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15 May 2000

Sierra Leone: swift action by UN essential says WCC

cf. WCC Press Release of 13 December 1999
cf. WCC Press Update of 22 December 1999

In a letter sent on 11 May to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Ms Geneviève Jacques, called on the UN to act swiftly and decisively under its mandate in Sierra Leone.

Highlighting a statement made by the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL), the WCC appealed to the international community to "implement with vigour and strength its full mandate to protect peace in Sierra Leone".

Failure to act swiftly "after such long and detailed forewarning would certainly lead to the charge that their silence and inaction makes them complicit with the equally forseeable consequences", the WCC emphasised. It also expressed appreciation to nations that have responded to the UN Security Council call.

The text of the WCC letter follows. (Footnotes added refer to further information provided below.)

"I write to express the energetic support of the World Council of Churches for your efforts to achieve the full implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1270 (1999) and 1289 (2000) establishing and expanding the mandate of UNAMSIL 1.

You are certainly right in emphasizing that "The UN can only be as strong as its Member States, and (their) political will and resources, and the willingness to commit resources." The members of the Security Council, and indeed of the United Nations at large, can have no excuse for not having foreseen the present situation and taken appropriate measures to prevent it.

In fulfillment of your responsibilities to provide early warning you have reported regularly and in detail to the Security Council on the dangerous developments in Sierra Leone. The Council itself has had the situation constantly under review and has taken firm actions several times in the past two years.

Appealing to Chapter VII of the [UN] Charter, the major powers have been quick to respond to crises elsewhere in the world in recent times, often decisively, with massive force and at enormous expense. The peoples of the world, especially those of Africa, are well justified in judging harshly the failure of the same powers to act in an equally timely and decided way here in accordance with the mandate given under the same provision of the Charter.

I draw your attention especially to the statement issued by the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone on 10 May. The IRCSL, which has played a central and courageous role in achieving the peace accord in their country and in promoting its implementation, appeals to

  • the United Nations to implement with vigour and strength its full mandate to protect peace in Sierra Leone, and
  • the international community to fulfill its commitments to the government of Sierra Leone, the United Nations and relevant non-governmental organisations to enable them effectively to fulfill their respective mandates vis-à-vis the Lomé peace agreement 2.

    The WCC knows first hand the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone in this terrible civil war. We are also aware that the death, maiming and other terrors of the war were controlled only as a result of the resolute actions of the ECOMOG forces. The churches and other religious communities of Sierra Leone have underscored for many weeks the concern you expressed in your own letter to the Security Council of 23 December 1999 "about the repercussions which a premature withdrawal of ECOMOG might have on the security situation in Sierra Leone". In the religious leaders' view, only immediate and equally decided action by UNAMSIL could prevent the country from descending again into chaos and destruction.

    Thus the World Council of Churches joins and adds its voice to the urgent plea of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone, and to your own pleading, that the nations act now before further lives are lost. Their failure to act after such long and detailed forewarning would certainly lead to the charge that their silence and inaction makes them complicit with the equally forseeable consequences.

    In saying this, we express through you our heartfelt gratitude to those nations that have responded to the call of the Security Council and sent soldiers willing to put lives on the line to safeguard the peace and the safety of the people of this embattled land."

    1. UNAMSIL, the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, was initially set up by UN Security Council Resolution 1270 (1999) as a low-level observer force. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it was subsequently strengthened, with a provision that "in the discharge of its mandate UNAMSIL may take the necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, to afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence, taking into account the responsibilities of the Government of Sierra Leone and ECOMOG.

    2. A peace agreement was signed in Lomé, Togo, on 7 July 1999 between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF).

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    The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.