Susan E. Rice, Assistant Secretary
of State for African Affairs
"U.S. Policy Towards Sierra Leone"
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Subcommittee on African Affairs
Washington, DC, October 11, 2000
Achieving Peace and Justice in Sierra Leone
Mr. Chairman, Committee Members, thank you for inviting me today to testify on Sierra Leone. There have been few civil conflicts during the past decade as brutal and complex as this one, and I commend you, Mr. Chairman, and the members of your committee for our shared interest in trying to bring peace and justice to this tragic country. As I have said on previous occasions, we remain fully committed to working with Congress to help ease the suffering of the Sierra Leonean people and help them find a lasting solution to this crisis.
The Threat of Regional Instability
Mr. Chairman, we have important interests in achieving peace in Sierra Leone. Continued instability in Sierra Leone will have serious long-term effects on political and economic development throughout the sub-region. The conflict has drawn in several neighboring countries and threatens West Africa's stability while draining it of precious resources. The stakes are therefore high, not only for Sierra Leone's own long-suffering people, but also for all of West Africa.
Currently, Sierra Leone is divided. Effective government control is limited to Freetown and the Lungi peninsula and other areas in the South -- thanks mainly to the presence of troops from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the United Kingdom in those areas. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) continues to launch numerous small-scale attacks. UNAMSIL patrols roads between its peninsular bases and its positions at Kenema, Bo, and Daru. There appears at present to be an uneasy tactical pause in RUF military operations.
But as long as the conflict continues, there is a risk that it will spill over even more dramatically into neighboring countries and create more instability and human suffering. Liberia has been involved in this conflict almost from the beginning, and now Guinea is victim to cross-border incursions by RUF elements and their allies. This has led to increased domestic instability within Guinea, which is already hosting nearly half a million refugees from both Sierra Leone and Liberia. An estimated 5,000 of these refugees have crossed into Guinea since renewed violence erupted in May.
Dire Humanitarian Conditions
With the RUF still in control of large portions of Sierra Leone, a significant percentage of the population remains subject to its reign of terror. This continued control makes it impossible for relief organizations to provide food and assistance to thousands of victims of the RUF, including those who have been raped and mutilated. The people under the RUF's power also do not have access to the most basic social services, including health care and education. As a result, they are condemned to lives of fear, sickness, and poverty. We cannot allow these abominable conditions to endure.
Extending Democratic Governance
That is why it is so important that the United States continue to support the elected democratic government of Sierra Leone's efforts to extend its authority into these areas of lawlessness and terror. Only under accountable, responsible, democratic governance can these human rights abuses be curtailed and minimal living standards reintroduced. Only when the rule of law is extended to all of Sierra Leone's territory and those most responsible for the horrendous atrocities are held accountable before a court of law will the population experience the freedom and the confidence necessary to rebuild their war-ravaged country.
It is also essential to choke the diamond revenues fueling the conflict, as the RUF continues to trade diamonds for guns with Liberian President Charles Taylor and others. The United States has a keen interest in successful implementation of UNSC Resolution 1306, which we sponsored, in order to ban trade in rough diamonds from Sierra Leone except those that have a certificate of origin issued by the Government. We also remain committed to the return of full control of the diamond mines to the elected government of Sierra Leone.
Supporting the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone
Critical to achieving a lasting peace in Sierra Leone is ensuring that the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMSIL, succeeds. But for UNAMSIL to succeed it must be strengthened. To this end, we are prepared to support a substantial increase in the size of the force and the strength of its mandate. We support increasing its forces from the current level of approximately 13,000 troops, to at least 20,500 and are working hard to obtain the necessary commitments from potential troop contributors.
Equally critical is ensuring that UNAMSIL has the mandate, as well as the means, to accomplish these goals. An increase in the number of troops without any strengthening of its mandate, will not produce results. Thus, we will continue to work for a new UNAMSIL resolution that provides a mandate to support the Sierra Leone army in compelling RUF compliance with its obligation to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate into society. UNAMSIL's U.S.- trained and equipped West African battalions, once deployed, will form a key component of the enhanced UNAMSIL, and we expect will play an assertive role in countering the RUF. The United States is committed to the success of this mission. Furthermore, since Britain's direct military role in Sierra Leone and its training of the Sierra Leone Army are critical to stabilizing the situation in that country, support for British training efforts is also a high priority.
We have also begun to help train and equip seven battalions of West African troops to bolster the UN forces already deployed there. With increased capacity, UNAMSIL should be able, together with the Sierra Leone army now being trained by the British, to help the legitimate government extend its control over all major population centers, its borders, and the diamond producing areas.
Dealing With the RUF
We believe that the RUF must cease to function as a military force. There must be early and full disarmament of the RUF through a credible and effective Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process. A renewed DDR program should include immediate, permanent physical separation of RUF combatants from their commanders.
The RUF must not interfere with the Government of Sierra Leone's and UNAMSIL's freedom of movement in Sierra Leone as UNAMSIL assists the Sierra Leone Army in the progressive extension of the GOSL's authority throughout the country. The RUF must also relinquish control of all diamond areas and key transportation and communication routes to the GOSL.
Furthermore, we believe the RUF should not be rewarded by being guaranteed a place in the government. However, as an incentive to end the conflict, individual, disarmed/demobilized members of the RUF who are not guilty of war crimes or atrocities should not be prohibited from entering the political life of the country. But the RUF must also respect the authority of the Special Court.
The Origins of the Crisis in Sierra Leone
It is important to understand the history of the conflict in Sierra Leone prior to the Lome Agreement of July 1999.
The Revolutionary United Front began its assault against the central government of Sierra Leone in March 1991 with a two-pronged cross-border incursion from Liberia. With interruptions, fighting has continued ever since.
In May 1997, President Kabbah's democratically-elected government was overthrown by a military coup and moved to Conakry, Guinea. The leaders of the military coup invited the RUF to join them in ruling the country under the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). President Kabbbah and his government were only able to return to Freetown in March 1998 after being restored to power following the military intervention by the Nigerian-led regional peacekeeping forces (ECOMOG) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS.
Over the course of 1998, the RUF and its rebel allies, the former members of the AFRC and of the Sierra Leone Army who supported them, regrouped and with external assistance funneled primarily through Liberia, avoided full defeat by ECOMOG and instead regained the initiative.
The United States was able to provide ECOMOG with logistics assistance through an initial $3.9 million contract with Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA and E) and their sub-contractor International Charters Incorporated (ICI). The Netherlands provided 80 trucks that were transported from Liberia where they had been initially been delivered to ECOMOG.
The European Union at the time was reluctant to assist ECOMOG while Sani Abacha was still president of Nigeria. The financial burden for combatting the RUF in Sierra Leone thus fell largely on Nigeria, with a reported cost of about $1 million per day.
From mid-1998 until late 1999, the RUF and its insurgent allies swept back from the east through the north and then parts of the west of Sierra Leone before attacking Freetown itself in early January 1999. While the forces of ECOMOG eventually drove the RUF back out of Freetown, it was also clear that the RUF were a force that could not be defeated by ECOMOG alone. Nor did the international community appear to have both the will and the ability to defeat the RUF militarily.
For our part, we had already spent our entire allotted voluntary peacekeeping budget for Africa on Sierra Leone. In fact, since 1991 we have spent well over $110 million supporting ECOWAS peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The United States was far and away the largest donor to ECOMOG. Moreover, there was also considerable skepticism among some in Congress about providing further assistance to ECOMOG under the military regime then governing Nigeria, which had provided the bulk of the West African troops trying to keep the rebel forces in check.
Even after the brutal RUF attack on Freetown in January 1999, several holds were placed on our notifications of intent to program voluntary peacekeeping funds intended to support the ECOWAS troops. Later in 1999, the newly-elected democratic government in Nigeria, now accountable to its people, decided to withdraw its troops absent a massive infusion of resources from the international community. This meant that a military solution -- the effective defeat of the RUF -- was no longer a realistic option. To stop the killing, a negotiated solution became essential.
Against this backdrop, the regional states sponsored the Lome discussions that led to a cease-fire in May 1999. Representing the United States, Reverend Jesse Jackson spent one day in Lome and on that day, May 18, 1999, succeeded in helping achieve a cessation of hostilities agreement. The Lome peace agreement that followed two months later in July 1999 was the result of regional peace negotiations sponsored by the Economic Community of West African States between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF, which were supported by the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Organization of African Unity, the United States, Great Britain, and others. The Foreign Minister of Togo oversaw these negotiations.
Following the Lome Agreement, ECOMOG remained in Sierra Leone to maintain security, but Nigeria, under the democratically elected government of President Obasanjo signaled that it could not continue bearing the cost of this mission alone. In the absence of a great deal more direct assistance to ECOMOG, the United Nations would have to take ECOMOG's place. The United States was unable to assume that burden alone since we have available less than $15 million a year to fund non-UN peacekeeping missions in Africa. No other donor was willing to make any significant contributions to ECOMOG.
The UN Security Council in October 1999 authorized a 6,000-strong peacekeeping mission for Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to replace the very small military observer group (UNOMSIL). Nigeria agreed to contribute troops to UNAMSIL and continue to play a leading role in UNAMSIL leadership.
Unfortunately, the RUF flaunted its commitments and violated in the most horrific ways the Lome agreement. Their reprehensible actions left Sierra Leoneans still searching for peace. We welcome the capture of Foday Sankoh and look forward to the day he stands before justice in a court of law. But we also recognize that his trial alone will not bring peace - there is much work that must still be done on the ground - by a strengthened UNAMSIL and by the government and army and people of Sierra Leone.
The Lome accord was a peace agreement widely welcomed by the people of Sierra Leone. As many members of Sierra Leonean civil society stressed to Secretary Albright a year ago, the people of Sierra Leone were desperate for peace -- even if it meant justice were to be deferred. Peace meant to them that the horrors would finally stop, lives could be rebuilt, and that the diamond mines could revert to the control of the government. For the RUF, it was their best chance to lay down their arms, become a constructive political player in Sierra Leone, and escape further world ostracism. While the agreement established a domestic, but not international amnesty, and allowed limited RUF non-elected representation in the government, it was an agreement that was freely and willingly negotiated by the Sierra Leonean parties themselves. If the Lome agreement's provisions had been respected by the RUF, Sierra Leoneans would be well on their way by now to rebuilding their impoverished and war-ravaged country.
The Lome agreement, like many others elsewhere before it, was a calculated risk that didn't play out as the people of Sierra Leone, the international community, or the United States would have hoped. Some may now second-guess the inclusion of the rebels in any kind of peace process, given their grisly record. But this would not be realistic, given the circumstances. Nor was it the first time that rebels have taken part in peace talks after committing atrocities. Mozambique, Guatemala, and El Salvador, to name just three countries, have stable democratic governments following peace arrangements worked out between one or more sides once employing terror tactics against civilian populations.
The people of Sierra Leone would not have us forget that for almost one full year the atrocities largely stopped, some inaccessible areas were opened, and more than 20,000 combatants were disarmed.
When the RUF then attacked the UN peacekeepers sent to oversee the implementation of the Lome peace accord, they violated the will of the Sierra Leonean people and squandered the opportunity for peace.
Current U.S. Policy Goals
Help the Government of Sierra Leone gain control of territory
We support a UN Security Council resolution that would forge a robust UNAMSIL operation. This resolution will likely come up in December. In the interim, we are working with current and potential troop contributors to secure adequate and capable troops to help restore peace and stability to Sierra Leone. An augmented UNAMSIL must have the mandate and the means to support the Sierra Leone Army in compelling RUF compliance with its obligation to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate into society. U.S.- trained and equipped West African battalions will form a key component of the enhanced UNAMSIL mission and will be expected to play an assertive role in countering the RUF. In addition, we place a high priority on supporting the direct military role of the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone and its training of the Sierra Leone army.
The Sierra Leone Independent Special Court, whose establishment we championed, must now become an instrument for swift and exemplary justice for those members of the RUF and related insurgent groups who bear the greatest responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law and related Sierra Leonean law.
Other Sierra Leonean transgressors could be tried in Sierra Leonean domestic courts or appear before the truth and reconciliation commission.
Liberia and the RUF
Liberian President Charles Taylor's support and patronage of the RUF is intolerable and must end. In July, Under Secretary Pickering put Taylor plainly on notice that he must sever his support for the RUF and the illicit diamond trade or face the consequences. He made plain to President Taylor that we will take the necessary measures, including sanctions, to ensure that the Government of Liberia ceases aiding the RUF.
Today, the President announced that we will impose travel sanctions on President Taylor, other Liberian government officials, and their family members for their support of the RUF. Further sanctions, should they be necessary, are under active consideration. We call upon the international community and, in particular, Liberia's regional neighbors to join in this effort to maximize its effectiveness.
Our intent is to raise the costs to Taylor of his support for the RUF by limiting his freedom of action, denying him resources, and exposing as widely as possible to world opinion his destructive role in the region. There should be no mistaking our position: we recognize the corrosive role that Taylor is playing in the tragedy of Sierra Leone and the spreading instability in the region, and we are committed to bringing his destructive influence to an end.
Strategy and Implementation
Our strategy to bring peace and stability to Sierra Leone involves ongoing consultation and coordination with the UK, the GOSL, key regional states, and others at the UN in order to project and win support for our goals. Accordingly, our approach holds the RUF to its Lome Agreement obligations to disarm and demobilize while denying the RUF the political benefits it would have enjoyed had it honored the original agreement.
We should expect bids from the RUF for a ceasefire or even a new negotiated settlement, but any such bids must be treated with the greatest skepticism. There should be no further concessions made to these rebels and their allies. Although it may be impossible to defeat the RUF purely by military means, we must insist that the Government of Sierra Leone and all others hold firm against cease-fires or negotiated settlements that leave the RUF in control of any territory or give it a material basis for again challenging the Government of Sierra Leone's authority.
As I have noted, our primary "tools" in this effort are to harden and augment UNAMSIL, equip and train West African troops, support the United Kingdom's training mission for the Sierra Leone Army, curb the illicit diamond trade, increase pressure on Liberian President Taylor to stop supporting and directing the RUF, establish the Independent Special Court, and help the Government of Sierra Leone in the reconstruction of Sierra Leone's institutions.
A New Approach
The regional states, most in the international community, and the United States recognize that, given the failure of the RUF to fulfill its obligations under the Lome peace accord, only increased pressure on the rebels can reliably end this conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. We call upon Congress to make adequate funding available to support the United Nations peacekeeping force already deployed in Sierra Leone.
We have already notified Congress of our intention to support a Security Council resolution that would strengthen UNAMSIL's mandate and increase its size from 13,000 to 20,500 troops. To this end, we are actively engaged in supporting United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's efforts to identify and recruit additional troops for UNAMSIL. In addition to asking Congress to support this strengthened UNAMSIL, we need Congressional support for equipping and training up to seven West African battalions for effective service in UNAMSIL.
We are also working with our British allies to assist their training mission for the Sierra Leone Army. Finally, we will seek Congressional support for the necessary resources to build accountability through the creation of the Independent Special Court for Sierra Leone to bring to justice those most responsible for the atrocities perpetrated on its people. It will be critical in establishing and operating the Independent Special Court for a number of years, that sufficient and sustained voluntary funding be contributed by the international community, including the United States.
Mr. Chairman, we in the Administration are committed to using all the means that are available to us to help the people of Sierra Leone break the cycle of violence and impunity plaguing their country. We must stand together with the West African regional states and the United Nations to achieve that goal.
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