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UN Won’t Uphold Sierra Leone Amnesty

July 7, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The United Nations announced Wednesday that it will not recognize the amnesty granted to rebels by Sierra Leone’s peace deal for crimes against humanity.

The U.N. Special Representative for Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, signed the agreement reached Wednesday in Lome, Togo, but with a disclaimer saying the amnesty does not cover human rights violations, spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

The United Nations supports the peace agreement and backs suggestions for a truth commission for those who committed atrocities, but believes that those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious violations cannot be protected from prosecution, U.N. officials said.

``While any sovereign state may grant amnesty for violation of its national laws ... the United Nations will not recognize that amnesty as applying to gross violations of human rights,″ de Almeida y Silva said.

The spokesman, however, would not say what the United Nations would do to make sure those who committed the atrocities are punished.

Unlike the case of war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia, there is no international war crimes tribunal set up for Sierra Leone. The proposed International Criminal Court, which would presumably have jurisdiction over such crimes, is years away from creation.

Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and rebel Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh signed the deal in a public ceremony Wednesday in Togo’s capital of Lome.

The agreement had posed a serious legal and ethical dilemma for the United Nations, which is expected to increase the size and mandate of the small military observer mission in the war-ravaged West African nation to help monitor the cease-fire.

Britain has suggested 3,000 peacekeepers be dispatched to do the job.

The United Nations had pressed to eliminate the blanket amnesty. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, had said the scale of atrocities committed in Sierra Leone far exceeded those in Kosovo.

She decried the lack of international attention for the tens of thousands of people who have been murdered, tortured and raped in eight years of Sierra Leone’s rebellion.

Because of the enormity of the atrocities committed, Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations to reject any peace agreement that included a general amnesty for the rebels.

``The atrocities committed in Sierra Leone have shocked the world,″ said group spokesman Peter Takirambudde. ``The United Nations must not sponsor a peace agreement that pretends they never happened.″

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was expected to pay a one-day visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday in a bid to drum up international support for the peace process.

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