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Sierra Leone: A success story in peacekeeping


The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) completed its mandate in December, ending six years of peacekeeping in the country. UNAMSIL’s achievements may serve as a model for successful peacekeeping, as well as a prototype for the UN’s new emphasis on peacebuilding.



In 1999, UN peacekeepers moved into Sierra Leone to oversee a feeble peace process which included monitoring a shaky ceasefire and supporting a transition to democratic governance. Since then, the UN has helped the war-ravaged country to make impressive gains towards peace, demonstrating how the world body can respond to the needs and demands of countries emerging from conflict in a rapidly changing global environment.


Over the course of its mandate, the UN disarmed more than 75,000 ex-fighters, including about 7,000 child soldiers; assisted in holding national and local government elections, which enabled people to participate in decisions that affected their daily lives; helped to rebuild the country’s police force to its pre-war strength and contributed towards rehabilitating the infrastructure and bringing government services to local communities.


The UN also helped the government stop illicit trading in diamonds and regulate the industry. During the war, rebels had used money from “blood” or “conflict” diamonds to buy weapons which then fuelled the conflict. Now diamonds have become an engine of growth, with government income from diamonds soaring from just $10 million in 2000 to $160 million in 2004, according the International Monetary Fund figures.


UNAMSIL was not always foreseen to succeed: at one point, in May 2000, the mission nearly collapsed when the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) kidnapped hundreds of peacekeepers and renounced the ceasefire in a move that endangered the credibility of UN peacekeeping. Outraged by the chaos that followed, the international community put pressure on the rebels to obey the ceasefire and slapped sanctions against RUF sponsors. Subsequently,UNAMSIL launched new mediation efforts and brought the two adversaries back to the negotiation table. It brought in more troops to monitor the ceasefire and began disarming fighters from both sides. The United Kingdom, which had sent a force to restore peace following RUF’s breach of the ceasefire, later started restructuring the army while UNAMSIL and other international partners concentrated on training the local police force.


UNAMSIL’s withdrawal marked the completion of most of the tasks assigned it by the Security Council. The mission assisted the voluntary return of more than half a million refugees and internally displaced persons. It helped the government restore its authority and social services in areas previously controlled by rebels, recruited and trained about 4,000 police personnel with the help of a team of officers from Commonwealth countries, and constructed and renovated dozens of police stations. Meanwhile, the UK continued to assist the government restructure the army.


UNAMSIL monitored and trained dozens of Sierra Leoneans in human rights and was instrumental in setting up the Special Court for Sierra Leone to try those most responsible for war crimes. The mission also assisted the government in setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, tasked with healing the wounds of war by bringing together perpetrators and victims of atrocities.


Working together with UN agencies, the mission launched quick-impact and income-generating projects to provide jobs to thousands of unemployed youths and ex-fighters and basic services to local communities. UNAMSIL troops reconstructed schools and clinics, launched and funded agricultural projects and sponsored free medical clinics in far-flung areas.


As a sign of continued international community confidence in the future of Sierra Leone, donors pledged $800 million in aid at a conference held in London in November to raise money for development. Economic revival is also being boosted by returning refugees and other displaced persons eager to rebuild their communities. Former ghost towns like Kono and Tongo Fields are now havens of commercial activities, as diamond-producing areas attract thousands of young people. Since 2002, the economy has expanded at an average of about 7 percent, and the IMF predicts future growth of 6-7 per cent per year if the political and economic situation remains stable.


Despite the optimism over the gains UNAMSIL has brought, Sierra Leone still faces many challenges: the country remains fragile, and as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission warned, it has to take concrete steps to address the root causes of the conflict and cultivate a culture of human rights in order for peace to be sustainable. The economy is heavily dependent on donor funds. A disproportionate share of income from diamond mining still finds its way into private hands, rather than Government coffers. Despite ongoing reintegration programmes, thousands of ex-combatants and youths – many of whom never went to school – are unemployed. In short, the peace has yet to produce tangible economic dividends and social benefits for the majority of the country’s 4.8 million people.


To help meet these challenges, the newly created UN Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) was to take over from UNAMSIL beginning in January 2006. Its mandate is to cement UNAMSIL’s gains. The new office will help the Government strengthen human rights, realize the Millennium Development Goals, improve transparency and hold free and fair elections in 2007. It will also work together with other UN agencies and missions in the sub-region and provide security for the Special Court.


Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2006