Views from the Field: Experiences, Results and Recommendations from Sierra Leone

Views from the Field: Experiences, Results and Recommendations from Sierra Leone

In October 1999, the Security Council authorized by Security Council Resolution 1270 (1999) the establishment of UNAMSIL, the United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone. This was a new and much larger mission with a maximum of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers, was mandated to assist the Government and the parties in carrying out provisions of the Lomé Peace Agreement brokered in summer 1999. At the same time, the Council decided to terminate UNOMSIL.

On 7 February 2000, the Security Council, by its Resolution 1289 (2000), decided to revise the mandate of UNAMSIL to include a number of additional tasks. 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. By early 2002, the Government declared the war officially over.

In 2005 as UNAMSIL completed most of the tasks assigned it by the Security Council, the UN Changed the Mandate from Peacekeeping to Peace building with the establishment of a peace building office (UNIOSIL – UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone) to assist the Government in consolidating peace and national stability building upon the foundation laid by UNAMSIL. In August 2008, the UN Security Council, by Resolution 1829 (2008), subsequently established then the United Nations Integrated Peace building Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL). Its mandate was to cement the peace dividends that were begun by UNAMSIL. This new office helped the Government strengthen its human rights, realize the Millennium Development Goals, improve transparency and hold free and fair elections in 2007. It also worked in collaboration with other UN agencies and missions in the sub-region and provided security for the Special Court.

Effects of UN Peace Keeping Operations in Sierra Leone
In 1999, UN peacekeepers moved into Sierra Leone to oversee a feeble peace process which included monitoring a shaky ceasefire and supporting a transition to democratic governance. Since then, the UN helped the war-weary country to make impressive progress towards peace, demonstrating how the world body can respond to the needs and demands of countries emerging from conflict in a rapidly changing global environment.

Over the course of its mandate, the UN engaged in facilitating and implementing peace – Peace Agreements provided frameworks for Sierra Leone to bring an end to the conflict. The Agreements provided for a permanent cessation of hostilities; transformation of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) into a political party; the creation of a broad-based government of national unity; facilitated national elections; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all combatants; and provisions on humanitarian, human rights and socio-economic issues, and establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to address impunity and human rights violations.

UNAMSIL supported the disarmament and demobilization of more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including child soldiers. The psychological importance of combatants dismantling and destroying their own weapons under their own commander was a visible sign of the end of the conflict and added to the growing confidence of the population in the peace process.

The UN supported the extension and consolidation of state authority. It helped Sierra Leone organize its first ever free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections which enabled people to participate in decisions that affected their daily lives. It was necessary to hold national elections, for reliable interlocutors to deal with donors and other partners in the implementation of reintegration and other assistance programs and build confidence among the population in the peace process. The UN supported the training of thousands of police personnel, helped to rebuild the country’s police force to its pre-war strength and contributed towards rehabilitating the infrastructure and bringing government services to local communities. The conditions of service of the Sierra Leone police were deplorable. Issues such as regular salaries, housing, educational and other benefits policemen and their families were not addressed, corruption continued to threaten professional integrity. Given this situation, Police did not need only professional training, they also need basic amenities, particularly if they have to be encouraged to deploy all over the country. The UN assisted in the identification of financial resources for police support. This contributed substantially to building confidence between the mission and the local police.

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. An immediate challenge for Sierra Leone after the war was to reconcile its warn-torn society and to bring to justice all those responsible for the atrocities committed during the conflict. In an attempt to tackle this challenge, two bodies were established to address issues of truth and justice related to the conflict: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Special Court. Both bodies were to address impunity and have been critical for peace and national reconciliation, but in different ways. The UN monitored and trained Sierra Leoneans in human rights. One of the primary functions of the human rights component was to monitor and report on human rights violations and abuses of international humanitarian law throughout the country. UN’s Human Rights Section provided training to human rights activists, setup structures for human right monitoring in the country (district human rights committees) the police, the army, government officials as well as UN peacekeepers, military observers and civilian police.

Furthermore, the Mission has assisted the voluntary return of more than half a million refugees and internally displaced persons. Economic revival is also being boosted by returning refugees and other displaced persons eager to rebuild their communities. Former ghost towns became havens of commercial activities, as diamond-producing areas attract thousands of young people. The UN provided political advice to foster peace and political consolidation. It helped the Government restore its authority and social services in areas previously controlled by rebels. Working together with UN agencies, the mission launched quick-impact reintegration, reconciliation and income-generating projects to provide jobs to thousands of unemployed youths and ex-fighters and basic services to local communities.

UN supported the building of the capacity of democratic institutions in furtherance of good governance. The absence of mechanisms to address governance issues in the country as a whole was a matter of concern. Local government representatives lack necessary managerial skills and commitment to their functions. There was little accountability for revenue collected and together with widespread corruption and lack of transparency in functioning of State affairs constitute major challenges to the restoration and extension of State authority in Sierra Leone. The UN 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 then fuelled the conflict. Now diamonds have become an engine of growth, with government income from diamonds soaring from just $10 million in 2000 to $160 million in 2004, according the International Monetary Fund figures.

Challenges the UN faces in Sierra Leone
Despite the gains made by the UN, Sierra Leone still 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 (National cohesion). The economy remains heavily dependent on donor funds. A disproportionate share of income from diamond mining still eludes Government coffers. Despite reintegration programmes, thousands of ex-combatants and youths – many of whom never went to school – are unemployed. Serious efforts are needed to address the youth situation, especially the issues of unemployment and violence, and more than mere institution-building. Memories of the brutal war that began in 1991, in which they played a major part as child soldiers, make them wary of promises made to them when they disarmed. Their experience of adult manipulation and betrayal makes them distrustful. Moreover, the choice of committing to peace is not theirs alone but also that of the adults on whom the young people of Sierra Leone depend – the Government of Sierra Leone, communities, families and international agencies – to make sure that peace for young people means more than the end of armed conflict. The peace has yet to produce economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the country’s population. There remain serious issues of politicization of state institutions and national cohesion strategies. The paradox of state sovereignty and cooperation between the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone i.e. there were always tensions and statement of interference between the Government and the UN after the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General (ERSG) presents his report to the UNSC. In some situations the Government requested the removal of UN Representatives from the country.

How the UN operation could improve its work in order to deliver better results
The UN for the past 15 years has played a pivotal role in the direction Sierra Leone has taken since it first erupted in violence in 1991. Security has been restored, combatants demobilized, investment increased and three rounds of democratic elections held. Yet these reforms do not seem to have improved the quality of life for the majority of Sierra Leoneans, especially young people. The youth had already been excluded by the formal and informal institutions of the single-party state before the war, and the focus of the UN and international community on institution-building after the war simply left them out on the margins again. This frustration is manifesting as violence, in the mining communities, on the streets and even in schools.

We therefore make the following recommendations:

  1. The UNSC resolutions which are binding on all states are sometimes violated by the state and therefore should come with a very strong compliance mechanism. Also states should be forced to domesticate them before implementation starts. The law makers of the state, civil society and other stake holders must be signatories to such internal implementation plans to create national ownership.
  2. The UN should keep a 6 to 12 month observatory mechanism within the UNCT to report back to the Secretary-General on developments in the country after they close the mission.
  3. Though the UN is an International governmental institution and wants to help build state institutions as its priority mandate, rather it is quite necessary for a holistic programme to be developed to capacitate other non state actors including the civil society who have the propensity to act checks on state authorities.
  4. The Missions should establish a comprehensive internal research department that will investigate, report and plan local programmes that will help enhance people centered development programmes.
  5. The Government of Sierra Leone and the international community should recognize the youth as Sierra Leone’s most precious resource, crucial to the reconstruction, peace building and stability of their country. They should increase their support for the National Youth Commission and the Ministry for Youth Affairs for targeted, holistic protection and assistance programmes that address multiple needs and vulnerabilities amongst the youth. The Government of Sierra Leone should develop national policies and legal frameworks that protect and promote the rights of youth. Young people should be actively involved in decision-making, monitoring and enforcement of these tools for protection, which will help to decrease the marginalization that fuelled the conflict. The government should as a matter of urgency review the National Youth Policy and the National Youth Commission Act 2009 to reflect existing realities. Donors should support capacity building for government, youth organizations and youth-serving agencies to help structures to ensure the success and sustainability of this work.


Ngolo Katta is a social development expert in Sierra Leone who had worked extensively with all the United Nations Missions in Sierra Leone. He is Executive Director for Centre for Coordination of Youth Activities CCYA in Sierra Leone. Currently he is a Post Graduate student (MA Conflict, Peace and Security MCPS) at the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Institute Ghana. He has a wealth of experience working in conflict and post conflict communities, youth development, elections, etc.