HIS EXCELLENCY ALHAJI AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE
TO THE 52ND SESSION OF THE
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
WEDNESDAY, 1 OCTOBER 1997
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It s indeed an honour once again to address this august Assembly. On behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, and on my own behalf, I congratulate you Mr. President on your election to preside over the work of this session which you rightly described as one that can mark the beginning of a new era in United Nations history. The Ukraine, a founding member of our Organization, is well known for its decisive stand on unilateral nuclear disarmament. This in itself is a major contribution to the promotion of international peace and security. As an experienced diplomat and former senior member of the Secretariat, you are fully equipped to steer this session to a successful conclusion. I wish also to pay tribute to your predecessor, Ambassador Ismail Razali of Malaysia, for the firm and skillful manner in which he led the Assembly to deal with the issues of the 51st session.
Mr. Secretary-General, we commend you for the bold effort you have made so far in mapping out the tracks of your "quiet revolution," namely, a reform of the Secretariat. This is perhaps the first time in the history of the Organization that we have, in the same session, a President of the General Assembly, and a Secretary-General, both of whom were staff members of the United Nations Secretariat. Through you, Mr. Secretary-General, I would like to convey our appreciation to the entire staff of the United Nations system who have been, and continue to be, pillars supporting the structures of peace and economic and social well-being which our Organization is building in various parts of the world.
When I addressed this August body last year, I spoke at length about my Government's efforts to reach a peace agreement with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the settlement of people displaced by the conflict and our efforts at national reconciliation. I also spoke of our hopes: our hopes for the consolidation of our new democracy, for the revival of our economy and for the regeneration of communities scarred by years of war. These were no starry-eyed pronouncements. We were too well aware of the challenges which the achievement of these objectives entailed; but we were tackling them in a spirit of realism within the framework of a united national effort and, above all, in confident hope.
In the economic sphere, for instance, the response was promising. My Government within a year is credited for the introduction of a social security scheme and a Minimum Wage Act; accountability and transparency in public spending; trade liberalisation and public enterprise reform including privatisation, reduction of the rate of inflation from 65 percent to 6 percent; achievement of a 5 percent economic growth rate from minus 10 percent a year earlier; and plans for an investment code. These are some of the sign posts of confidence which national and international investors saw when they concluded that Sierra Leone was well on its way to economic recovery. Prospects for that recovery were at their highest in more than two decades.
Today I appear before you with a heavy heart. As I speak, a great tragedy is unfolding in my country. On 25 May 1997, a combination of elements of the Sierra Leone army and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) violently overthrew my democratically elected Government and unleashed on the country a reign of terror, unparalleled in its scope and ferocity. Overnight, Sierra Leone was transformed into a gulag of horrors; the killing of defenceless innocent civilians, looting, confiscation of property, and rape. These atrocities continue. The people of Sierra Leone have been ushered into a long night of darkness. For the first time in our history, the survival of our national society as a morally and socially cohesive whole has been put into question.
It is against the background of these dramatically changed conditions in my country that I appear before you today, to make an appeal, a desperate appeal, for help from the international community to save a nation and a people. My presence on this podium symbolises the people of Sierra Leone stretching out their hands to the United Nations to pull them back from the brink of catastrophe.
Mr. President, the people of Sierra Leone are united in a common fear, the fear that unless something is done and done now, the barbarism and adventurism of the military junta will push the country over the brink. Their hope is that the international community will not allow the military junta to convert their country into one vast killing field. If the prevailing situation is allowed to drift much longer, because of a failure of political will, or for any other reason, then the hopes of a peace-loving nation for a life worthy of normal human beings would have been betrayed. I am more than convinced that this cannot be what the United Nations would like to see happen in Sierra Leone. My belief in the United Nations, as the custodian of world peace and security, and as the ultimate defence of the weak and the defenceless, remains as strong as ever. It is on the strength of this conviction, which has been a part of all my adult life, that I being the case of Sierra Leone to the attention of this distinguished Assembly.
THE 1996 ELECTION
Only the speedy restoration of the democratically elected Government of Sierra Leone can provide a lasting solution to the crisis and enable the country to return to normalcy and to resume its place as a responsible member of the community of nations. This is no self-serving statement. To insist on the restoration of my Government is no more than to insist that the Government which the people of Sierra Leone freely and openly elected in the most closely invigilated election in the post-independence history of the country be restored to them. Indeed, when the OAU Summit in Harare considered the matter it resolved strongly and unequivocally to condemn the coup d'etat and called for the immediate restoration of constitutional order in Sierra Leone.
My Government emerged as a result of a transition process under the then military regime of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). It was that regime which appointed the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the management body responsible for the conduct of both the parliamentary and presidential elections. At the request of INEC, the Commonwealth Secretariat in London provided three experts, including a legal draftsman, to help with the preparations for the elections. None of these people had been to Sierra Leone before and they knew nobody in the country. The point of their attachment to INEC was to bring to bear on the work of the Commission the highest international electoral practices. The European Union also provided a voter-education expert from Britain, while the United Nations supplied a logistical expert. In other words, at the heart of the election management body, the international community had a presence to ensure the highest standard of probity and transparency in the conduct of the elections.
In January 1996, in the middle of the preparations for the elections, Brigadier Maada Bio forced Captain Valentine Strasser out of office as Chairman of the NPRC and immediately launched a campaign to postpone the elections. The banner of that campaign was â€œPeace before Elections.â€ A National Consultative Conference comprising representatives of political parties, the army, the police, trade unions, women's organisations, the churches and mosques and other organs of civil society was convened in February 1996 to pronounce on the matter. I should add that in attendance were also representatives of the international community. The overwhelming majority of the delegates to the conference supported the holding of elections. Incidentally, the Revolutionary United Front was invited to participate in this democratic process. Clearly illustrating its attitude towards legitimate democratic principles and procedures, the RUF categorically refused to honour the said invitation.
And so the elections were duly held on 26-27 February 1996. There were observers from the Commonwealth, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the African-American Institute, the African-American Labour Centre, the Commonwealth Trade Union Council, and the World Council of Churches, all coordinated by no less a body than the United Nations itself. At the close of polling and long before the official declaration of the results, the international observers issued a joint statement on 29th February, 1996, in which they said that despite setbacks they had witnessed a remarkably peacefully, orderly and transparent conduct of the vote which led them to conclude "that the results will genuinely reflect the will of the people of Sierra Leone and usher in an era of democracy."
Mr. President, having failed to prevent the holding of elections through political maneouvring, the anti-democratic forces within the army and their RUF allies launched a campaign of terror and intimidation in those parts of the countryside where the rebels had a presence to scare away people from voting. Many innocent men and women had their hands cut off. Some were branded with hot iron and many more were mutilated in ways that I cannot describe in public. But no intimidation could overcome the determination of the people to put an end to military rule and all its associated abuses.
Mr. President, the elections which brought my Government into office were more than an electoral exercise to replace one Government with another. they were no less than an opportunity, indeed a historic opportunity, for the people of Sierra Leone to put an end to nearly 30 years of undemocratic rule, the lat four of which were an outright military dictatorship.
Mr. President, in retrospect the victories of the people, first against the political sleight of hand to stop the elections, and then the campaign of terror and intimidation to scare away the voters from the polling booths, seem to have left the reactionary forces in our country with only one remaining avenue to their objective--the unconstitutional overthrow of any civil Government and that was precisely what happened on 25 May.
The people of Sierra Leone have responded to the coup in a manner that is unique in the history of Africa. Thousands of citizens, some out of fear for their lives and other human rights violations, simply abandoned their homes and their country, moved into neighbouring countries, declaring they would rather live as refugees outside Sierra Leone, than stay under the rule of the illegal junta. Those who stayed behind have refused to go to work and in various ways refused to cooperate with the junta. This is the manifestation of the determination of Sierra Leoneans, never to surrender their hard-won democracy.
The struggle underway in my country is between the unarmed millions defending the cause of democracy and the armed reactionary clique of mutinous soldiers and their RUF cohorts. In embarking on that perilous struggle, the people of Sierra Leone were never in doubt as to where the sheer military advantage lay. What continues to sustain the determined resistance of the people and to fortify their courage, is the belief and the expectation that the international community cannot and will not let them down. Indeed the belief that whatever hardship they are facing at the moment, right will ultimately triumph over might.
PEACE IN SIERRA LEONE
No one who has seen the reign of terror unleashed by the regime on the defenceless citizenry or witnessed the daily looting, rape and other brutalities which have now become a way of life can mistake it for peace. There is no peace in Sierra Leone. What is happening is that the horrors which the RUF had inflicted on the rural communities--the killings, the amputation of limbs, the looting, the arbitrary and illegal seizure of private property of all kinds and many other crimes--have now been generalised to encompass the urban centres as well. To further compound their assault on innocent civilians, the illegal junta has finally resorted to the laying of anti-personnel land mines throughout the country, and within the capital city itself. I need not spell out what a horrific act this represents as far as innocent men, women and children are concerned as they begin to fall victim of these hidden devices.
Mr. President, this was precisely what my Government set out to avert. In my inaugural statement as President, I made the pursuit of peace and the end of the rebel war my most urgent of priorities. Within a matter of days of assuming office, I signed a communique at Yamoussoukro with the leader of the RUF, Corporal Foday Sankoh, in which we effectively agreed upon a permanent cease-fire. That agreement opened the way for substantive negotiations between the Government and the RUF, culminating in the Abidjan Peace Accord of 30th November 1996.
Mr. President, what my Government did not know was that the RUF was negotiating in bad faith. We took the RUF at its word and assumed that their professed commitment to peace was genuine. The negotiations were protracted because the RUF was adamant on certain issues. We conceded on those particular issues with the hope that the RUF would honour the resulting Accord. This is of course not to suggest that there were no doubters in our ranks who harboured misgivings about the sincerity of the RUF. We had our share of doubting Thomases, but based on our people's yearning for peace, we elected to be guided more by our hopes and less by our fears.
After peace, national reconciliation was another central plank of my Government's policy. The pursuit of that policy began with the very configuration of my administration. My party had a substantial majority in Parliament, and I myself had won the Presidential elections with a convincing majority. On the basis of the outcome of the elections therefore, I was under no obligation to include in my government people from other parties. But I took a wider view of the matter and decided that if the cause of national reconciliation was to be advanced it would be desirable to have a broad based Government. Accordingly, I appointed the leader of one of the minority parties to be my Finance Minister, making him effectively the third most senior member of the Government. Other ministerial and senior positions were filled by people drawn from other political parties. What emerged as a result was a broad based Government of national unity in all but name.
The policy of national reconciliation was taken further. The previous military regime, the NPRC, had confiscated the properties of many senior Sierra Leoneans not on the basis of law or due process, but on ad hoc commissions of inquiry whose findings were not published, and from which there was no appeal. No one pretended that justice had been done by the work of these commissions of enquiry. Yet, on the basis of their findings, not only had many people lost their properties, some of them had also been disqualified from holding public office. If Sierra Leone's new democracy was to mean anything, this was a state of affairs which could not be allowed to continue. I appointed a National Commission of Reconciliation and applied to the Commonwealth Secretary-General for a senior Commonwealth judge to review the findings of the Commissions of Inquiry and to put right what had been put wrong. I wanted a judge of suitable seniority and distinction whose verdict would command respect on all sides. The Commonwealth Secretary-General secured for me from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago the services of Justice Ulric Cross of Trinidad and Tobago. He was due to return to Sierra Leone to resume his chairmanship of the National Commission for Reconciliation when the coup took place.
Following the earlier coup of April 1992 which had installed the NPRC military regime in power, many Sierra Leoneans went into exile. They too had to be enabled to come home in security and in dignity. Former President Joseph Saidu Momoh had been living in exile in Conakry since the coup of April 1992. My Government brought him home and resettled him in a manner befitting a man who had been our Head of State.
Mr. President I have gone into this background in detail to show what my Government did to end the war which had been raging for the best part of five years, achieve national reconciliation and usher in lasting peace. All this and much else will be erased if the regime is allowed to remain in power. The burning question before the World Community therefore is how best to bring a swift end to the ruinous regime of the military and to enable Sierra Leoneans to rejoin the mainstream of human society.
Some people with the best of intentions but with little knowledge of the situation, have called for negotiations to end the tragedy unfolding in Sierra Leone.
I have been involved in negotiations of one kind or another throughout my career. In fact in a sense, negotiating is second nature to me. Accordingly I have no problems with the principle of negotiation. But it would be utterly disingenuous of me if I did not state the serious reservations I hold about negotiating with the junta.
In the first place the junta is an unstable coalition. On the surface it presents itself as a Government in which every member shares collective responsibility for decisions jointly taken. In reality it is nothing of the kind. There is nothing collective about the junta except the determination of its constituent parts to hang on to power. For now, the RUF may be with some elements of the army, but there is no pretence that they are motivated by the same long term objectives. The RUF is not the army, and it is certainly not under the command of the mutinous faction of the Army. The RUF has a separate and independent command structure, and it takes its instructions from its own high command. Therefore, based on our experience, in any putative negotiations the RUF can be expected to come to the table with its own sets of demands. The decision of one part of the unstable coalition will not, by any stretch of the imagination, bind the other. Indeed, precisely because they have separate and quite possibly conflicting objectives there is hardly any prospect of negotiating with anything like a unified position.
In the second place, the RUF is undoubtedly the faction with the upper hand within the junta. The RUF's principal objective all along has been to take and keep power by all mans, including terror and murder. In its present configuration, the RUF has no coherent programme to speak of. Rather than yield power peacefully, the RUF has threatened to launch a scorched earth campaign to reduce the country to ashes. Its position is that if it cannot rule Sierra Leone, nobody else should.
And if none of these points is convincing we have only to look at the way in which the junta has handled the negotiations with the ECOWAS Committee of Four Foreign Ministers. The three point ECOWAS formula for the resolution of the Sierra Leone crisis entailed in that order â€œthe early reinstatement of the legitimate Government of President Tejan Kabbah, the return of peace and security, and the resolution of the issues of refugees and displaced persons.â€ This was the basis on which the regime entered into negotiations with the ECOWAS Committee of Four. The third meeting between the Committee and representatives of the regime in Abidjan took place on 30 July 1997. It was expected to be a break-through meeting. However, while it was in progress, the leader of the junta made a radio and television broadcast in which he stated clearly that his regime was determined to remain in power for a minimum of four years. His statement was intended to wreck the talks and that was exactly what it did. He has not retracted this determination to stay in power for four years.
If, in spite of the record of the illegal junta's bad faith the international community insists we must take the path of negotiations, then I suggest that such negotiations should be held between the junta and the Committee of ECOWAS Foreign Ministers whose membership has now been increased to five. And for those negotiations to be meaningful they must proceed on the basis of clear understandings. In the first place, if the negotiations are resumed the three point ECOWAS negotiating agenda must remain the agenda of such negotiations. Then they must be time-bound. If they are open ended, the regime can be expected to filibuster, and to spin them indefinitely in the hope that it will achieve a creeping de facto recognition by the international community. Then the junta's delegation must always be led by the junta leader himself. The Committee of Five should insist on no less, because if the regime's delegation is led by anyone else the scope for subsequent repudiation and double dealing will become infinite. Finally, to ensure that the regime treats the negotiations with the seriousness they deserve, existing international pressures and measures must not only be maintained, but further strengthened. In that way the genuineness of the regime's declared intention to negotiate will be tested.
When all this is done and an agreement is reached, we would still have to face the task of achieving genuine and total national reconciliation. I have never lost sight of this need and it is the one objective which has influenced every step that I have taken since assuming office in March 1996. The events of 25th May have only deepened those divisions within our society which my policies had begun to heal. As a result, the adoption of a more vigorous policy of national reconciliation has become an absolute necessity.
It will not be exaggerating the case to say that the brand of political persuasion practiced by the military/RUF coalition borders on systematic genocide. Since May 25th 1997, whole villages, entire communities and targeted families have been wholly or partially decimated in the Eastern, Northern, and Southern Provinces of Sierra Leone: in Moyamba, Bonthe, Sanda, Bumpe, Kumrabai, Foredugu, and the list is endless.
This is why many Sierra Leoneans strongly believe that a war crimes tribunal should be appointed to try all those who had a hand in the making of our tragedy. I understand the feelings behind this demand, but I reject it. I reject it because it will add to our already grave problems and postpone lasting national reconciliation.
Mr. President, throughout this address I have tried to draw a distinction between elements of the army in complicity with the head of the junta and the bulk of the army who are basically decent men and women and loyal to the best traditions of the Sierra Leone army. Even so, I do not believe that any worthwhile national purpose will be served by a policy of reprisals against the misguided elements of the army and others in the junta's camp. We seek no more from the United Nations than the assurance of the 6th August 1997 contained in the President of the Security Council's statement in these words:
"The Security Council will in the absence of a satisfactory response from the military junta be ready to take appropriate measures with the objective of restoring the democratically elected Government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah."
At the same time, we are asking the Security Council to assist the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its monitoring group ECOMOG, in giving practical effect to that objective. By doing so the Council will not only be saving the lives of the people of Sierra Leone, but will also be averting an escalation of the crisis which now threatens peace and security in our subregion. And here I would like to take this opportunity to express on behalf of my Government and the people of Sierra Leone our sincere appreciation to the Heads of State and Committee of Foreign Ministers of ECOWAS for their efforts over the past four months in pursuit of their objective which the Security Council supports.
When once the objective of restoring the democratically elected Government is achieved, my Government will, in the same spirit of reconciliation which had guided its policies since the 1996 elections consider, in an appropriate forum, the serious question of security and full implementation of the Abidjan Peace Agreement. Security is paramount. Without security no meaningful assistance can reach the people of Sierra Leone.
Notwithstanding the acts of bad faith initiated by the RUF to derail the peace process and despite the dangerous coalition which had emerged since the May 25th coup, my Government, the legal Government of Sierra Leone, is committed to the Agreement. We are also committed to the Secretary-General's plan and recommendations, submitted to the Security Council last January, for the establishment and maintenance of a peace keeping operation in Sierra Leone in connection with the implementation of the Abidjan Peace Agreement.
We are ready to reactivate my Government's agenda for reconciliation, resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, rehabilitation and reconstruction which the military/RUF junta so ruthlessly disrupted almost five months ago. We owe it to our people to continue the transformation of our economy from emergency relief programmes to realistic projects for medium and long term self sufficiency. However we are confident that the immediate and unconditional restoration of my government, the Government elected by the people, constitutes the first step towards that transformation.
I thank you for your attention