Once again the trial of Charles Taylor has reminded us the scale of savagery and brutality unleashed on innocent people. Witness after witness, we heard their stories. In kissy area during the January 6th 1999 invasion of Freetown, RUF/AFRC rebels selected 24 young men from a house and asked them to queue up for their arms to be amputated but when the first eight in the queue each pleading for their arms not to be cut off the RUF commander shot each in their faces; after the eight person he ordered his fighters to split open the heads of the remaining men with axes and machetes saying “he was not going to waste his bullets anymore. In Makeni, during one of the most fearful attacks by RUF/AFRC, a whole family of 12 people were locked up in their house and burnt alive. We also heard of the massacres: 78 civilians killed by AFRC/RUF in Tombudu around April 1998 and the summary execution of 65 civilians in Kailahun Town in February 1998. Today, these families and others who lost their loved ones to such brutality live with the emotional trauma.
Yet, there are those who still live with the physical trauma. Witnesses narrated how the AFRC/RUF forced civilians to commit incest; brothers forced to rape their sisters, fathers forced to rape their daughters and women and breast feeding mothers gang raped. Also, children as young as four years, men and women experience the painful horror of their arms, hands, legs and fingers being amputated with axes and machetes and in one instance a young man whose arms where both amputated, the RUF/AFRC rebels also cut off his tongue as they said to prevent him from telling people who cut off his arms. As I read these testimonies from the Charles Taylor trial, I could hardly control my emotion so in this piece I will be discussing the issue of claims of reparation for war victims and their families which Maada Bio spoke about in his international speech in London few weeks ago.
Immediately after Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years, I called the presidential candidate who is still in Europe on official engagements about his reaction to the sentence. Maada Bio expressed his happiness because for him he said “justice is a healing process” but he is very concern that “ten years after the official end of the war tens of thousands of war victims and their families continue to languish with no food or shelter and no one to care for them”. In fact, according to some of the war victims whom I spoke to on the phone from Freetown those amongst them who are educated but now disable find it hard to get jobs because people discriminate against them. Others who had been mechanics or drivers but both arms had been amputated find it had to find new jobs whilst very few children of war victims go to schools. Sadly according to the war victim on the phone majority of the amputees now beg in the streets for their survival and some even with their children. Whilst some who were amputated have been given prosthetic arms and limbs there are others who still struggle without such prosthetic arms and limbs therefore living lives for which their pride, dignity and privacy have been eroded. Similarly, hundreds of women who were raped and/or sexually assaulted still need gynaecological treatments and other medical supports.
Presently, there is a Reparation Unit within the National Commission for Social Action which implements reparation programmes and the War Victims Funds. Shockingly, according to figures there have been above 32,000 victims who have registered, out of a 100,000 potentially eligible but only 20,000 who registered have received cash allowance and/or other support which means that there are about 12,000 registered victims and potentially thousands more who have not received a penny and/or other support from the reparation programme and the war victim funds because of lack of funding. At the same time, according to confirmed source from the Peace Building Commission, the APC government received $4.4 million from the peace building fund just for the reparation programme and special fund for war victims. Well, we hope the APC government will give account of how they have spent the $4.4 million of war victims’ money.
So whilst the APC government finds an explanation about the $4.4 million, the issue which confronts us now as a nation is how those 12,000 registered war victims or potentially thousands more should receive some form of reparation. Also, how we as a nation can help those hundreds of war victims who continue to beg in the streets for their survival whilst some of their children face a bleak future without education and those women who continue to suffer from the trauma of rape and/or sexual assaults.
Therefore, it is against this backdrop of the present scale of sufferings of our war victims that Maada Bio as a compassionate leader said in his recent speech in London after the verdict of Charles Taylor that “The decision offers a new window of opportunity to pursue a claim of reparations in the International Court of Justice at the Hague on behalf not only of Sierra Leone as a state but of all the victims of the war...The new Government I will lead shall make a claim of reparations on behalf of these families against the delinquent states that ASSISTED the rebellion of the RUF a matter of priority. I pledge this to the people of Sierra Leone”.
Factually, the TRC Report Volume Three B, Chapter two titled “External Actors and their Impact on the Conflict” has recorded evidence of certain states which provided direct support to RUF/AFRC through arms and ammunition, financial support in exchange for diamonds, military training for RUF fighters and foreign mercenaries which aided the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the people of Sierra Leone. Therefore, It is an acceptable principle in International Law that States may be liable for human rights violations committed either by them or their agents. The breach of a state’s international obligations imposes a duty on such state to afford adequate reparation and such“breach of an international obligation” includes the violation of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. This same principle has been reflected in the “Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts” adopted by the international law commission of the UN and commended to the Heads of States by UN General Assembly in January 2002. And more importantly this issue of state liability is also evident in the“Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for victims of Gross Violations of International human Rights Law and serious violations of International Humanitarian Law” which was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly Resolution 60/147 of 16 December 2005.
We must also recognise that the reason why Maada Bio’s call for a claim of reparations is very symbolic is that unlike Article 75 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, the Special Court does not provide for victims reparation. As such one of the ways we can support those tens of thousands of war victims who continue to languish is to recourse to a mechanism of international law though it may be complex and technical so we can make claims of reparation on their behalf. And even rightly so, there are those who have also opined that with the Special Court costing US$300 million inclusive of the US$50 million just for the trial of Taylor who will also go down as the most expensive defendant in the history of international criminal justice receiving US$100,000 per month, the international community could have done much more to support the reparation programme of the victims rather than watch them beg in the streets for survival.
Therefore, we must commend Maada Bio for his compassion and courage to stand up for those war victims but this is not the first time because the TRC Report Volume Three B, Chapter Two, page 70 documents that as Head of State in 1996, Maada Bio confronted the late Colonel Gaddafi about his support for the RUF for which the late Colonel Gaddafi admitted to such support. However, compared that to what happened on the 31st December 2008 when the APC government through its majority members of parliament AWARDED the very Gaddafi an Honorary membership of the House of Parliament in an extraordinary parliamentary session. This left the whole nation in utter shock and must have added to the emotional trauma of the war victims and their families as the Campaign for Good Governance described such Honorary membership to the late Gaddafi as “untimely and a sign of INSENSITIVITY to the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone by the APC government".
Therefore, on this issue of claims of reparation for war victims which Maada Bio has called for, I hope the President will support Maada Bio because this is a national issue and as Sierra Leoneans we all have a MORAL duty to support those amputees, war wounded, victims of rape and sexual assaults, child victims and war widows/ widowers and we MUST not let them down.