Sierra Leone After Elections: Politics as Usual?
Sierra Leone After Elections: Politics as Usual?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Report 49 / Africa

Sierra Leone After Elections: Politics as Usual?

Sierra Leone continues to make remarkable progress in ending its eleven-year civil war. There is no longer active fighting, and the army and police are fully deployed across the country.

Executive Summary

Sierra Leone continues to make remarkable progress in ending its eleven-year civil war. There is no longer active fighting, and the army and police are fully deployed across the country. The battlefield capacity of the insurgents, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), has been significantly diminished, and their political arm, the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUF-P), fared poorly in the May 2002 elections that saw President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah re-elected in a landslide with just over 70 per cent of the vote and his party win an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament. Those elections were the first major test for the country following completion of the disarmament process and the official declaration of the end of the war in January 2002.

This was the first truly non-violent vote in the country’s history, in large part because of the substantial international peacekeeping presence. However, a number of concerns are on the horizon that could threaten long term peace prospects. First, there were many questions about the fairness of the electoral process and the level of fraud and coercion that shrouded it.

Secondly, the returns revealed potentially dangerous divisions between the army and President Kabbah’s ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). A large majority of the security forces voted for Kabbah’s opponents, indicating there is at least some animosity between the executive branch and the armed forces.

Thirdly, the elections also demonstrated that ethnic tensions between Temne in the North and Mende in the South and in the central part of the country remain significant. These underscore the need for a more inclusive government in Freetown. President Kabbah’s SLPP party swept votes across the South and East while its main rival, the All People’s Congress party (APC), maintained its stronghold in the North. The results left Sierra Leone dangerously close to single party rule, with an executive branch and a parliament heavily dominated by the SLPP.

Regrettably, President Kabbah appears to have emerged from his victory with diminished commitment to the peace process. He has done little to establish a cabinet that is broad based, inclusive and designed to promote the goals of national reconciliation.

The international community has expended time, effort, and approximately U.S.$2 billion in an expensive but so far successful peacekeeping mission. This investment made the election possible, but it is still too soon to declare victory. Many root causes of the war, particularly the culture of “winner-take-all politics”, have not been eliminated.

The election will only be significant if accompanied by fundamental reforms that begin to change Sierra Leone’s political landscape. The international community needs to use the post-election period to work hard at consolidating the peace process.

The newly elected government has six months before the start of the dry season – when conflict could resume – to tackle problems. Reform of the security forces must continue. Aside from the divisions revealed by the vote, there are still considerable question marks concerning the capability of the security forces to secure the country and the capacity of local militias to challenge their authority.

Renewed conflict in neighbouring Liberia reinforces the need for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the British military and police training teams to remain. President Charles Taylor of Liberia retains destabilising regional ambitions and the tools to pursue them, despite his current domestic difficulties, including elements of the RUF insurgents and Kamajor militias now inside Liberia that he can redirect against Sierra Leone’s still fragile peace structures.

The Kabbah administration must also tackle the corruption that permeates all levels of government and society. The international community has assisted in developing accountability systems, but other measures are still needed, such as increasing the independence of the judiciary and making the Anti-Corruption Commission more independent.

Finally, measures must be taken to promote reconciliation among combatants and civilians. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court provide the main venues for healing wounds. The international community, especially the United States, has pushed hard for the creation of the Special Court, and the success of these instruments of justice will depend on continued international support, scrutiny and funding.

The international community’s priority has so far been to ensure “security first”, but now it has to be as rigorous in demanding better governance and accountability from the government. It must not see these goals as mutually exclusive. Overlooking corrupt practices by the ruling SLPP would only produce fertile ground for renewed conflict.

Freetown/Brussels, 12 July 2002

Statement / Africa

Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators

The landmark guilty verdict today against former Liberian President Charles Ghankay Taylor is a warning to those most responsible for atrocity crimes that they can be held accountable.

A decade after the war in Sierra Leone, the Special Court’s ruling marks the first time that a former head of state has been found guilty of war-time atrocities by an internationally-backed court since the Nuremberg trials. The verdict is a fresh lesson to all those in power that they do not enjoy impunity and a sign of hope in Sierra Leone that those most responsible for the heinous crimes of the eleven-year civil war (1991-2002) are being brought to book. Nevertheless, Liberians are still waiting for Taylor and others to be tried for atrocities committed in the civil war in their country.

“The guilty verdict against Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) is a watershed moment in the fight to hold high-level perpetrators accountable”, says Gilles Yabi, Crisis Group’s West Africa Project Director. “It is also a momentous day for the victims’ families, who have waited patiently for this ruling since the court began its work”.

The verdict has been a long time coming. Taylor was indicted in March 2003 on multiple counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law. He was accused of helping to plan, order and encourage acts including murder, terrorising civilians, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers. The charges stemmed from his support for Sierra Leone rebel groups as commander of the National Patriotic Front for Liberia from 1989 and after becoming president in 1997.

Under the peace agreement that ended Liberia’s civil war in 2003, Taylor resigned as president. He was granted exile in Nigeria but extradited in March 2006 to Freetown, at the request of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and after he violated the terms of his exile by meddling in Liberian politics. Owing to regional security concerns, his trial before the SCSL – a court set up jointly by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations – was held in The Hague.

This verdict ends the work of the court, which also convicted eight other individuals. Its mandate was to prosecute only those most responsible for the crimes within its jurisdiction. That brief was heavily criticised because it meant that many lesser perpetrators would go free, particularly given the weaknesses in Sierra Leone’s justice system. While the judgment sends a strong message that heads of state can be prosecuted, many Liberians may feel short-changed. Despite the long and costly work of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended prosecutions for the main perpetrators of atrocities during the Liberian civil war, impunity still prevails and remains an obstacle to national reconciliation.

“While this is a significant day for Sierra Leone, many in Liberia will have mixed feelings”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “Taylor and other Liberians have yet to be held to account for crimes committed in Liberia’s civil war. Several suspects continue to serve in public office”.

Dakar/Nairobi/Brussels

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