United Nations Sanctions against Sierra Leone and the Sandline Affair in the United Kingdom, 1997-98

  • Takehiko Ochiai Faculty of Law, Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan
Keywords: Sierra Leone, Sanctions, United Nations, Sandline, Arms Embargoes, United Kingdom


This paper examines the Sandline Affair that occurred in the late 1990s in the United Kingdom and analyzes the process by which the British government officials became involved in violating United Nations sanctions against Sierra Leone during a civil war in the 1990s. In 1997, a military coup which was the third one since the outbreak of the conflict occurred, the civilian government was overthrown, and President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was forced into exile in Guinea. The international community expressed its disapproval of the coup. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a sub-regional organisation of West African countries, imposed an embargo on the supply of arms and military equipment to Sierra Leone by its member states, and the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1132, which also imposed an arms embargo. However, Sandline, a British private military company, violated the UN arms embargo by providing arms and military equipment to the ECOWAS military forces and militias supporting the Kabbah administration. British government officials including British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone became involved in this violation of the UN economic sanctions. The Sandline Affair was caused by multiple factors. First, arms embargo sanctions against Sierra Leone included the UN Security Council resolution and other documents at various levels, and each was characterised by different sanction targets and criticism. This leads to ambiguity among the relevant parties in terms of their awareness of who or what was the target of the sanctions. Second, the awareness of British government officials about complying with UN sanctions and their implementation as well as their communication with each other was insufficient. Third, diverse military actors were involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone, including government troops, anti-government guerrillas, sub-regional military forces, militias, and private military companies. These diverse actors and the complexity of the relationships between them complicated understanding the targets of the UN sanctions of the arms embargo.

Author Biography

Takehiko Ochiai, Faculty of Law, Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan

Faculty of Law, Ryukoku University, Kyoto, Japan