Visit to Sierra Leone – April 2000
The Special Representative paid a brief visit to Sierra Leone on 29 and 30 April 2000, jointly with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada, Lloyd Axworthy, immediately after the Accra conference on war-affected children. The objectives of the mission were twofold: to follow up on previous visits and initiatives, especially the establishment of the National Commission for War-Affected Children and to draw attention on the ground to the outcome of the Accra conference.
The Special Representative and Mr. Axworthy were received by the President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who updated them on developments in the peace process, and informed them of his decision to establish a National Commission for War-Affected Children in Sierra Leone.
The Special Representative made the following observations during this visit to Sierra Leone:
- Security and disarmament. There was a common perception that the prospects for conducting elections by next February were bleak if basic security arrangements could not be established. Without disarmament and free access to all parts of Sierra Leone, questions would be raised about elections in which many might be unable to vote
- The diamond factor. There has been increasing recognition of the linkages between the illicit trafficking in diamonds from Sierra Leone and the fuelling of the conflict, which has had a disproportionate impact on children and civilians. Sierra Leone civil society had gradually become involved in the Campaign to raise international awareness on this issue. The problem of illicit trafficking in diamonds served to compound the disarmament process given the relatively limited extent of disarmament and demobilization in diamond-producing areas.
- Marginalization of youth. Many Sierra Leoneans expressed their concern about the growing alienation among young people, who feel used, discouraged and abandoned. Many in this group suffer from illiteracy, and unemployment and are becoming victims of drug abuse. There is much bitterness and anger within the youth population.
- The special problem of amputees. Many of the same people the Special Representative had met during his earlier visit in September 1999 were still in residence at the Murray Town amputee camp this year. The Government of Sierra Leone, with the help of the international community, faces the difficult challenge of providing longer-term, community-based physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration for this group of victims. Such programmes should take particular care to foster the health, self-respect and dignity of child victims.