UN remains in post-war Sierra Leone
Although the UN’s six-year peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone was formally concluded at the end of 2005, the international organization is setting up a new office to help coordinate its on-going efforts to help consolidate the country’s fragile peace. At the turn of the year, the UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) took over the reins from the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). Its mandate will be to cement UNAMSIL’s gains by helping the government strengthen human rights, improve transparency, assist the next round of elections in 2007 and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
When UNAMSIL started operations in 1999, its prospects appeared uncertain. A tentative peace agreement was in place between the government and rebel factions, designed to end a civil war that began eight years earlier, but the rebels resumed armed actions in 2000. UNAMSIL soon helped get the peace process back on track, however, and by 2002 had succeeded in disarming and demobilizing more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including child soldiers. That same year, the mission also helped organize successful presidential and parliamentary elections.
UNAMSIL assisted the voluntary return of more than half a million refugees and displaced people, helped the government restore essential social services, rebuilt schools and health clinics and was instrumental in establishing the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying those responsible for war crimes. The court will continue to operate, and one of the duties of the new UNIOSIL will be to work with other UN missions in West Africa to provide the court with continuing security.
Legislators call for end to harmful practice
Declaring that female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), is “harmful, irreversible, and sometimes fatal,” parliamentarians from 20 African countries plus the UK have pledged to step up efforts to eliminate the practice. A 4–5 December conference in Dakar, sponsored by Senegal’s National Assembly and the African Parliamentary Union, emphasized education, rather than criminal penalties, in shaping a “multidisciplinary” response to the tradition. “The abandonment of FGM/C,” the final declaration noted, “can be achieved only as a result of a comprehensive movement” involving the entire society.
The parliamentarians stressed that “there is no religious justification” for FGM/C. They also emphasized that traditional beliefs, while important, must adapt. “Culture is not immutable,” the group asserted, and “changes when the dangers of harmful practices are understood.” For this reason, the legislators called on traditional and religious leaders, educators, doctors and elected officials to lead the campaign. Legislation can be important symbolically and as an educational tool, the declaration noted, and should be drawn up in conjunction with traditional and civil society leaders. Although genital cutting is performed on 3 million African girls annually, the conference asserted that the practice could be eradicated within a single generation.
Africa lags in global culture market
Africa accounts for less than 1 per cent of global trade in cultural products such as books, compact discs, video games and sculptures, reports the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). And the continent has not shown any progress in capturing a larger share of the market over the last decade, notes a report released in December, International Flows of Selected Cultural Goods and Services, 1994–2003.
Overall, international trade in cultural goods increased from $38 bn to $60 bn annually between 1994 and 2002, reports UNESCO. Just three countries — the UK, US and China — produced 40 per cent of the world’s cultural trade products in 2002.
While globalization provides openings for countries to share their cultures and creative talents, “it is clear that not all nations are able to take advantage of this opportunity,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. “Without support to help these countries participate in this trade, their cultural voices will remain marginalized and isolated.”
Mr. Victor da Silva Angelo of Portugal, previously the UN’s humanitarian aid coordinator and UN Development Programme resident representative in Sierra Leone, has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General to head the newly established UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), which took over on 1 January from the UN peacekeeping mission (see article, above). He has also served with the UN in the Central African Republic, Gambia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and as special envoy for East Timor and Asia.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands as his personal envoy for Western Sahara. Mr. van Walsum has represented his country at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Commission and the UN. As a member of the UN Security Council, he chaired the Iraq Sanctions Committee from 1999 to 2000.
Mr. Francesco Bastagli of Italy has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative for Western Sahara. Just prior to his appointment, Mr. Bastagli served for three years in Kosovo as deputy special representative for civil administration. He has worked for the UN since 1974 in a variety of positions in the Secretariat and with the UN High Commission for Refugees and the UN Development Programme.