The war activities in Sierra Leone are allegedly being supported by diamond sales in Europe. Consequently, this led to the emergence of significant concerns from the international bodies and member countries falling under the statute of United Nations to foster for a lasting solution to the Sierra Leone problem. As a result, the United Nations developed structural plans, treaties and other important pacts in a bid to find the main culprits, institute a framework of justice, and stop further conflicts from the different camps of rebel groups. Therefore, this paper seeks to establish the specific position taken by the United Nations being the lead organization in such matters, analyze their respective actions and the resulting successes and failures in addressing the problem in Sierra Leone.
The current civil war in Sierra Leone is deeply rooted in the numerous incidents of corruption by some of the key governmental authorities. During the 1960s and 1970s, the occurrence of a potentially weak post independence democracy was made worse by incidents of despotism and corruption from state officials, which lead to a drastic economic decline and the onset of military rule (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton). These events sparked a rebellion among concerned citizens who were facing increasing poverty. As a result, this saw the beginning of rebellion in 1991 marred by serious events of brutality and inhuman treatment. “Between 1991 and 1999, the war claimed over 75,000 lives, caused half million Sierra Leoneans to become refugees, and displaced half of the country’s 4.5 million people” (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton).
An analysis of the war reveals that the warfare was primarily aimed at fueling illegal trading activities of diamond while using the war as a protective shield or cover up. As a result, over the years, an informal diamond mining industry thrived while being dominated by what came to be known as a ‘disorganized crime’ in which transcontinental smuggling of diamonds, guns and drugs took place amid money laundering activities (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton).
The events leading to the occurrence of the civil war started way back when Siaka Stevens was inaugurated as the prime minister after the country gained its independence in 1968 (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton). Following his appointment, the prime minister turned the diamond trade into a political issues leading to the onset of serious corruption. In 1971, Stevens Siaka formed a company called National Diamond Mining Company, consequently nationalizing SLST and from then all important decisions regarding the diamond industry were now undertaken by the Prime Minister (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton). This led to the emergence of rebel groups, for instance, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). As a result, the RUF rebel war began in 1991 leading to takeover of government affairs by the military arm, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) while RUF troops were being trained in Liberia (Smillie, Gberie & Hazleton)
Position/Actions taken by the United Nations
The United Nations made took its first actions by implementing an observer mission. The decision came after reversal of the 1997 coup after which on 13 July 1998, the United Nations formulated the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (Unomsil) composed of seventy Military Observers (Gberie 161). This force was given special duties to foresee the existence of a peaceful transition into the new security arrangements. Moreover, the force was given mandate to monitor the state of security, supervise the implementation of the disarmament exercise and demobilization activities, and promote observance of laid down rules by all sides to the conflict under the jurisdiction of international law (Gberie 161-162). These provisions essentially gave the United Nations authority to ensure that order was restored in Sierra Leone by disabling the operations of the rebel groups in their respective areas of operation.
The institution of the Lome Accord gave the United Nations authority to take part as a partner in addressing the Sierra Leone civil war. The Lome Accord came into force after the surprise attacks carried out in Freetown in 1999 during which 6,000 people were killed and numerous others incapacitated (Gberie 161). These attacks elevated concerns among members of the international community including the United Nations. Before the Lome Accord the United Nations had kept a low profile in terms of their actual involvement with Sierra Leone beginning from 1994, but this changed after the UN’s participation as a ‘moral guarantor’ in the signing of the Abidjan Accord in 1996, which consented the UN to send around 900 troops with the duty of monitoring the implementation of ceasefire, disarmament and reintegration (Gberie 161). In as much as the UN was given consent under the Abidjan Accord the United Nations failed to honor its agreement. The force was never sent because the United States took action by vetoing the deployment of the forces on the grounds that no agreement was done in Sierra Leone (Gberie 161). This reveals the manner in which the United States plays a great role in influencing major decisions undertaken by the United Nations.
Looking at the United Nation’s response to war there is an element of indecision and lack of proactive action. In fact, the decision to act on the atrocities expressed by the rebels against innocent Sierra Leoneans took time for any action to be taken by the UN, probably due to the foreseen challenges. “Not since the Congo crisis in the early 1960s had they faced such a serious existential challenge-and in a region that acutely needed the world body as a guarantee of its very survival. Sierra Leone had now become an unlikely test case for the United Nations’ relevance” (Gberie 169). For a moment there was an impending problem at the United Nations regarding the lack of action to solve a critical humanity crisis capable of virtually consuming its image to the rest of the world as a lead intervener in such situations. As a result, the UN secretariat deployed a team composed of highly experienced peacekeeping personnel to conduct an efficient review of the on the mission in Sierra Leone; hence, based on their recommendations, the impending confusion on the precise mandate of UN and the rules of engagement were laid out, consequently addressing the situation (Gberie 169). Moreover, following these recommendations, the UN authorized an increase in the number of troops from 11,000 to 13,000, which was later expanded to 23,000 becoming the largest UN force that has ever been deployed for a single situation (Gberie 169). This shows the manner in which the United Nations have at times failed in the identification of their fundamental role, consequently leading to escalation of violence as seen in the case of Sierra Leone.
After conduction sufficient investigations the UN was finally able to establish the source of funding for the rebel groups. This led to the recognition of the role of diamonds in fueling the crisis in Sierra Leone. The actual recognition of the role of the diamonds in fueling the crisis seen in Sierra Leone came after the house of a rebel leader was ransacked and his secret diamond deals discovered in the documentation extracted from house (Gberie 170). This was a critical step in unearthing the previous missing link regarding the manner in which the rebel groups were receiving constant supplies of ammunition to sustain the bloody war. The United Nations then formulated a panel of experts to look into the role of diamonds in escalating the conflict and subsequent links of Liberia with the RUF (Gberie 170).
The findings of the panel of experts led to the institution of sanctions, which were long due since civilians had already suffered under the rule of the rebels. “The panel subsequently recommended targeted sanctions on Liberia, and on the RUF, which covered its diamond sales, weapons purchases and travel by senior Liberian officials, including President Charles Taylor” (Gberie 170). In as much the sanctions took time to be implemented, they were important in unearthing the main culprits in the war and gave hope to the innocent Sierra Leoneans that justice will be achieved.
The UN’s arm, the Security Council played an important role in the restoration of power back to the governmental authorities. The efforts made by Kabbah through his appeals to the UN General Assembly and Commonwealth Heads of State regarding the restoration of his government back to power. During this period the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution for the immediate restoration of Kabbah’s government and supported the sanctions imposed upon the military rule organizers and members of the immediate families from foreign travel by ECOWAS (Abdullah162). However, it is also important to note that Kabbah was an ally to the UN having served in different capacities.
The United Nations also responded to the conflict in Sierra Leone by forming pacts with other regional bodies, for example, the UN formed a pact with the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). In October 1999, an agreement was reached between the United Nations and the Nigerian dominated ECOMOG, consequently expanding its troops in the ratio of 6000:3000 against the Nigerian forces already stationed in the country by deriving 200 troops from India and 1000 troops from Guinea (Gberie 162). This was an important step in understanding the contribution of the West African regional partners/nations in solving the conflict.
The United Nations also instituted independent actions, which at times proved to be futile in the context of the Sierra Leone civil war. Sankoh, the self proclaimed vice president at one time accused the United Nations of wrongful decision making. In his speech he claims, “The people sitting in the United Nations pass resolutions without even informing the leadership of the RUF. Without consulting us. Look, in the Lome Peace Accord, we agreed that ECOMOG should be transformed into a peacekeeping force and we have been working with ECOMOG troops especially the Nigerians” (Gberie 163). Hence, this reveals instances of miscalculations on the United Nation’s part when it came to addressing the war problems.
Success Story of the United Nations
The successes of the United Nation’s interventions in the civil war in Sierra Leone proved to be more action oriented after the post-war era especially with regard to the settling of refugees who had been displaced as a result of the war. For instance, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) worked closely with the newly formed Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Recovery in the implementation of a resettlement to resettle over 450,000 Sierra Leones refugees living in Guinea and more than 50,000 spread across the Sierra Leone-Liberia border (Abdullah 169).
Failure Story of the United Nations
The peace accord that was instituted in 1998 with UN as one of the partners essentially failed to implement punitive measures on some of the war culprits. Apart from the putrid stink of corpses buried in the ‘Dead House’ (mortuary in Freetown), there was also the stink of a the peace accord that had had been forced upon the Sierra Leoneans in 1998 by key donors to Sierra Leone, Britain and United States during which it the United Nations refused to admit to the fact that it let those who committed the atrocities go scot-free (Mauna et al 34). As a result, the civilians felt that some of the injustices went without being addressed.
Reluctance on military involvement – “In the absence of this crucial strategic or geopolitical interest, external interventions in civil wars in African countries were often two-rack, focusing on the brokering of ‘peace agreements’ on the one hand and the provision of humanitarian assistance on the other” (Gberie 160). Lack of interest – In essence, there has been an almost paralyzing lack of interest in terms of commitment from the United Nations since its founding with regard to the promotion of an integral aspect of peace building initiatives and maintenance or deployment of troop from other nations to keep peace in some localities (Gberie 160)
Actions taken by other International Organizations
The Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) made significant efforts in the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone through an insider’s view of the war in Sierra Leone. In essence, the Conakry Peace Plan was brokered by the five member committee of ECOWAS, which called for an end to human hostility, restoration of the government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on 22 May 1998, official commencement of humanitarian assistance from November 15, return of refugees located in Sierra Leon’s neighbors, official immunity for members of the AFRC and release of Fonday Sankoh, the RUF leader who was then being detained in Nigeria on charges of gun running (Abdullah 162). Hence, without ECOWAS’s efforts some of the key deliberations made in finding a solution to the war would not have been reached.
The United Nations expressed a more relaxed approach in addressing the conflict in Sierra Leone. According to Gberie “The Lome agreement, for which the United Nations was also a ‘moral guarantor’ (minus the amnesty provision), called for a more active UN participation – in view of the still highly volatile situation in the country – and a ‘transformation (of) and new mandate for Ecomog” (162). In essence, this shows the slow approach of the UN in formulating strategies for ending the civil war.
The efforts made by the United Nations to address the civil war contributed to a successful; however, this would not have been achieved without the formation of key partnerships and treaties. The role of the United Nations in the solving the conflict can be viewed as more of a moral affair by virtue of its overseeing and non partisan role. The UN ought to have taken a more proactive role in the civil war from its beginning other than waiting for the formulation of treaties to give it the required mandate. It is also important to note that the UN made little effort to implement justice for the atrocities committed to the civilians by letting those who caused the war to go without any punitive measures. Moreover, the UN also failed to prosecute international partners who took part in the illicit trade of diamonds by shifting blame to the rebel groups. Logically, the markets for the illicit diamonds were also the suppliers of guns and ammunition to fuel the war. Finally, in future the UN needs to formulate legislative provisions to which all nations become signatories; hence, this will eliminate the need to form pacts in the occurrence of similar conflicts.