Sierra lot of support from the Northern and

Sierra Leone is a small, coastal state in the Western part of Africa. It belongs to the British Commonwealth and gained its independence in 1961. Its first president, representing the Sierra Leonean People’s Party (SLPP), reigned from 1961 till 1967. He was defeated at elections in 1967 by Siake Stevens’s All People’s Congress (APC), who gained a lot of support from the Northern and ethnically mixed Eastern provinces. The government, however, was unstable and two coups quickly followed each other, the second restoring Stevens to power. He continued his path to the creation of a one-party state, by using politics of oppression and corruption. In 1985, Stevens handed power over to his successor, Joseph Momoh. By this time, the state was tremendously weakened.1 Sierra Leone had become an extremely poor country with great inequalities in income distribution. In addition to that, the country suffered from natural conditions such as sand and dust storms and poor social and economic infrastructure, which made economic growth nearly impossible. A major part of Sierra Leone’s income derived from the illegal trafficking of diamonds.2

            In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, invaded the state of Sierra Leone. The RUF consisted of fighters from Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Sierra Leoneans trained by the NPFL and some mercenaries from Burkina Faso.3 4 Both Sankoh and Taylor had plans to overthrow their country’s regimes. They met during a military training camp in Benghazi, Libya and decided to support each other in their plans. Backed by Muamar Quaddafi, who was looking for allies in his fight against the containment of Libya by the West, the RUF invaded Sierra Leone from Liberia on 23 March 1991.5 In doing so, the RUF pursued a tactic of guerilla warfare and conducted widespread attacks against civilians.6

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            Young Sierra Leonean soldiers, fighting against the RUF, mobilized themselves and overthrew the APC government of Joseph Momoh in April 1992, after it being the ruling party for twenty-four years. Consequently, they set up the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), led by Captain Valentine Strasser. 7 After some initial progress, the NPRC was no longer able to contain the RUF uprising when some of its soldiers plotted with the RUF.8 However, the army was soon supported by an organized people’s militia consisting of civilians in the east and south.9 The tables turned in 1995, when civil society pressured for democratic rule. Strasser was overthrown by his deputy in January 1996, who initiated peace talks with the RUF and called for elections. They were held one month later. Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, leader of the SLPP, was democratically chosen as the third president of Sierra Leone.10

            The elections, however, did not ease the conflict. Instead, the RUF believed the new government to be corrupt and justified its violence against the government and civilians as an act for the people. 11 During the war, the RUF still enjoyed support from Charles Taylor and the NPFL, who was supplying arms and personnel. Taylor profited from the war by actively participating in the illegal trade of diamonds.12 In November 1996, both parties tried to alleviate the conflict by signing a peace agreement.  In this Abidjan Peace Accord, the RUF and its leader were granted amnesty from all crimes committed during the war.13 Shortly after signing the agreement, it was mutually violated and the armed conflict resumed. While traveling, Sankoh had been taken into custody in Nigeria for weapons violations and got replaced as leader of the RUF. 14

In 1997, a military coup took place that overthrew Kabbah’s regime, forcing him to fly to Guinea.15 A new regime was installed, led by major Johnny Paul Koroma. He established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and requested the RUF to join their forces. Sankoh got the position of deputy president and several members of the RUF and high-placed members of society were given posts in the newly established regime.16 The coalition fought the Civil Defense Force (CDF), which was still loyal to Kabbah. With support from the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the CDF regained control over the capital and reinstalled Kabbah as President of Sierra Leone in February 1998. Upon their withdrawal, the RUF and AFRC “pillaged villages, killed or imprisoned civilians, and otherwise terrorized the population.”17

            Kabbah’s victory was, however, short lived. In January 1999, the elected government was once again overthrown by RUF rebels. During the invasion, gross human rights violations were carried out. It resulted in “the death of more than 6,000 civilians in the capital; the abduction of thousands of young men and women by the rebels; the maiming and physical abuse of hundreds of citizens; and the burning of a large number of houses and government buildings.”18

            New attempts to ease the conflict between the government and the RUF were made in July 1999, by signing the Lomé Peace Agreement. Just as in the former agreement, Sankoh and the members of his RUF were granted full amnesty for atrocities carried out during the conflict.19 Likewise, the Lomé Agreement did not improve the situation in the country and hostilities resumed. In 2002, the conflict came to an end when the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was deployed.20  

Nature of the war

The armed conflict in Sierra Leone is an example of a ‘new war.’ According to Mary Kaldor, new wars are likely to break out when certain factors are present, such as a decline in state revenue and political legitimacy, an increase in organized crime and a shrinkage of the gap between combatants and civilians. New wars differ from earlier wars regarding its actors, goals, methods and finance. They made a shift from geopolitical or ideological wars, fought by military forces, to wars based on identity politics. This constitutes a “claim to power on the basis of a particular identity,” carried out by both state and non-state actors. Guerilla warfare is a widely used strategy of new wars, used as a tool to gain political control of the population. An open and decentralized economy is a crucial factor here, as is the increase in human rights violations and civilian casualties. 21  

            When applying the concept of a ‘new war’ to the conflict in Sierra Leone, it becomes clear that it meets all the criteria. In the 1980s, Sierra Leone’s one-party government was extremely corrupt and oppressive. Furthermore, the government’s revenue had been severely damaged due to outside pressures for structural adjustment policies, giving way to a ‘war economy’ in which all sides to the conflict depend on the spoils of war. As a consequence of having a weak government, communication between the government and the population was very poor. Many regions felt excluded and neglected. In addition to that, ethnicity or ideology played little or no role in the war. On the contrary, those participating in the conflict often had a similar background and a common feeling of resentment. This feeling was particularly strong among the youth, who were looking for respect and recognition. Lastly, violence against civilians was a widespread phenomenon. Fighters of the RUF used a strategy of terror to gain control over the population.22 According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, these atrocities included, inter alia, the amputations of body parts, rape, injections with acid and sexual mutilation. Moreover, many Sierra Leoneans have psychological problems as a consequence of these atrocities. The war resulted in the displacement of more than a million civilians, of whom most fled the country as refugees. 23

1 Tim Kelsall, Culture Under Cross-Examination: International Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 26.

2 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 70, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

3 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 71-72, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

4 Tim Kelsall, Culture Under Cross-Examination: International Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 26.

5 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 554, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

6 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 72, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

7 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 554, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

8 Tim Kelsall, Culture Under Cross-Examination: International Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 27.

9 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 554, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

10 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 555, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

11 Shahram Dana, “The Sentencing Legacy Of The Special Court For Sierra Leone”, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 42, no. 3 (2014): 620.

12 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 72, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

13 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 74, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

14 Shahram Dana, “The Sentencing Legacy Of The Special Court For Sierra Leone”, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 42, no. 3 (2014): 620.

15 Tim Kelsall, Culture Under Cross-Examination: International Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009): 27.

16 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 555, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

17 Shahram Dana, “The Sentencing Legacy Of The Special Court For Sierra Leone”, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 42, no. 3 (2014): 621.

18 Yusuf Bangura, “Strategic Policy Failure And Governance In Sierra Leone”, The Journal of Modern African Studies 38, no. 4 (2000): 552, accessed January 20, 2018, https://www.jstor.org/stable/161509?seq=1#.

19 Nsongurua J. Udombana, “Globalization Of Justice And The Special Court For Sierra Leone’s War Crimes”, Emory International Law Review 17, no. 55 (2003): 79, accessed January 20, 2018, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1806135.

20 Shahram Dana, “The Sentencing Legacy Of The Special Court For Sierra Leone”, Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 42, no. 3 (2014): 621-622.

21 Mary Kaldor, New And Old Wars: Organized Violence In A Global Era, 1st ed. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999): 5-9.

22 Mary Kaldor and James Vincent, Case Study: Sierra Leone (New York: United Nations Development Program Evaluation Office, 2006): 9-10, accessed January 20, 2018, http://web.undp.org/evaluation/documents/thematic/conflict/SierraLeone.pdf.

23 Human Rights Watch, “Sowing Terror: Atrocities Against Civilians In Sierra Leone”, last modified 1998, accessed January 20, 2018, http://pantheon.hrw.org/legacy/reports98/sierra/Sier988.htm. 

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