The Call for Tough Arms Control: Voices from Sierra Leone | Sierra Leone | International Security

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Fighting began in Sierra Leone in March 1991, when a small number of rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) crossed the border from Liberia and began attacking civilians. By the time the war was declared over, tens of thousands had been killed out of a population of five million, thousands had been mutilated or raped, and an estimated 10,000 children had been abducted to be child soldiers. Up to two-thirds of the population had been displaced from their homes, and another 600,000 had fled the country. The deep roots of Sierra Leone’s 11 years of war went back decades, involving corrupt governments that alienated the country’s youth and all but destroyed basic institutions, including parliament, the police, and the civil service. This dissatisfaction led to support for the rebels in the early years of the war. Inadequate government control of the armed forces permitted coups and allowed government soldiers to switch from one side to the other. Another major source of fuel for the conflict was the support that the RUF rebels received from Charles Taylor, then president of Liberia, who had wider ambitions for power in West Africa. However, there was one factor that underpinned all of the others in sustaining the violence, and that was the continued supply of weapons, many of them paid for by the illegal sale of diamonds. Sierra Leone does not manufacture weapons. The outside world had to be prepared to supply them, and supply them it did. During all these years, both the countries that provided the weapons, and the countries through which they were shipped, failed to stop the flow of arms and ammunition to the rebels in Sierra Leone. The even wider failure is that of the international community at large which, even after these atrocities and others elsewhere, has failed to take the necessary measures to control the international arms trade. The rest of the world must take responsibility for the arms it supplies. To do that, governments should agree a new international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).
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  ++- EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01 HRS GMT MONDAY 9 JANUARY 2006 The call for tough arms controls Voices from Sierra Leone  Amnesty International    Summary ‘Before the war we had lights, there was water in the taps, but now because of these guns we have nothing. Now we put kerosene in our lamps and have to fetch water. We had school libraries, now the buildings are standing empty.’  — Zainab Kamara, counsellor, Makeni, Bombali District The recent Hollywood film Lord of War   depicted an arms broker who did not care who bought his guns, as long as somebody was buying. He procured weapons and ammunition in Eastern Europe and sold them in conflict zones in Africa, including Sierra Leone and Liberia. He used false documents, and exploited every available loophole in the law. For once, the screenwriters were not making it up. The character might have been fictional, but his activities and methods mirrored those of the real arms dealers who supplied the rebels in Sierra Leone throughout the brutal war that ended in 2002. What the film showed little of was the human cost of those arms deals. Fighting began in Sierra Leone in March 1991, when a small number of rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) crossed the border from Liberia and began attacking civilians. By the time the war was declared over, tens of thousands had been killed out of a population of five million, thousands had been mutilated or raped, and an estimated 10,000 children had been abducted to be child soldiers. Up to two-thirds of the population had been displaced from their homes, and another 600,000 had fled the country. With these kinds of numbers, it is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of people’s losses. This report tells the stories of just four survivors. The arms trade impacts on real people; here are the stories that Hollywood will not show you. In 2006, beginning in January, a series of debates on disarmament are due to take place at the United Nations. There will be technical arguments and diplomatic negotiations. The purpose of this report is to add to these discussions the voices of at least some of the people who bear the cost of the world’s continuing failure to control the arms trade. The deep roots of Sierra Leone’s 11 years of war went back decades, involving corrupt governments that alienated the country’s youth and all but destroyed basic institutions, including parliament, the police, and the civil service. This dissatisfaction led to support for the rebels in the early years of the war. Inadequate government control of the armed forces permitted coups and allowed government soldiers to switch from one side to the other. Another major source of fuel for the conflict was the support that the RUF rebels received from Charles Taylor, then president of Liberia, who had wider ambitions for power in West Africa. The call for tough arms controls: voices from Sierra Leone , Control Arms Campaign, January 2006 2    However, there was one factor that underpinned all of the others in sustaining the violence, and that was the continued supply of weapons, many of them paid for by the illegal sale of diamonds. Sierra Leone does not manufacture weapons. The outside world had to be prepared to supply them, and supply them it did. War crimes, crimes against humanity, and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed by all sides: 1  the RUF rebels, who were responsible for violations throughout the war; the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which took power when army officers overthrew the elected government in a military coup in 1997; government troops; and the pro-government Civil Defence Force civilian militias, which were based on local tribal hunting societies. In addition, Nigerian (ECOMOG) soldiers who restored President Kabbah to power in 1998, before UN peacekeepers arrived, were reported not to have taken enough measures to minimise the risk to civilians. 2 During all these years, both the countries that provided the weapons, and the countries through which they were shipped, failed to stop the flow of arms and ammunition to the rebels in Sierra Leone. The even wider failure is that of the international community at large which, even after these atrocities and others elsewhere, has failed to take the necessary measures to control the international arms trade. The rest of the world must take responsibility for the arms it supplies. To do that, governments should agree a new international Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). 2006 presents a major political opportunity to begin to do this. ã The Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, in June and July 2006, must agree clear principles for the international transfer of these arms, based on existing international law, to prevent them getting into the wrong hands. ã The Conference’s Preparatory Committee, taking place in New York in January 2006, must set the stage for this. ã Then, the UN General Assembly’s First Committee, meeting in October 2006, must finally start a process to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty. The proliferation of conventional arms is too severe to ignore any longer. Since the atrocities in Sierra Leone took place, arms have been transferred to many other countries with records of human rights violations. Responsible arms exporters and arms-affected states must not be held back by the few states that want to hold up progress. In 2006, they must begin negotiations to agree an Arms Trade Treaty. The call for tough arms controls: voices from Sierra Leone, Control Arms Campaign, January 2006   3    1 The real impact of irresponsible arms sales ‘They had guns and axes. I saw them bring out Sulaiman. I saw them cut off his hand, then the other hand. Sulaiman begged them to release him. One of the rebels said: “Don’t waste this man’s time, let’s just kill him.” They took him towards the next village. That was when I heard Sulaiman’s voice, crying, “Oh, you have shot me.” He died.’  — A man describes what happened to his neighbour when RUF rebels attacked his village of Mayongbo, Bombali District, on 7 May 1998 Fatu Kamara , 39, from Foredugu in Port Loko District, was making plans with her elderly mother to flee the advancing rebels on the day when they attacked her village. She thinks it was in late 1998. ‘My mother wanted me to leave her behind but I couldn’t, and I was sitting with her when a rebel grabbed me. I turned round and saw many of them surrounding me, all holding guns. There was an argument. Some said I should be killed, but one soldier was a man I recognised, and he asked them not to kill me.’ Instead she was taken to another village, where she was held captive and raped by five men. ‘When they had finished raping me they took me out and I was sitting crying, and then suddenly they brought my husband and my daughter. I was so troubled that I even forgot my own pain.’ Fatu’s husband was tortured and killed in front of her.  Anthea Lawson/Oxfam ‘I and my daughter were crying. They told my daughter to stop crying, otherwise they would kill her. She said to them: “Now my mother is lying there in pain and you have killed my father. If you want to kill me, I am ready to die.” Right in front of me, the The call for tough arms controls: voices from Sierra Leone , Control Arms Campaign, January 2006 4
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