The post-Lomé human rights challenge

With the resumption of hostilities between government and rebel forces in May, human rights abuses against civilians have increased. A year on from the Lomé peace agreement, Sierra Leoneans still constitute the largest refugee and internally displaced population in Africa. Estimates of the number of those newly displaced since May have risen to at least 200,000, many of whom were already uprooted from their homes.

'The peace agreement signed on 7 July 1999 has brought neither peace nor an end to atrocities in Sierra Leone,' Amnesty International said. 'The international community has an urgent duty and obligation to the people of Sierra Leone to take decisive action to ensure that they are no longer forced to endure the atrocities of the past nine years.'

Amnesty International is calling on those countries represented at key meetings this week of the UN Security Council, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the European Union (EU) to focus their attention on the continuing human rights crisis and to resolve to take measures which will have a real and immediate impact on the protection of civilians from human rights abuses.

'The success of the 1999 peace agreement was severely compromised from the start because it failed to end impunity for the gross human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed during the internal armed conflict,' Amnesty International said.

'By including a blanket amnesty for all activities undertaken in pursuit of the conflict, the peace agreement not only failed to provide justice but also gave a signal that human rights abuses would be tolerated and that their perpetrators would not be held accountable.'

Although the UN added a disclaimer to the agreement that the amnesty would not apply to crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international law, the UN Security Council has failed consistently, so far, to give any substance to that disclaimer. A recommendation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights shortly after the signing of the agreement for an international commission of inquiry has also not been implemented.

'As the UN Security Council considers and votes this week on three resolutions on Sierra Leone, attention should be sharply focused on the continuing toll of the conflict on the people of Sierra Leone,' Amnesty International said.

The lives and safety of civilians can be protected if effective action is taken by the UN Security Council in three crucial areas:

- by giving a clear direction to the UNAMSIL peace-keeping force to adopt a determined and active approach to fulfilling their mandate to protect civilians, when agreeing an increase in the number of UNAMSIL troops;

- by establishing an effective mechanism to bring all those responsible for human rights abuses to justice, in accordance with international standards;

- by preventing military assistance from reaching rebel forces in Sierra Leone, including ending the trade in diamonds from rebel-controlled areas which is used to fund the purchase of arms and ammunition; this should include diamonds leaving Sierra Leone through neighbouring countries, including Liberia.

Amnesty International has also made specific recommendations to governments represented at the OAU and EU meetings to give priority to resolving the continuing human rights crisis in Sierra Leone, including by:

- exerting whatever influence they may have over rebel forces, or those supporting or assisting them, to end human rights abuses;

- making all possible efforts to prevent military assistance reaching rebel forces in Sierra Leone, including by taking effective measures to end the trade in diamonds which funds that assistance;

- insisting on an end to impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses;

- providing adequate support and protection to the very large number of Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced people.

Background:

The OAU Committee of Ambassadors meets in Lomé from 3 to 5 July, followed by a meeting of the OAU Council of Ministers on 6 to 7 July. From 3 to 7 July the plenary session of the European Parliament is taking place in Strasbourg, France.

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