14 June 2012
When unemployed local youths and school children in deprived neighbourhoods, decide to become active citizens and play vital role in the protection of their communities against rampant crime, they ought to be supported by the State.
What is unacceptable is for the State Security Force to turn its weapon of death on innocent youths, whose only crime is the protection of their poor communities.
That level of police brutality is unjust and must not be tolerated in any civilised society.
And president Koroma has last night called for Coroner’s Inquest into the fatal shooting of the two unarmed youths in Wellington last week.
President Koroma and senior members of the APC party attended the funeral, which earlier in the week was disrupted by the police and had to be cancelled, as violence once again returned to the streets of Freetown.
It is understood that president Koroma had promised the families of the deceased, that there will be an inquest into the killing of the two unarmed neighbourhood watch volunteers in Wellington, on the 5th June 2012.
But political observers say, what is unique about the president’s announcement last night, is that he has also called for inquests into the police killing of civilians in the southern provincial city of Bo on 9th September 2011 and in Bumbuna in the northern province on 18th April, 2012, respectively.
Sierra Leone’s police have not had the experience of handling and using military grade weapons since the war ended in 2001. And there are questions as to why the police must be armed with such weapons in peace time.
Many in Sierra Leone believe that the country’s police force lacks the professionalism, discipline and organisation to manage large-scale crowd control and potentially violent situations.
The Shears Moses Commission’s Report into political violence supports this view.
The Report calls for the removal of key government operatives from public office – including the minister of the interior, who ironically is responsible for the police force.
The government is yet to implement the myriad of recommendations made by the Report, calling into question the president’s commitment to the genuine enforcement of Law and Order in the country, and his inability to discipline political allies.
While the president’s announcement will give some comfort to the communities of Wellington, Bo and Bumbuna, there is very little confidence across the country that much would come out of the inquests.
Trust in the political system and its leaders is in short supply. But the statement from the president’s office is clear. It says that:
“It has therefore pleased his Excellency the president to establish a coroner’s inquiry to look into the respective circumstances that led to the death of civilians in Bo, Bumbuna and Wellington on the diverse dates mentioned above, pursuant to the ‘Coroner’s Act Chapter 9 of the Laws of Sierra Leone 1960 as Amended’.
The statement says that the Coroner will be empowered to “make recommendations as to the culpability of any person or persons or organizations, including committal for trial before the high court for any offences that may be disclosed by the inquiry”.
“The general public is assured that modalities have been put in place for the speedy conclusion of this task. The cooperation of all is hereby solicited and government continues to entreat all concerned to exercise patience” – the statement concludes.
The inquests must also examine the appropriateness of the military grade weapons used by the police and the proportionality of lethal force unleashed on unarmed civilians.
With general and presidential elections just five months away in November, it is imperative that the inquests are completed as soon as possible, so as to begin the painful and long process of healing for the families and communities concerned.
A very serious lesson must be learnt by the government, that, the setting up of commissions of enquiry, simply to cover up political cracks is not a viable option for building sustainable peace in Sierra Leone.
The recommendations of commissions of enquiry must be taken seriously and acted upon by the government. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of justice and promote impunity.