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Tuesday, 19 August 2008

United Nations Peace Keeping Operations in Sierra Leone

By: Ahmad Syah Ejaz Hj. Ismail

UN Peacekeeping Operations - Introduction

Since the United Nations was founded in 1945, this International Governmental organisation had deployed its thousands of its military and civilians personnel under the blue flag of UN, to implement peacekeeping operations under the purview of the Security Council. A peacekeeping operation is defined by the United Nations, as a means to help countries torn by conflict or inter-war problems enhancing conditions for sustainable peace and development. UN peacekeepers personal either it be military personnel, civilian enforcement personnel or civilian administration staff from member countries of the United Nations is accounted to monitor and observe peace processes that emerge in post-conflict situations and to assist ex-combatants and civilians in implementing the peace agreements that they have signed prior asking for the United Nations intervention.

Other than militaristic approach assistance, United Nations peacekeeping operations also is usually tasked to assist in confidence-building measures, power-sharing arrangements, electoral support, strengthening the rule of law, and economic and social development of a particular post-conflict regions to create sustainable peace and development. All operations implemented are mandated through the use of force to be considered valid under the charter of the United Nations. Under the postulation of the UN Chapter I to XV, it concludes the clear power of the United Nations in settling regional conflicts and maintaining international peace and security.

The Charter of the United Nations also gives the Security Council the power and responsibility to take collective action for the maintenance of peace and security. Achieving this, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize any peacekeeping operations in resolving conflicts and interjecting into any genocide problems which occurred especially in the African continent. Most of these peacekeeping operations carried out the United Nations itself with troops serving under UN operational command. In other cases, where direct UN involvement is not considered appropriate or feasible especially when it involved an intricate tribal problems and ethnic war such as African problems and Balkan wars, the Security Council authorizes regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or involving coalitions of willing countries to implement certain peacekeeping or peace enforcement functions. The encouragement of using sub-regional organisation in settling disputes can be seen in the Sierra Leone conflict which will be discussed later in this writings.

An Overview of Sierra Leone problems and internal conflicts

Republic of Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic located in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west. The country consists of three provinces and one area, which governed by the administration resided in the capital city of Freetown.

During the 18th century, Sierra Leone was an important hub of the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans. The capital Freetown was founded in 1787 by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for previously enslaved African Americans who had fought for the British in the American Revolutionary War. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the core of the country became a British Protectorate. The Crown Colony and Protectorate joined and gained independence in 1961. There was instability due to rebel activities between 1991 and 2002, which were resolved by United Nations and British forces disarming 17,000 militia and rebels, and the country has been peaceful since then.

The conflict in Sierra Leone dates from March 1991 when fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched a war from the east of the country near the border with Liberia to overthrow the incumbent government. With the support of the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Sierra Leone's army tried at first to defend the government but in the following year, the army itself overthrew the government. Despite the change of power, the RUF continued its attacks.

United Nations Involvement in Sierra Leon conflict

In November 1994, the Head of State of Sierra Leone addressed a letter to the United Nations Secretary General-Boutros Boutros-Ghali, formally requesting him to provide his good offices to facilitate negotiations between the Government and the RUF. On 15 December 1994, the Secretary-General sent an investigative mission to Sierra Leone to initiate consultations to that effect. The mission noted the serious deterioration of the situation in the country as a result of the three-year conflict. About 10 per cent of the population in Sierra Leone were refugees in neighbouring countries and at least 30 per cent were internally displaced. Vital infrastructure had been destroyed and three quarters of the national budget was spent on its defence.

In February 1995, on the basis of the mission's findings, the Secretary-General decided to appoint a Special Envoy, Mr. Berhanu Dinka from Ethiopia. He worked in collaboration with the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and ECOWAS to try to negotiate a settlement to the conflict and return the country to civilian rule.

Parliamentary and presidential elections in Sierra Leone were held in February 1996, and the army relinquished power to the winner, Dr. Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The RUF, however, did not participate in the elections and would not recognize the results. The conflict thus continued with the reluctant adherence of the RUF to recognize the elected government. Special envoy Dinka then assisted in negotiating a peace agreement and in November 1996, between the Government and RUF known as the Abidjan Accord. The agreement was derailed by another military coup d'├ętat in May 1997. This time the army joined forces with the RUF and formed a ruling junta. President Kabbah and his government went into exile in neighbouring Guinea.

A new Special envoy, Mr. Francis G. Okelo from Uganda and other representatives of the international community tried to assist in peace negotiations but failed to persuade the military junta to step down. The Security Council then imposed an oil and arms embargo on 8 October 1997 and authorized ECOWAS to ensure its implementation using ECOMOG troops.

On 23 October 1997, the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone and a delegation representing the chairman of the military junta held talks at Conakry and signed a peace plan which, among other things, called for a ceasefire to be monitored by ECOMOG and if approved by the UN Security Council assisted by United Nations military observers. On 5 November, President Kabbah issued a statement indicating his acceptance of the agreement, and stated his Government's willingness to cooperate with ECOWAS, ECOMOG, the United Nations and UNHCR in the implementation of their respective roles. Although the junta publicly committed itself to implementing the agreement, it subsequently criticized key provision and raised a number of issues, with the result that the agreement was never implemented.

United Nations Observer Mission (UNOMSIL) in Sierra Leone

In February 1998, ECOMOG responding to an attack by rebel and army junta forces launched a military attack that led to the collapse of the junta and its expulsion from Freetown. On 10 March, President Kabbah was returned to office in Freetown. The Security Council terminated the oil and arms embargo against the government and strengthened the office of the Special Envoy to include United Nations military liaison officers and its security advisory personnel.

On 13 July 1998, the Security Council established the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), with the authorized strength of 70 military observers for an initial period of six months. The Secretary-General named Special Envoy Okelo as his Special Representative and Chief of Mission, and Brigadier-General Subhash C. Joshi of India as Chief Military Observer. In accordance with its mandate, the mission monitored and advised efforts to disarm combatants and restructure the nation's security forces. Unarmed UNOMSIL teams, under the protection of ECOMOG, documented reports of on-going atrocities and human rights abuses committed against civilians. The Security Council was kept informed of the activities of the Mission.

Fighting continued with the rebel alliance gaining control of more than half of the country. In December 1998 the alliance began an offensive to retake Freetown and in January 1999 overran most of the city. This led to the evacuation of UNOMSIL personnel to Conakry, and the subsequent downsizing of the Mission's military and civilian personnel. The Special Representative and the Chief Military Observer continued performing their duties, maintaining close contact with all parties to the conflict and monitoring the situation. Later in the same month, ECOMOG troops retook the capital and again installed the civilian government, although thousands of rebels were still reportedly hiding out in the surrounding countryside.

United Nations Observer Mission (UNOMSIL) mandates in Sierra Leon

According to Security Council resolution 1181 (1998) of 13 July 1998, UNOMSIL's military element was to:

i. Monitor the military and security situation in the country as a whole, as security conditions permit, and to provide the Special Representative of the Secretary-General with regular information thereon in particular with a view to determining when conditions were sufficiently secure to allow subsequent deployments of military observers beyond the first phase;
ii. Monitor the disarmament and demobilization of former combatants concentrated in secure areas of the country, including monitoring of the role of the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the provision of security and in the collection and destruction of arms in those secure areas;
iii. Assist in monitoring respect for international humanitarian law, including at disarmament and demobilization sites, where security conditions permit;
iv. Monitor the voluntary disarmament and demobilization of members of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), as security conditions permit.

UNOMSIL's civilian element was to:

i. Advise, in coordination with other international efforts, the Government of Sierra Leone and local police officials on police practice, training, re-equipment and recruitment, in particular on the need to respect internationally accepted standards of policing in democratic societies, to advise on the planning of the reform and restructuring of the Sierra Leone police force, and to monitor progress in that regard;
ii. Report on violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Sierra Leone, and, in consultation with the relevant United Nations agencies, to assist the Government of Sierra Leone in its efforts to address the country's human rights needs.

Lome Peace Agreement and United Nations active role in Sierra Leone

In the aftermath of the rebel attack, Special Representative Okelo in consultation with West African states initiated a series of diplomatic efforts aimed at opening up dialogue with the rebels. Negotiations between the Government and the rebels began in May 1999 and on 7 July all parties to the conflict signed an agreement in Lome to end hostilities and form a government of national unity.

The Lome Peace Agreement included numerous requests for international involvement, specifically that of the United Nations in implementing provisions contained therein and required a substantial increase in the role of UNOMSIL and accordingly in its human and administrative resources. Reporting to the Security Council on 30 July 1999, the Secretary-General outlined a number of measures to maintain momentum in the peace process, and recommended that the Council approve as an immediate first step that the provisional expansion of UNOMSIL. The Secretary-General indicated that following discussions with all interested parties, he would submit additional recommendations on the overall activities of the United Nations in Sierra Leone, including the mandate and structure of a United Nations peacekeeping presence in the country.

On 20 August, the Security Council, by its resolution 1260 (1999), authorized the provisional expansion of UNOMSIL to up to 210 military observers along with the necessary equipment and administrative and medical support to perform the tasks set out in the report of the Secretary-General. It also authorized the strengthening of the political, civil affairs, information, human rights and child protection elements of the Mission.

United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) terminated

In his further report dated 23 September 1999, the Secretary-General recommended to the Security Council that it permit the deployment of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a new and significantly larger peacekeeping mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, to assist in the implementation of the Lome Peace Agreement. On 22 October 1999, the Council authorized the establishment of UNAMSIL. At the same time, it decided that UNAMSIL would take over the substantive civilian and military components of UNOMSIL and that the mandate of that mission should terminate (United Nations, 2000).

United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL)

On 22 October 1999, the Security Council authorized the establishment of UNAMSIL, a new and much larger mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, to assist the Government and the parties in carrying out provisions of the Lome peace agreement. At the same time, the Council decided to terminate UNOMSIL (United Nations, 2000).

On 7 February 2000, the Security Council, by its resolution 1289, decided to revise the mandate of UNAMSIL to include a number of additional tasks. It decided to expand the military component to a maximum of 11,100 military personnel, including the 260 military observers already deployed. The Council also authorized increases in the civil affairs, civilian police, administrative and technical components of UNAMSIL, as proposed by the Secretary-General (United Nations, 2000).

The Security Council again increased the authorized strength of UNAMSIL, to 13,000 military personnel, including the 260 military observers by its resolution 1299 of 19 May 2000. On 30 March 2001, a further increase was authorized to 17,500 military personnel, including the 260 military observers. The Council took this decision by its resolution 1346, and, by the same resolution, approved a revised concept of operations (United Nations, 2000).

UNAMSIL Security Council Mandates

According to Security Council resolution 1270 (1999) of 22 October 1999, UNAMSIL had the following mandate:

i. To cooperate with the Government of Sierra Leone and the other parties to the Peace Agreement in the implementation of the Agreement;
ii. To assist the Government of Sierra Leone in the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration plan to that end;
iii. To establish a presence at key locations throughout the territory of Sierra Leone, including at disarmament/ reception centres and demobilization centres;
iv. To ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel;
v. To monitor adherence to the ceasefire in accordance with the ceasefire agreement of 18 May 1999 through the structures provided for therein;
vi. To encourage the parties to create confidence-building mechanisms and support their functioning;
vii. To facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance;
viii. To support the operations of United Nations civilian officials, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and his staff, human rights officers and civil affairs officers; and
ix. To provide support, as requested, to the elections, which are to be held in accordance with the present constitution of Sierra Leone

According to Security Council resolution 1289 (2000) of 7 February 2000, the mandate was revised to include the following tasks (acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations):

i. To provide security at key locations and Government buildings, in particular in Freetown, important intersections and major airports, including Lungi airport;
ii. To facilitate the free flow of people, goods and humanitarian assistance along specified thoroughfares;
iii. To provide security in and at all sites of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme;
iv. To coordinate with and assist, the Sierra Leone law enforcement authorities in the discharge of their responsibilities; and
v. To guard weapons, ammunition and other military equipment collected from ex-combatants and to assists in their subsequent disposal or destruction.

The Council authorized UNAMSIL to take the necessary action to fulfil those additional tasks, and affirmed that, in the discharge of its mandate, UNAMSIL may take the necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, to afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, taking into account the responsibilities of the Government of Sierra Leone.

According to Security Council resolution 1346 (2001) of 30 March 2001:

"The Security Council ...Welcomes the revised concept of operations for UNAMSIL as set out in paragraphs 57 to 67 of the report of the Secretary-General [S/201/228 of 14 March 2001] and the progress already made towards its implementation, and encourages the Secretary-General to proceed to its completion; ... "

Paragraph 58 of the report reads as follows:

"The main objectives of UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone remain to assist the efforts of the Government of Sierra Leone to extend its authority, restore law and order and stabilize the situation progressively throughout the entire country, and to assist in the promotion of a political process which should lead to a renewed disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme and the holding, in due course, of free and fair elections."

United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone and its success

UNAMSIL may serve as a model for successful peacekeeping operations as well as a prototype for the UN's new emphasis on peace building measures. Over the course of its mandate, the mission disarmed tens of thousands of ex-fighters, assisted in holding national elections, helped to rebuild the country's police force, and contributed towards rehabilitating the infrastructure and bringing government services to local communities.

The United Nations also helped the Government stop illicit trading in diamonds and regulates the industry. During the war, rebels had used money from “blood” or “conflict” diamonds to buy weapons which had fuelled the conflict. UNAMSIL was not always foreseen to succeed: at one point, in May 2000, the mission nearly collapsed when the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) kidnapped hundreds of peacekeepers and renounced the ceasefire in a move that endangered the credibility of UN peacekeeping. Outraged by the chaos that followed, the international community put pressure on the rebels to obey the ceasefire and slapped sanctions against RUF sponsors. Subsequently, UNAMSIL launched new mediation efforts and brought the two adversaries back to the negotiation table. It brought in more troops to monitor the ceasefire and began disarming fighters from both sides.

The United Kingdom, which had sent a force to restore peace following RUF's breach of the ceasefire, later, started restructuring the army while UNAMSIL and other international partners concentrated on training the local police force. By early 2002, UNAMSIL had disarmed and demobilized more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including child soldiers. The Government declared the war officially ended. With the political situation stable, the Mission helped organize Sierra Leone's first ever free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections by providing logistics and public information support. Two years later, the mission gave similar support for the local government elections (United Nations, Sec-General Report, 2004).

UNAMSIL completed most of the tasks assigned it by the Security Council: It assisted the voluntary return of more than half a million refugees and internally displaced persons. It helped the Government restore its authority and social services in areas previously controlled by rebels, trained thousands of police personnel, and constructed or reconstructed dozens of police stations.

UNAMSIL monitored and trained Sierra Leonean in human rights and was instrumental in setting up the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try those most responsible for war crimes. The Mission also assisted the Government in setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with healing the wounds of war by bringing together perpetrators and victims of atrocities.

Working together with UN agencies, the Mission launched quick-impact and income-generating projects to provide jobs to thousands of unemployed youths and ex-fighters and basic services to local communities. UNAMSIL troops reconstructed schools and clinics, launched and funded agricultural projects, and sponsored free medical clinics in far-flung areas.

While UNAMSIL had done much, Sierra Leone still faced many challenges: the country remained fragile and needed to take concrete steps to address the root causes of the conflict and cultivate a culture of human rights. The economy was heavily dependent on donor funds. A disproportionate share of income from diamond mining still found its way into private hands, rather than Government coffers. Despite reintegration programmes, thousands of ex-combatants and youths—many of whom never went to school—were unemployed. In short, the peace had yet to produce tangible economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the population.

To help meet these challenges, the Security Council established a new mission—the United Nations Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL)—to help consolidate peace in the country. Its mandate was to cement UNAMSIL's gains and to help the Government strengthen human rights, realize the Millennium Development Goals, improve transparency and hold free and fair elections in 2007.

United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL)

Sierra Leone has come a long way since the arrival of the first United Nations peacekeepers in 1999. A sustained peace, however, has yet to produce tangible economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the population of Sierra Leone. To help meet these challenges, the United Nations Security Council established a new mission – the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) which aimed to help consolidate peace in the country, enhance development and ensure human rights.

United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leones – the mandates

UNIOSIL mission is to assist the Government and people of Sierra Leone in consolidating peace, strengthening democracy and sustaining development. The United Nations’ achievements in Sierra Leone in the areas of peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and recovery are far-reaching and successful. Therefore, Security Council Resolution 1620 (2005) created an Integrated Office in Sierra Leone and mandates this office and all agencies, funds and programmes of the UN system to work together toward the following goals:

i. Accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals through poverty reduction and balanced economic growth;
ii. Assist in the implementation of a national action plan for human rights;
iii. Build the capacity for free, fair and credible elections;
iv. Enhance democratic governance, with transparency, accountability and participation;
v. Strengthen the rule of law and the capacities of the justice, police and corrections systems;
vi. Consolidate the reform of the security sector;
vii. Ensure the protection and well-being of youth, women and children; and
viii. Promote a culture of peace, dialogue and inclusion.

United Nations remaining challenges in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has come a long way since the arrival of the first United Nations peacekeepers. A sustained peace, however, has yet to produce tangible economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the population of Sierra Leone. Despite its rich natural resources and creative people, Sierra Leone has ranked for the past several years at the very bottom of the world's development statistics. Health factors, in particular, impose a heavy burden on the population. Infant mortality is at 144 deaths per 1000 live births and the life expectancy is 42.5 years. At the onset of 2006, literacy stood at just 31 percent (United Nations, Sec-General Report, 2007).

Sierra Leone faces many challenges: the country remains fragile, and as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission warned, it has to take concrete steps to address the root causes of the conflict and cultivate a culture of human rights in order for peace to be sustainable. The economy is heavily dependent on donor funds. A disproportionate share of income from diamond mining still finds it way into private hands, rather than Government coffers.

Despite ongoing reintegration programmes, thousands of ex-combatants and youths and also many of whom never went to school which children of the unemployed. In short, the peace has yet to produce tangible economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the country’s 4.8 million people.


In the post-Cold War period, there has been increasing cooperation between the OAU, UN and sub-regional organisation on peace and security. This cooperation has been framed within Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Between 1994-2003, the UN Sec. General organized five high level meeting to develop a comprehensive framework for cooperation between the UN and regional organisation involving conflict prevention and peace building, and the post 9/11 new security threats.

One of the most important innovations in the management of international security in the post Cold War era is the concept of shared responsibility between the United Nations and some regional organisations for the effective management of conflicts within the regions of the world. Africa is the first region where extensive efforts have been made recently to formalize the relation between the UN and the regional organisation (Margaret Vogt, 2004).

The failure of the OAU to respond to conflict situations in Africa, in particular during the post-Cold War period, provided the opportunity for sub-regional organisations to fill the security and defence gap. They have shown more determination and greater willingness than the OAU to respond to domestic conflicts with potential regional consequences.

These sub-regional organisations have to adapt their original economic integration and development mandates and institutions to suits the new security and peace functions.


i. Robert S, Jordan, 2001.
International Organizations: A Comparative Approach to the Management of Cooperation, Praeger Publishers.
ii. Thomas G. Weiss, 2000.
The United Nation: Changing World Politics, Westview Press.
iii. Julie Mertus, 2005. United Nations and Human Rights: A Guide to New Era, Routledge.
iv. Adam Roberts, Benedict Kingsbury, 2005.
United Nations, Divided World, Oxford University Press.
v. Jane Boulden, 2003.
Dealing With Conflict in Africa: The United Nations and Regional Organizations, Palgrave MacMillan.

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