U.N. SPECIAL CONFERENCE ON SIERRA LEONE
30 July 1998
The United Nations Agencies and National and International Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) operating in Sierra Leone take the opportunity of the United Nations Special Conference on Sierra Leone to express the perspective of humanitarian aid organizations on the current operating environment in Sierra Leone. Furthermore, the UN and NGOs express their profound gratitude for the vigilant stance of the international community in remaining seized of the situation in Sierra Leone. We applaud the resources committed by the international community in support of humanitarian aid to populations severely affected by the conflict, and encourage donors to continue their support, especially at this time as Sierra Leone struggles to establish lasting peace.
Since the return of President Tejan Kabbah to Sierra Leone in March 1998, improved access and security to large areas of the country have allowed humanitarian aid organizations to augment operations that had been curtailed significantly by the conflict. However, as hostilities continue
in some areas, the humanitarian situation for many Sierra Leoneans remains dire. Recent months have seen a wave of physical violence against innocent civilians unparalleled in the course of the rebel war, with hundreds victimized by brutal amputations and mutilations.
Simultaneously, the conflict and related insecurity have resulted in very high rates of malnutrition and disease, while effectively blocking humanitarian access. For example, in the Masingbi area there is reliable anecdotal evidence of up to 5 deaths per 10,000 persons per day over the past two month period due to malnutrition and disease among the displaced population. By internationally accepted standards, such a rate of mortality indicates a major emergency. However, several NGOs which had begun relief operations in Masingbi, including targeted-feeding programs for severely malnourished children, were recently forced to suspend operations temporarily due to increased insecurity in the area.
In this regard, the UN and NGOs in Sierra Leone welcome the recent Security Council Resolution that will place military observers in the country as a first step towards improving access and security for civilian populations.
In order to contribute significantly to the establishment of peace and to the recovery of livelihoods for the people of Sierra Leone, we urge the international community, and in particular those present at the Special Conference, to:
- Promote the respect of International Law and Humanitarian Protocols and Codes of Conduct in facilitating the efforts of humanitarian aid organizations to protect and assist civilians affected by the conflict;
- Ensure the unhindered access of humanitarian aid agencies to those parts of the country currently inaccessible due to insecurity, in order to assess the humanitarian situation and provide protection and assistance to the civilian population as needed;
- Call for an immediate cessation of violence to protect human rights and to facilitate humanitarian access to all civilians in need;
- Support the newly restored government of Sierra Leone with the financial and technical assistance necessary to re-establish basic services infrastructure (e.g. health and education) nationwide;
- Continue to assist war-affected Sierra Leoneans' household food security, especially during the current "hungry season" and in recovering their livelihood security in the long term;
- Endorse all peace and reconciliation efforts that will contribute to the establishment of an environment conducive to long-term stability and development;
- Encourage international actors to work in partnership, to harmonize the agendas of the diplomatic, political, military, and humanitarian communities, to coordinate promotion of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Sierra Leone, while respecting the unique mandates of each.