners in the developed world.

In effect this is what the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) is all about – partnership among African countries, partnership with the rest of the world, and progress for all mankind. It is in this context that the conclusions reached at the high-level meeting of this Assembly earlier this week on ways and means of supporting NEPAD, assume special importance for my country.

Mr. President,

In a similar vein, Sierra Leone also welcomes the commitment of the eight major industrialized countries (the G8) at their recent meeting in Canada, to provide strong support to NEPAD, and to establish enhanced partnerships with African countries whose performance reflects the NEPAD commitments. Sierra Leone, for its part, is determined to pursue vigorously the objectives set out in NEPAD, not just because we need donor assistance at this time, but more so because we believe in the soundness of those objectives as a vehicle for the eradication of extreme poverty, the achievement of sustainable development, and the assumption of greater responsibility for our own destiny.

Mr. President,

I began by assuring this Assembly that I came this time with one overwhelming feeling, a feeling of joy over recent developments in my country. Of course, the search for sustainable peace with justice and national reconciliation is a continuous process, a process that displays signposts of the challenges that we still have to face. However, I can say with confidence that what we have so far achieved, with the support of the United Nations and the international community, has provided the momentum for us to meet those challenges.

Thank you Mr. President.