United Nations Lifts Sanctions from Sierra Leone

By The Amir Khalessi Foundation News Staff

Map of Sierra Leone (thecommonwealth.org)

According to a recent article by the AFP, the United Nations Security Council voted to lift decade-long sanctions from Sierra Leone. Since 1997, UN arms embargoes and travel restrictions have curtailed the power of the country’s rebel groups.

Between 1997 and 2002, rebel militias and the government engaged in a conflict that has consumed the lives of over 50,000 people (AFP). Discernibly, rebel militias killed their own countrymen to secure control over the West African nation’s plentiful diamond mines. By selling these diamonds to Western corporate diamond moguls on the black market, rebel militias accumulated hefty sums of money in exchange. Rebel leaders, in turn, used their monetary returns on the diamonds to finance their insurgencies against Sierra Leone’s governmental infrastructure. Due to the years of civil warfare caused by the pursuit of these conflict diamonds, they have been popularly coined as “blood diamonds.”

Though the international black market “blood diamond” trading and seemingly incessant domestic warfare have plagued the history of Sierra Leone during the past decades, UN forces have teamed up with the government of Sierra Leone to foster breakthrough peacebuilding projects in the country. According to the AFP:

“The UN force has helped disarm more than 75,000 ex-fighters, according to diplomats. One of the mission’s main tasks now will be to help the government move toward national elections in 2012 [...] The government [of Sierra Leone] has stepped up efforts to control diamond trafficking. Illegal trading in conflict-funding “blood diamonds” was rife in the civil war” (AFP).

For the UN, the logical consequence of Sierra Leone’s progress toward internal peace was a termination to the decade-long UN sanctions. In this sense, lifting the sanctions symbolizes turning the page on the history of “blood diamonds” and civil war in modern Sierra Leone.  According to Ambassador Susan Rice:

“Because of the much-improved situation in Sierra Leone, including the work of its special courts and the demobilization of armed groups, the remaining sanctions can now be lifted” (CNN).

Though the seeds of a democratic government, enforceable rule of law, and longstanding peace are gradually growing in Sierra Leone, UN authorities argue that the rest of the world shouldn’t be quick to turn a blind eye to the country:

“Sierra Leone may today no longer be one of your most critical concerns,” said Michael von der Schulenburg, head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone. “But we urge you not to abandon Sierra Leone completely. It is a potential success story, not only for Sierra Leone but for the Security Council” (CNN).

Potential success stories always raise a myriad of questions about how to realistically achieve them. Now that sanctions are over, what role should UN security forces play in maintaining the stability of the country? In order to prevent a repeat of the violent election fallout in Kenya, how should the current government of Sierra Leone preserve peace and stability during the country’s elections in 2012? How can the government work with international NGO’s and the UN to minimize black market exchanges of blood diamonds for money and weapons now that sanctions have been lifted? A deep analysis of such questions will serve as a key factor in forecasting the fate of Sierra Leone over the next decade. Hopefully, the forecast will be a world away from the past one.


1. AFP. “UN Ends Sierra Leone Sanctions.” 29 September 2010.

2. Abdelaziz, Salma. “U.N.: Sanctions Against Sierra Leone Lifted.” CNN. 29 September 2010.

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