March 2009: Remembering SLPP’s victims of political violence and the disturbing legacy of president Koroma’s APC

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi

6 February 2012

For the past three or more weeks, our political discourse has been overshadowed by one evil: political violence. Understandably, most well-meaning Sierra Leoneans have been appalled by the re-surfacing of the spate of political violence, as we continue to live with the scars of our agonising war – ten years on.

Today, the APC government is gleefully prosecuting mostly supporters of the opposition SLPP, yet failing to provide justice to those SLPP men and women who fell prey to those callous APC thugs who invaded the opposition party office in March 2009.

Well three years on, it is important that we remind the world of those awful events. And since President Koroma has invited the International Criminal Court (ICC) to observe political developments in the country, hopefully the ICC will provide justice for the opposition victims of political violence, which the government has denied them.

It all started on Thursday, 12th March 2009, in a bye-election in ward 323, Sorobema chiefdom, Pujehun District. In a usual bid to intimidate local people, hired APC thugs imported into the chiefdom brutalised perceived SLPP members with machetes.

Innocent victims like Ahmed ken Kamara and others were randomly hacked on their heads, faces and arms. They lost so much blood, they had to be rushed to a military post in Pujehun to save their lives. The wife of the SLPP chiefdom chairman was also stabbed.

The brutalised SLPP members recounted how they saw Musa Tarawally, who is now serving as president Koroma’s Internal Affairs Minister, leading a group of APC thugs and police officers as they descended on their chiefdom to terrorise local people.

But three years on, those innocent SLPP victims are having to live with the painful scars from the machetes and psychological trauma, whilst those responsible for the violence – APC thugs – have escaped justice and are happily driving around in their latest Jeeps, funded by the tax payer.

Unlike the Fourah Bay bye-election, where SLPP members have been charged to court, none of the APC thugs have been charged for criminal offence, simply because the victims were SLPP members.

Mr. President, what happened to Sec 8(2) (a) of our sacred 1991 Constitution, which states that: “every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law….”?

As if that was not enough, the coordinated APC thuggery was to continue in Freetown on Friday, 13th March 2009.

On that fateful evening, it was the APC Mayor of Freetown – Herbert Williams, who led the APC ‘matorma society’ parade and a crowd of APC thugs, to march to the opposition SLPP’s head office in the centre of Freetown.

The orgy of violence meted out to the SLPP supporters occupying the office, and the wanton destruction caused to the building were remarkable.

Yet, none of those APC thugs have been charged with criminal offence, simply because their victims were opposition SLPP members, and the building belongs to the opposition SLPP.

But the worst attack was to come, when the APC thugs regrouped to launch their most violent rage on the same SLPP headquarters and its members on Monday, March 16th 2009.

Shamefully, Idrissa Kamara – aka “Leather Boot” – President Koroma’s body guard, who was meant to be stationed at State House, could not avoid the temptation of orchestrating violence against the opposition SLPP.

On that sad day, the APC thugs allegedly supervised by Leather Boot and Foday Government wharf, violently entered the SLPP compound with local bombs, small quantity of petrol and sticks planted with knives.

As if to remind us of the APC legacy of the 1970s and 80s, the APC thugs vandalised the offices and looted everything they saw. The SLPP supporters they met in the building were beaten into coma.

Several of the opposition SLPP women folks in the building, were either violently raped, sexually assaulted or mercilessly beaten.

Subsequently, some of the women narrated their painful testimonies of their experiences to the Justice Bankole Thompson Commission of Inquiry. According to one of the rape victims: “we were led into a toilet room where we were raped by an unidentified man dressed in black. Later I started bleeding profusely and past out”.

According to another rape victim who testified: “I was raped by five men. As if that was not enough, they (APC thugs) inserted a beer pint inside my virgina. The pains became unbearable and I collapsed’. Another victim said they were inside the building when a group of men entered the building for money. She went on, ‘we told them we don’t have money and they continued to kick and beat us and in the process five men raped me”.

One of the other victims was eight and a half months pregnant. She was kicked in the stomach and badly beaten. In total, six women were raped by the APC thugs, with similar testimonies, whilst a good number were sexually assaulted – either allegedly in the presence or on the instructions of Idrissa Kamara (Leather boot) and Foday Government Wharf.

Sadly, when the Justice Bankole Thompson commission reported later in 2009, it stated that the allegations of rape were unsustainable in law. And this, despite the crucial medical evidence stating that their findings were incomplete – because of the lack of laboratory facilities to conduct forensic examinations.

If President Koroma really cares about justice for women (as his praise singers want us to believe), why did he not request from the UK government, for those laboratory facilities and forensic experts to scientifically investigate the allegations of rape and sexual assault?

If the President could request for forensic experts and investigators from the UK government to help investigate APC’s cocaine saga, why not for those innocent women who had been traumatised and their dignity eroded by APC thugs?

However, even when the Bankole Thompson’s Report stated that the allegations of rape were unsustainable in law, they categorically mentioned that the said victims (raped and sexually assaulted women) were each subjected to physical mistreatment amounting to outrages upon their personal dignity or other inhumane conduct in violation of their human rights protection.

Why did President Koroma not guarantee those SLPP women their constitutional rights, as provided in section 20(1), which states that; “No person shall be subject to any form of torture or any punishment or other treatment which is inhuman or degrading”?

Were there no offences in our criminal law books for which the APC’s Attorney General could have brought charges against those APC thugs for inhumane and degrading treatment against those SLPP women?

After three years, does it not make a mockery of justice and the rule of law in Sierra Leone, for APC government to blatantly undermine Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which states among other things that; ‘States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women and to this end should (Paragraph C) exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, PUNISH acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the STATE or by private persons’?

But as usual, these women were SLPP members and it was acceptable for them to be outrageously mistreated by those APC thugs who continue to drive around in their latest jeeps, courtesy of the tax payer and international donor funds.

Finally, we are still waiting for the government’s White Paper on the Shears Moses Report on the violence meted out against opposition SLPP supporters at their offices in Freetown. How long more do we have to wait?

Yusuf Keketoma Sandi BA(Hons), LLB(Hons) – London

 

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