Freetown – Continuing his week-long visit to Sierra Leone, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu, yesterday appealed to Sierra Leoneans to mobilize the country’s “hidden strong points” – its national cohesion, the strength and vitality of its civil society and its children, and its wealth in natural resources – for the benefit of children, and that its success in protecting the welfare of children would be an example to the world.

The Special Representative was participating with Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in the launching of the National Commission for War-Affected Children (NaCWAC), an initiative he proposed in 1999 in his “Agenda for Action for the Children of Sierra Leone.” Congratulating Sierra Leoneans for having “entered a new day, a day of light” after the decade-long conflict, Mr. Otunnu noted that NaCWAC, the first commission of its kind, would have “a unique role in defending the rights of children.”

In his statement at the ceremony, President Kabbah said the creation of NaCWAC was one of the most far-reaching decisions his Government had made. He underscored the importance of putting child protection at the centre of his Government’s commitment to develop the nation. Appealing for the support of the international community, the President said, “The Commission must not be allowed to fail. We cannot fail the children. They deserve the best.” The Sierra Leonean leader commended Mr. Otunnu and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for mobilizing international assistance for the protection of the nation’s children.

Among its functions, the Commission will ensure that the concerns of war-affected children are translated into policy, priority setting and resource allocation at the highest political level. It will also develop policies that will ensure the provision of health, education and social services to war-affected children.

UNICEF Representative Keith Wright told the gathering that there was need to ensure that the negative experiences of children during the war did not carry on into adulthood and that returning to school was the most important part of post-conflict reintegration of children.

The ceremony was also attended by Vice President Solomon Berewa, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, Government ministers, the diplomatic corps and representatives of UN agencies operating in Sierra Leone, as well as non-governmental organizations.

Before the launching, SRSG Otunnu, accompanied by Ambassador Adeniji, met with President Kabbah at the Presidential Lodge. Mr. Otunnu commended the Sierra Leonean leader for his hard work in transforming a horrible situation to one of normalcy and peace. He thanked the President and the Government for the efforts they were making to alleviate the plight of children, who he said were the greatest victims of the conflict. Mr. Otunnu also paid tribute to UNAMSIL for making child protection a key aspect of its mandate.

Later during the day, Mr. Otunnu held separate discussions with the newly sworn-in NaCWAC commissioners, with senior officials from UNAMSIL, with the UN Country Team led by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilization, Mr. Alan Doss, and with a range of child protection agencies to brief them on the purposes of his visit and to hear their experiences in working with children affected by conflict.

For further information, please contact in New York:

Jean-Victor Nkolo

Communications Officer, OSRSG

Tel: +1-212-963-9879, Fax: +1-212-963-0807;

In Freetown:

Masimba Tafirenyika

Acting Spokesman, UNAMSIL

Tel: +232-22-273183/4, ext. 6817,;

22/02-01/03: March: Margaret Novicki, Chief of Outreach, OSRSG

c/o UNAMSIL Tel: +232-22-273183/4, ext. 6817 or 6583,

OSRSG/PR03/06 23 February 2003