Sierra Leone: The State of Security and Governance
Sierra Leone: The State of Security and Governance
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Taylor Verdict a Warning to War Crimes Perpetrators
Report 67 / Africa

Sierra Leone: The State of Security and Governance

There was euphoria in Sierra Leone in 2002 as the country finally emerged from eleven years of war and entered a period of democratic transition and better governance. Since the successful elections on 14 May of that year, however, the donor community and the people of Sierra Leone have grown increasingly frustrated with stagnating reform and recovery.

Executive Summary

There was euphoria in Sierra Leone in 2002 as the country finally emerged from eleven years of war and entered a period of democratic transition and better governance. Since the successful elections on 14 May of that year, however, the donor community and the people of Sierra Leone have grown increasingly frustrated with stagnating reform and recovery. The government has failed to offer a clear direction, and there are consistent signs that donor dependence and the old political ways are returning. Many are questioning the government’s commitment and capacity to address the long list of internal challenges, ranging from security concerns and economic recovery through implementation of a broad spectrum of institutional reforms. The longer the issues are left unaddressed, the harder it will be to keep the peace process on track. Also worrisome are the troubles across Sierra Leone’s borders, especially in unsettled and violent Liberia.

It is a moment of critical choice for Sierra Leone: difficult reforms that ultimately will pay high returns in stability and prosperity or politics as usual. The international community has invested billions of U.S. dollars to end the civil war and move the country toward peace. The UK, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continue to commit time and resources but they cannot stay forever. The government needs to take a stronger leadership role in the rehabilitation process. Its performance has been disappointing, and complacency appears to have set in. While reform rhetoric abounds, action has yet to follow. There are three main areas of concern.

First, as UNAMSIL continues to draw down, Sierra Leone must increasingly take on responsibility for internal security and protection of its borders. Many question the ability of its armed forces, and even more contend the police have nowhere near the necessary capacity or training. In July 2003, the UN Security Council approved a plan that foresees the departure of UNAMSIL by December 2004. The government needs to show it can take over but given the current situation, it would be wise for UNAMSIL to have contingency plans.

Secondly, a number of internal issues must also be addressed in order to make the peace process irreversible. The Special Court handed down its first indictments on 10 March 2003 and dramatically announced on 4 June the indictment of then President Charles Taylor of Liberia for his role in Sierra Leone’s war. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began public hearings on 14 April. While both institutions are running reasonably well, concerns persist, particularly about the Special Court’s impact on the peace process and the surprising indifference shown by much of the population to the TRC. The government has been unable to disband completely the Kamajor Civil Defence Forces, which maintain their command structure and claim to be ready to mobilise if necessary. The ex-insurgents, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), have lost their command structure, and their political party struggles to keep offices and members. The reintegration program should finish in December 2003, but many ex-combatants have yet to complete training programs, and even with assistance, many are finding jobs scarce and believe the government should be doing more.

Thirdly, the government has failed to make significant progress on governance reforms since its resounding electoral victory. There is no systematic plan for decentralisation. While elections for paramount chiefs have taken place in 2003, and some semblance of traditional authority has returned to most areas, these communities remain essentially isolated with little monetary or administrative assistance from Freetown. Local elections are scheduled to take place by the end of the year, but given inadequate infrastructure, they are likely to be postponed until early 2004, and few expect them to bring real change. Institutional reforms have fared little better. Efforts to address rampant corruption through an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) have proved fruitless as the ACC is too hamstrung by politics to be either independent or effective. The justice system needs a complete overhaul, from laws through judges. Youth groups have appeared across the country, some helping communities, others challenging local governments. The diamond mines, now often considered a curse rather than a blessing by the population, remain poorly monitored and managed, and illegal alluvial mining costs the government tens of millions of U.S. dollars in revenue each year.

International assistance and advice have promoted reforms in some areas but also allowed the government to relax rather than make necessary, albeit difficult, decisions. It is time for donors to demand action. Much of the hard work is currently being done by internationals and a handful of Sierra Leoneans who understand the dire consequences of not taking full advantage of a fleeting opportunity. Especially the UN and the British can be credited with bringing peace to Sierra Leone, but its own government will be held accountable if it does not sustain that peace by providing a clear way forward for post-conflict reform and reconstruction.

Freetown/Brussels, 2 September 2003

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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