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Sierra Leone: ICRC activities January to June 2007

10-08-2007 Operational Update

More than five years after the conflict in Sierra Leone ended, the ICRC has gradually scaled down its presence in the country. It closed down its last remaining field office in Kenema in October 2006, and now carries out its activities countrywide from Freetown.

In line with the overall improvement in the security and humanitarian environment, the ICRC's main concern is the promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL) to the armed and security forces. As a second priority, it – along with its partners in the Movement – works to strengthen the operational capacity of the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS).

As part of efforts to address outstanding humanitarian consequences of the conflict, the ICRC helps restore links between family members separated as a result of the violence. ICRC delegates regularly visit prisoners, especially those held in relation to the conflict or for reasons of State security.

 
Detainees 
 

The ICRC continued to monitor the treatment of detainees and of material conditions of detention in Sierra Leone's prisons. It carried out 21 visits to prisoners in 17 places of detention and presented its findings and recommendations to the detaining authorities, in order to obtain improvements where necessary.

However, the ICRC's primary focus has shifted to providing expert input to selected areas of prison reform, in particular concerning health in detention, provision of water and sanitation.

 
Restoring family links 
 

As the only organization providing countrywide and cross-border tracing services for families separated by conflict, the ICRC has a recognised lead in this domain.

During the first six months of 2007, ICRC:

  • reunited four children with their families and tried to find relatives of 70 other minors;

  • exchanged, in cooperation with SLRCS, family news between more than 400 separated family members through Red Cross Messages, including between detainees and their next of kin;

  • continued to make authorities and communities aware of the problem of people unaccounted for in relation to the conflict and of the needs of their families. A particular focus was placed on women left alone to care for their families after the family breadwinner went missing.

 
Promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL)  
 

As a result of the ICRC's years of work with the armed and security forces, international humanitarian law is today an integral part of training at all levels. Knowledge of IHL has become a condition for promotion in the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF).

In the first half of 2007, the ICRC:

  • made a presentation on IHL, including criminal repression of war crimes, to staff of the RSLAF's newly-established court martial and to over 30 high-ranking RSLAF officers;

  • conducted information sessions on the ICRC, humanitarian principles and IHL to nearly 900 army and police staff and to hundreds of students, members of local government and representatives of civil society:

  • conducted a two-week training course for 38 Sierra Leone Police (SLP) instructors. This aimed to help improve the training capacity of the SLP in humanitarian principles and closely-related human rights standards and to facilitate their integration into the training curricula;

  • organized the third annual national moot court competition on IHL for six colleges, in cooperation with the Special Court for Sierra Leone and two faculty members from the University of Liberia;

  • with the cooperation of the Office of National Security, spoke to over 100 executives and staff of private security companies about their responsibilities under IHL and human rights standards.

 
Support for the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) 
 

Together with the International Federation, the ICRC remains committed to strengthening the capacity of the SLRCS to assume fully its statutory peacetime responsibilities.

Capacity building is achieved through:

  • an operational partnership to provide humanitarian services (cooperation with SLRCS in restoring family links through collection and distribution of Red Cross Messages; joint dissemination sessions to selected audiences on Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement);

  • a contribution to society's organizational development (budget support and support to improve financial management and reporting; support to SLRCS programmes such as first aid and child advocacy and rehabilitation).