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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sierra Leone: Humanitarian Crisis

Sierra Leone: Humanitarian Crisis
Date distributed (ymd): 990119
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains three recent documents on the escalating humanitarian crisis in Sierra Leone, from the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America (NOSLINA), Refugees International, and Amnesty International. For additional recent news and background documents see Sierra Leone Web ( and Africa News Service (

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January 10, 1999

National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America (NOSLINA)
4401 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 107
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 298-1426

The following statement has been issued by:

Dr. Cecil Blake, Chairman
Board of Directors, NOSLINA.
Tel: (219) 980-6985

The National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America views with grave concern the deteriorating humanitarian situation that currently exists in Sierra Leone. The situation is dangerously alarming. Basic life support systems in the capital have been rendered inoperable leading to wanton death. Other parts of the nation have suffered tremendous infrastructural damage and loss of life and property. Citizens in the capital are presently trapped in their homes without access to food, water, power, and medical supplies. This grave state of affairs requires an immediate and intensified increase in humanitarian assistance from the international community. Specifically, we call upon the United Nations and all of its pertinent agencies, the Commonwealth of Nations, the European Union, the Organization of African Unity, and the United States government to mount a massive humanitarian drive in efforts to provide needed food and medical supplies. We also call upon the major powers and friendly nations to respond positively to our call and also to facilitate the setting up of temporary off-shore power supply units in order to render operable water supply and other energy-dependent facilities.

NOSLINA considers the humanitarian situation as a top priority as much as the political. Equal attention and intensified effort are needed in bringing about immediate large-scale humanitarian assistance to Sierra Leone. We urge all organizations in North America with interest in Sierra Leone to join NOSLINA in calling upon the international community to respond urgently and positively to our call for immediate humanitarian assistance to help curb this crisis in Sierra Leone. Finally, we urge all Sierra Leoneans and well wishers of Sierra Leone to join NOSLINA in a mail and telephone campaign to the United Nations and the governments of the United States and Canada to step up efforts that will lead to the solution of the crisis in Sierra Leone.

Please call the following people to express your concern and, preferably, follow up with a letter:

The Under-Secretary General
Office of Political Affairs
United Nations
Tel: (212) 963-1234

Mr. Michael D. Thomas
Country Desk Officer for Sierra Leone
United States Department of State
Room 4250, AF/W
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520-3430
Tel: (202) 647-3469 or 647-4567
Fax: (202) 647-4855


Sylvia Ojukutu-Macauley, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Refugees International
Sierra Leone: On The Brink Of Catastrophe
January 15, 1999

Washington - The following document was released by Refugees International (Washington, DC) on January 15, 1999: As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently said, "a humanitarian crisis of major proportions" looms in Sierra Leone. The World Food Programme declared January 11 that hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in their homes in the capital city of Freetown and could suffer from severe food shortages.

Rebel forces attacked Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, on January 6. ECOMOG, the West African Peacekeeping Force, lost control of part of the city, but has since been reinforced by troops from Nigeria and is now reportedly advancing. The infrastructure of the city has been severely damaged and casualties on both sides and among civilians are heavy. Two hundred corpses were reported to be stacked in and around Connaught hospital on January 13; there is no information on those who may have been injured in the attack.

Several international agencies had warehouses full of food and medicine in Freetown. The fate of the warehouses is unknown, but if they have been looted or destroyed, it will be difficult to alleviate quickly food shortages in the capital and countryside.

So far, the new refugee flow from Sierra Leone to Guinea is not heavy. Only about 500 new refugees, arriving mostly by boat, have been registered. However, others may be crossing at unofficial border points into Guinea. Guinean officials, fearing infiltration by rebels, are making it difficult for Sierra Leonean refugees to cross into the country.

Approximately 10,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are located near the Guinea border in the Kambia district, but apparently they are not trying to cross the border at present, though this needs to be closely monitored. There is little information about the thousands of other IDPs throughout the rest of the country.

A humanitarian catastrophe threatens Freetown and most of Sierra Leone. About 250,000 refugees fled Sierra Leone in 1998. Hundreds of thousands of war-affected persons in every part of the country were threatened before this most recent rebel offensive; that number has surely grown now. Most of the population of Freetown was desperately poor before the fighting; many may now suffer from life-threatening shortages of food, water, and medical care. If immediate action is not taken to provide aid to Freetown residents as soon as the fighting ceases, major new refugee and IDP flows could follow.

Refugees International, therefore, recommends:

  • The international community must persuade Guinea to reduce the bureaucratic obstacles it has erected to keep out refugees from Sierra Leone. Guinea has been very hospitable in the past, and its concern about possible rebel infiltrators mixed in with the refugees is understandable. International agencies should assist Guinea to receive, register, and care for refugees and to prepare for possible new refugee flows in the near future.
  • The U.S. and other governments must immediately place a higher priority on meeting the emergency needs of Sierra Leoneans. Gaining access for humanitarian aid to Freetown is a first step; establishing secure routes or humanitarian corridors to other parts of the country would be a second step. International resources to help Sierra Leoneans have long been scarce; there is now an urgent need for governments to increase resources and political attention to Sierra Leone and the neighboring countries which host refugees.
  • Relief agencies will face a major humanitarian challenge when they are able to return to Freetown and other cities in Sierra Leone. They should identify now their resource needs to prepare to meet the requirements for food, medicine, water, and shelter of hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans displaced or impoverished by the recent fighting.
  • Allegations of excessive force being used by ECOMOG in the battle for Freetown are extremely worrisome. Nevertheless, if discipline can be restored, ECOMOG should be further reinforced so that it can support the democratically-elected government and contribute toward the establishment of peace in Sierra Leone. A reinforced UN Observer Mission for Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) should be reinserted into Sierra Leone as soon as possible to help prevent human rights violations by all sides and monitor ECOMOG's performance. The international community should also consider expanding UNOMSIL to station observers in Guinea and Liberia to monitor and facilitate care of arriving refugees from Sierra Leone and prevent rebel infiltration and arms smuggling
  • Sierra Leone seems faced with near perpetual conflict. Governments and UN agencies should step up efforts to search for a peaceful solution, including supporting a cease fire and other steps which could lead to an accommodation between the government and the opposition forces.

For more information, contact Refugees International,
2639 Conn. Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20008.
Phone: 202-828-0110 Fax: 202-828-0819

Amnesty International
Escalating human rights crisis requires urgent action

January 15, 1999

London - The following news release issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International News Service

14 JANUARY 1999: Respect and protection of human rights must be at the centre of all efforts to end the crisis in Sierra Leone, Amnesty International said today, adding that "the imperative to end the fighting must not be at the expense of establishing accountability for human rights abuses."

Intense political activity in now taking place to try to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone and to bring an end to the fighting in Freetown. The international community -- including the United Nations (UN), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Economic Community of West African States, the Commonwealth and the European Union -- has committed itself to contributing to peace and security in Sierra Leone.

"The international community's commitment to resolve the crisis must include initiatives to end the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by rebel forces, prevent further violations and lay solid foundations for the protection of human rights in the future," Amnesty International added. The organization regrets that the OAU has missed the opportunity to ensure that human rights are at the centre of discussions on Sierra Leone by postponing the OAU Ministerial Conference on Human Rights scheduled to take place in Mauritius later this month.

The OAU should nevertheless urgently convene a heads of state level meeting of the Central Organ of its conflict resolution mechanism in order to address the human rights crisis in Sierra Leone. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about reports that children and young people have been abducted by rebel forces in Freetown and forced to join their ranks.

Civilians in Freetown have been deliberately and arbitrarily killed by rebel forces and have also been caught in hostilities between the West African force deployed in Sierra Leone, known as ECOMOG, and rebel forces of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). "Rebel forces must respect international humanitarian law and end the gross human rights abuses which they are perpetrating against unarmed civilians," Amnesty International urged.

"ECOMOG forces must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and take all necessary measures to protect civilians from the dangers arising from military operations," the organization added. "Civil Defence Forces fighting alongside ECOMOG must also respect international humanitarian law."

The UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) -- the peace-keeping operation established by the UN Security Council in July 1998 -- has been forced to evacuate from Freetown to Conakry in neighbouring Guinea.

It is essential, however, that UNOMSIL human rights officers, who have been effectively monitoring and reporting human rights abuses and contributing to the long-term protection of human rights, continue their work. "Sierra Leone continues to face a human rights emergency,"Amnesty International added.

The Security Council on Tuesday extended UNOMSIL's mandate for another two months. "The activities of the human rights component of UNOMSIL must be fully supported, both politically and financially, by the international community," Amnesty International said.

Liberia has been widely reported to be providing combatants, arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. In view of the appalling level of violence against civilians which continues to characterize the conflict in Sierra Leone, Amnesty International believes that all military assistance to rebel forces will result in continuing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

"All government should take all possible measures to end immediately military assistance to those committing human rights abuses in Sierra Leone," the organization said. The international community has strongly condemned continuing support to rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

Following a visit to Sierra Leone and Liberia in December, the chairman of the Security Council sanctions committee on Sierra Leone, Hans Dahlgren, said that arms and ammunition were crossing the Sierra Leonean border with neighbouring countries, including Liberia. It has become increasingly difficult to obtain information from Freetown since telephone communications ceased on 7 January.

Although mounting daily, the exact number of civilian casualties since rebel forces entered Freetown on 6 January is unknown. The people of Freetown have been trapped and unable to escape the violence.

They have been unable to leave their homes to obtain food. There is extensive looting and destruction of property.

Food supplies and vehicles of humanitarian agencies have been looted. "Humanitarian agencies must be allowed to assist civilians in Freetown without threats to their safety and security," Amnesty International said.

In a report published in November 1998, Sierra Leone: 1998 - a year of atrocities against civilians (AI Index: AFR 51/22/98), Amnesty International described in detail the widespread atrocities -- killings, mutilations, rape -- which have been committed by rebel forces, after they were forced from power by ECOMOG in February 1998.

For further information, contact Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ,+44-71-413-5500, +44-71-956-1157. Email: Web: You may repost this message onto other sources provided the main text is not altered in any way and both the header crediting Amnesty International and this footer remain intact.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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