- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone in a new report is calling for government reparations for the large number of war victims in the brutal 1991-2002 civil war. The Commission's report is endorsed by the UN, something that could facilitate international financial support for the reparations. The report places blame among Sierra Leonean armed groups, but also on the international diamond trade and British colonialists.
After the 11-year civil war in Sierra Leone, the government should pay reparations to a large number of war victims, the Commission's report said. Reparations should go to amputees and other wounded victims, those who were sexually violated, and the widows and children who suffered deprivation, displacement, or worse between 1991 and 2002, the report says.
In determining payment, Sierra Leone's seven-member Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended meeting victims' needs in "health, housing, pensions, education, skills training and micro-credit, community reparations and symbolic reparations."
- Providing victims with the assistance they urgently need also serves to restore their dignity, which, in turn, helps foster conditions necessary for reconciliation, the Sierra Leonean panel said.
The report was launched yesterday at a UN Headquarters meeting chaired jointly by the Presidents of the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). They and other speakers pointed out "the symbolic meaning of the report for the UN system," since the world body is uniquely involved in peace-building and in tackling the problems of that process.
The UN has operated a peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) since October 1999, which together with a British troops deployment was vital to stopping the brutal civil war. Since 2002, the UN mission has supervised a disarmament and demobilisation operation, secured peace and stability and helped reintroducing a multiparty democracy.
Introducing the 1,500-page document and its 3,500-page annex in New York, Sierra Leone's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mohamed Lamin Kamara, described it as recording his country's ugly past, while also shining a light on its more promising future.
The commissioners, four of whom were Sierra Leoneans, were less sanguine. After reviewing the intensifying of ethnic divisions under British colonial rule, they say although the post-independence Sierra Leone's People's Party (SLPP) and the All People's Congress (APC) later claimed ideological differences, "in reality the politics of the two parties was all about power and the benefits it conferred. Tragically, these characteristics persist today in Sierra Leone," they said.
From testimonies about the war in 2002 and 2003, the Commission concluded that Sierra Leonean children were drugged, especially by Foday Sankoh's brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, compelled to become perpetrators of crimes ranging from amputating limbs, a favourite of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), to forced cannibalism, a ritual imposed by the Kamajor militias.
In a departure, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) produced the first-ever children's version of the report. "Numerous truth commissions have been convened in various countries over the last several decades. Several have addressed the experiences of children. Yet never before has a report focused on children as victims and also profiled their role as actors in the reconciliation process," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said.
The victims turned perpetrators lost childhood opportunities for education and many were rejected by their families because of their violent past. Meanwhile, women and girls "were raped, forced into sexual slavery and endured other acts of sexual violence, including mutilations, torture and a host of other cruel and inhumane acts," the report says. "Refusal often met with death."
The armies accused of violating women and girls were the RUF, AFRC, the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Westside Boys and the government’s Sierra Leone Army (SLA). The ground forces for all comprised "impressionable, disgruntled young men eager for an opportunity to assert themselves, either to ensure that no harm was done to their people, to fight against perceived injustice, or for personal and group aggrandisement."
The report said "the international diamond industry was largely indifferent to the origin of 'conflict diamonds,' even when reports of atrocities relating to the conflict in Sierra Leone were widely disseminated in the global media. This indifference promoted the trade in illicit conflict diamonds and thereby encouraged the prolongation of the conflict."
The present government has made progress in reducing diamond-smuggling under the new Kimberley Certification Process (KCP), but "the KCP has two major weaknesses: there is no global monitoring of each country member's own certification system and countries with no diamond resources have been accepted as members."
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