Will Sierra Leone ever achieve peace and
Abdul R Thomas
Editor – The Sierra Leone Telegraph
13 October 2011
It is ten years since the end of a
brutal war in Sierra Leone that took the
lives of over 200,000 people. But peace
and reconciliation is looking ever so
The idea that sustainable peace and
reconciliation – founded on forgiveness,
has taken root, is now fast giving way
to a loud call for retribution and
There is no doubt that the immense loss of life and
suffering caused by various factions during the war,
has left a wound that is refusing to heal, and
politicians are conveniently exploiting the pain of
those wounded by that loss.
The call for 'justice' by the APC government of
president Koroma and families of 29 senior military
officers and civilians executed by the National
Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), which took power
through a military coup in 1992 - at the height of
the rebel war is growing louder. They want an
inquest into the death of The 29.
Some are even calling for the arrest and court trial
of one man – the presidential candidate of the
opposition Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party (SLPP), who
was the information minister of the NPRC at the time
arrest and execution of
There are many surviving members of the NPRC in the
country today, including the former chairman and
leader of the military coup. Others are serving
ministers, senior security and public officials of
the present Koroma led government.
The country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Report into the causes of the war, makes for sober
reading. But in fairness, does not give closure to
the families of the bereaved. What it does achieve
however, is to put into the annals of history an
official account of what took place during those
And each time one reads the evidence and testimonies
given to the Commission, the painstaking search for
names of those bearing the greatest responsibility -
who are still alive today, becomes more urgent.
Sadly, on each occasion one is left disappointed.
But perhaps it is also encouraging to note that the
APC government itself does not seriously believe
that there is any one alive in the country today,
against whom criminal charges for war crimes can be
safely brought - based on available evidence, so as
to promote an end to impunity.
Yet, the pain of the bereaved families after almost
twenty years is being made difficult to heal by a
society and political class, which seems intent on
fuelling the very culture of retribution and
impunity, cited in the TRC Report.
Those who argue that peace cannot be achieved
without justice, must remember that for justice to
be seen to be done, it must be predicated upon the
rule of Law and due process.
The rule of Law itself is based upon the universal
notion of 'innocence until proven guilty'. This
principle becomes even more paramount, when
confronted with allegations of criminal liability
for murder, which the families of The 29 and
government politicians are seeking to pursue.
Of course, the problem with seeking criminal
liability for murder is that it must be proven
beyond all reasonable doubt, as otherwise a
conviction may be deemed unsafe; and if upheld, will
go on to fuel the pernicious cycle of impunity and
Sadly, the body of evidence needed to convict in any
such court trial for the alleged murder of The 29 by
the NPRC, after almost twenty years is not
And it is for this reason - and this reason alone,
that the APC government must have taken its own
counsel, through the advice of the Attorney General
that the pursuit of justice, based upon the rule of
law, cannot be safely achieved.
This therefore makes the call for 'an inquest' also
legally problematic. For an inquest to be held, the
government must be satisfied that it can
successfully investigate and determine cause or
causes of death; and perhaps more importantly,
obtain testimonies from witnesses and all those
alleged to have been involved in the running of the
After almost twenty years since the execution of The
29, can peace be achieved in Sierra Leone without
the pursuit of justice through due process and the
rule of Law?
And is it right that because of the collective need
for peace, the families and loved ones of The 29
should not receive some form of justice – if not
through due process and the rule of Law?
Our individual views and opinions on those vital
questions may be different, but what cannot be
contested is the need for a national concerted and
collective decision, as to how best to bring closure
and promote national healing - not only for the
families of the 29 - but for all of those that have
suffered mortal loss through state oppression, state
retribution and impunity, during the dark days of
the last 50 years of independence.
For those demanding an inquest or another
investigation into the killing of The 29, What
should be said is that, granting such a wish may not
necessarily bring personal closure - but will
certainly open up the wounds of hate even further.
Politicians on all sides are already preying and
capitalising on the lancing of those wounds, as
political parties prepare for a bitter struggle for
power at next year’s general and presidential
There are unanswered questions that must now be
discussed honestly and openly without any acrimony:
What will an inquest prove and what will it achieve?
Holding an inquest for death - without coroner's
report as to cause of death is problematic, and will
not provide any legal basis for court action.
In the absence of any new evidence as to the cause
or causes of the death of The 29, is an inquest not
likely to produce the same findings and conclusions
as the TRC Report?
Would those that gave testimony to the TRC ten years
ago have the same recollection of events today as
they did then?
Would it be safe to bring charges against any of the
former NPRC officers without credible evidence of
criminality? And if such evidence does exist, why
have they not been brought to justice?
Is it safe to continue to label or accuse any of the
living NPRC officers of murder, without due process
or evidence of personal responsibility, simply to
further political objectives?
If we can all honestly agree that there is little to
be gained for the families of the bereaved by
staging an inquest, can we not then agree that what
we need is a 'National Day of Atonement'?
Can we also have a cross-party agreement on
'mitigation of loss' for all those who can provide
evidence of financial loss due to 'collective state
retribution' - such as Mrs Lucy Kanu -
the wife of Yaya kanu,
who herself was senior officer in the army ; and
others who not only suffered as a result of the
death of their loved ones, but were prevented from
living a normal life by removing them unlawfully
from their family homes, their jobs, and in some
cases - loss of property?
This is not about compensation, but the mitigation
of some of the loss suffered as the result of the
state failing to respect 'due care' and protect its
citizens - irrespective of the circumstances.
We cannot honestly and in fairness walk away from
the wounds that have been left opened by ten years
of civil war, or wish that the call of the families
of The 29 for some form of justice will simply go
And whilst the families may not have a legal basis
to have their wish for an inquest granted, yet as a
nation, the time has come to collectively
acknowledge and respect the mortal loss suffered as
the result of state impunity of the last 50 years.
So, please let us have a 'National Day of
Atonement', instead of the president's proposed
National Conference that is aimed at finding out
what is wrong with Sierra Leone, which we already
A National Day of Atonement and financial reparation
for bereaved families will help bring closure and
promote national healing of those wounds.
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