Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?
Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Briefing 6 / Africa

Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?

The news is mostly good from Sierra Leone where significant strides are being made in the peace process. With the arrival of a Nepali battalion, the United Nations Mission (UNAMSIL) has nearly reached its force ceiling of 17,500.

I. Overview

The news is mostly good from Sierra Leone where significant strides are being made in the peace process. With the arrival of a Nepali battalion, the United Nations Mission (UNAMSIL) has nearly reached its force ceiling of 17,500. The disarmament process has been completed everywhere except the eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun. It had stalled there for three weeks because the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel command was unhappy with the outcome of the 13-15 November National Consultative Conference (NCC) on the timeframe for presidential and parliamentary elections, which it felt – with some reason – had been stage-managed by the government. The RUF had also been strongly rebuffed by the international community when it returned for the first time in months to the demand that its leader, Foday Sankoh, be released from prison.

The RUF has little leverage right now because it is clearly losing strength as a military organisation. Many seasoned fighters who have not disarmed and accepted the programs on offer for reintegration into society are leaving to take up lucrative mercenary jobs with Charles Taylor, the hard-pressed president of Liberia, who has always been the group’s godfather. Significant splits are opening up between the RUF leadership and front line combatants in Kailahun. The RUF’s efforts to convert itself into a viable political party have not being going well either due to a serious lack of capacity and funding and despite training provided by the Nigerian government.

As the RUF crumbles, the government continues to extend its authority throughout the country. The army (SLA) has deployed along the border with Guinea and Liberia, though it has not yet secured the most troublesome sector (Kailahun). The police (SLP) are also consolidating their presence in many former RUF-held areas, though organised diamond mining by combatant groups persists in Kono and Kenema districts.

The events of the last few months have given the international community confidence that Sierra Leone has finally emerged from its decade-long civil war and can embark on the next stage in the peace process, a presidential and parliamentary election. This briefing paper, which continues recent ICG reporting[fn]See ICG Africa Reports No. 28, Sierra Leone: Time for a New Military and Political Strategy (Freetown/Brussels), 11 April 2001, and No. 35, Sierra Leone: Managing Uncertainty (Freetown/Brussels), 24 October 2001.Hide Footnote  on Sierra Leone’s efforts to break out of a cycle of violence that resulted in the death of at least 50,000 persons and destabilised a considerable portion of West Africa, examines the assumptions behind this confidence and the related strategy. It finds that it is far too early to declare the danger over. The security situation is still shaky, and the electoral course itself is fraught with uncertainty.

In his latest report to the Security Council, the UN Secretary General acknowledges that "the prevailing situation therefore calls for continued vigilance, as well as the concerted efforts of all concerned, to ensure that the elections are a success".[fn]"UN deployment leads to more security, economic revival in Sierra Leone", 12th report of the Secretary General to the UN Security Council on Sierra Leone, press release, 18 December 2001.Hide Footnote   Indeed, many reputable observers and participants fear that elections in spring 2002, as now planned, would be premature and could re-ignite the conflict. There is urgent need for the international community to play a more hands-on – even directly intrusive – role than it has indicated it is willing to do if the elections are in fact to mark a decisive turn toward peace and reconstruction in the devastated country.

Freetown/Brussels, 19 December 2001

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”.


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