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Sierra Leone: ICRC rejects accusations

22-01-1999 News Release 99/05

Geneva (ICRC) - The five remaining delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Freetown were asked by a member of the Sierra Leonean government to leave the country on 13 January last. Following their departure, the ICRC was accused of having used its own communication system to aid the rebels there. These allegations are without foundation and undermine the ICRC's reputation for strict neutrality.

The ICRC uses communication equipment in its humanitarian operations for the sole purpose of maintaining contact with its field staff, and thus ensuring their safety. As such it is an indispensable tool in aiding the victims of conflict. The delegates assigned to Sierra Leone in no way departed from this policy. If the ICRC's communication system was used for any other purpose, this can only have been after equipment was confiscated or stolen by armed groups.

In accordance with the mandate conferred upon it by the international community, the ICRC respects the recognized principles of neutrality and impartiality. In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, it has contacts with the various parties to conflict and does nothing whatever to conceal those contacts. In the case of Sierra Leone, they took place with the knowledge and consent – and even at the request – of all the parties involved, in particular the government and ECOMOG.

The ICRC deplores any consequences that such accusations may have for its Sierra Leonean staff, in particular the six employees arrested by ECOMOG, about whom the authorities have as yet provided no information.

The ICRC calls on all parties to respect the red cross emblem and those who display it while engaged in their work.