The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had been established under the 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement, published its report in October 2004. The UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) completed its peacekeeping mandate in December 2005. It was succeeded by the United Nations Integrated Office for Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), established by UN Security Council Resolution 1620, which was mandated to assist Sierra Leone in consolidating peace and human rights, building capacity of state institutions, and strengthening the rule of law and the security sector.
In August 2007 the All People’s Congress (APC) won parliamentary elections. In September Ernest Bai Korom, representing the APC, was elected president, replacing Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
The conflict in Sierra Leone, which began in 1991, was officially declared over in January 2002 with completed disarmament and demobilization of armed groups.1 The Liberian conflicts of 1990–7 and 2000–3, and the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire since 2002, were intricately linked, with operations across borders, including in Guinea, which bordered all three countries, and a complex web of governments and armed groups providing support to factions in neighbouring countries.2 A migrant population of thousands of young fighters, including child soldiers, crossing the borders between Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, saw conflict mainly as an economic opportunity. Many had first been forcibly recruited as children in one conflict, then willingly crossed borders to take up arms in another, often with a different armed group. A 2005 study by Human Rights Watch found that most had been motivated by the promises of financial gain, and many could not articulate the political objective of the group they fought with. The risk of re-recruitment was exacerbated by high rates of youth unemployment and corruption and deficiencies in the implementation of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programs.3 An August 2006 report by the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) noted that high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, across west Africa posed a risk to stability in the region. This was reiterated in a 2007 report by the UN Secretary-General which highlighted also the importance of reform of the security sector in countries in the region as a means of addressing it.
In May 2007 the Secretary-General assessed the security situation in Sierra Leone as stable but fragile, with risks to stability from the high rate of youth unemployment, concerns over the accountability of the authorities, the weakness of the justice system and the lack of improvement in general living standards.5 A June 2007 UN report on conditions in prisons indicated that failure to protect prisoners’ rights could also threaten the country’s stability.
Sierra Leone was ranked the least-developed country in the world by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) 2007–8 Human Development Index, based on 2005 data.
The Child Rights Act, passed in June 2007, introduced into domestic law the international definition of a child as any person under the age of 18 and other provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.8 It included (Section 28) a prohibition on the use of land mines and other weapons declared by international instruments to be adverse to children.
The Sierra Leone government affirmed in 2006 in its second report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that, as stated in its declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol, the age of recruitment into the armed forces had been raised from 17.5 to 18 years. The 2007 Child Rights Act enacted this into law, stipulating that the minimum age of recruitment into the armed forces was 18 (Section 28), and amending the Sierra Leone Armed Forces Act of 1961 to this effect.
In its declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol, Sierra Leone had stated that there was no compulsory recruitment into the armed forces and that recruitment was exclusively on a voluntary basis.
There were reports that, in 2005, children in Sierra Leone were being recruited with a view to fighting in Liberia. In July near Kaliahun in eastern Sierra Leone men from Liberia were aiming to recruit children for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and in August Liberian LURD sympathizers were seeking to recruit children allegedly to work in diamond mines in Liberia as a cover for a recruitment strategy.10 In August 2005 two boys claimed that they had escaped from a recruitment camp in Liberia.11 In September 2005, cases of children who went to Liberia to sell goods but never came back were also documented in the Kaliahun district.
The Lomé Peace Agreement had explicitly provided that the special needs of children should be addressed in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process. According to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there were no accurate statistics for the number of children associated with the fighting forces during the conflict. Estimates by different organizations including UNICEF, UNAMSIL, and local agencies ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 depending on the criteria used.13 The national body responsible for the DDR program, the National Committee for Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (NCDRR) confirmed to the Commission that more than 6,774 children entered the DDR program. Of these, 3,710 had been with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), 2,026 with the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF), 471 with the Sierra Leone Army and 427 with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); 144 were with other factions or non-affiliated.
It was estimated that about 30 per cent of child soldiers in the conflict were girls, but only 8 per cent (513) of the former child soldiers in the DDR program were female. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified this failure to address the needs of girl soldiers as the most glaring problem in the DDR program, and in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1314 of August 2000 on children and armed conflict, which called for special attention to be given to the needs of girls in the wake of conflict, including in DDR programs. Gender had been given scant regard in the planning of the DDR program, which did not take into account the gender-specific roles played by girls and the complexity of their situations. One reason for the lack of participation of girls in the DDR program was that most of them had been considered as camp followers and not as combatants in their own right. In fact, they had played many roles in the conflict, as porters, fighters and “bush wives” held in sexual slavery by their captors. Some commanders to whom the girls had been attached as “bush wives” refused to allow them to participate in the DDR program. Other girls refused to participate for fear of stigmatization.
UNICEF set up the “Girls Left Behind Project” to provide assistance to such girls. In the Kono, Bombali and Port Loko districts where the project was operated by UNICEF’s non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, by the time it closed in February 2005 over 1,000 girls had been identified who had not gone through the DDR process, and 714 girls had been provided with services. Some similar projects were set up by NGOs.16 One local NGO continued to work with girls without focusing exclusively on girls formerly associated with the fighting forces, but involving other girls affected by the conflict, including commercial sex workers.
Demobilized children under 15 were sent to Interim Care Centres (ICCs) under the care of UNICEF and child protection agencies, after which they were reunited with their families or went to foster families, and entered education projects. Those aged 15–17 could go into NCDRR training and employment programs for up to nine months, at the end of which they received a start-up kit. However, in many cases they were unable to make effective use of their training because of the weakness of the economy, and start-up kits on their own were not enough to start a sustainable business. To that extent the DDR program had not taken economic realities into account and had given insufficient consideration to sustainability.18 The levels of economic deprivation reportedly were a factor in some Sierra Leone former combatants, including former child soldiers, returning to fighting in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.