Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 August 2020:
The Consortium for Good Governance, Human Rights and Democracy (CGHRD), last Friday presented the findings of its investigation into the Makeni riot which took place on Saturday 18th July 2020, that left six dead and eleven seriously injured – all shot by heavily armed security forces.
Speaking at a press briefing held at the offices of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in Freetown, CGHRD accused Sierra Leone’s security forces of using excessive force and unwarranted human rights violations in Makeni.
Secretary General of the CGHRD Consortium, Marcus Bangura, said that on 23rd July 2020, members of CGHRD went to Makeni to investigate the riot that led to the loss of lives and destruction of property.
In conducting their investigation, they spoke with the Mayor of Makeni – Sunkarie Kamara, the Chairman of the Bombali District Council – John Shanghai Koroma, the Assistant Inspector General of police – Frank Alpha of the North-East Division of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the Brigade Commander of the Tekor Barracks – Brigadier V. V. Samba, the Medical Superintendent, Northern Region Hospital – Dr. Mohamed G. Sheku, Senior Superintendent Mechanical Maintenance of the Electricity Generating and Transmission Company (EGTC) – Mohamed Conteh, Military officers based at the SLPP party Office in Makeni, Officials of the Makeni District Human Rights Committee, Family members of victims and local residents.
Presenting their findings, Marcus Bangura said that EGTC’s and energy ministry’s engagements with stakeholders on the relocation of the 1.65 Megawatts generator were made, but negotiation was inconclusive, as stakeholders in Makeni were waiting for the energy ministry officials to come back to them with answers about timescale for the return of the generator, as promised by the negotiating team from the ministry.
He said that an understanding was reached between the Makeni stakeholders and the ministry of energy that an agreement document will be drawn up and signed by both parties for the return of the generator as a show of commitment and sincerity but this agreement document was not produced by the ministry.
According to the Mayor interviewed by the consortium, she fell ill (tested positive for COVID-19 after her first meeting with ministry officials and was hospitalized. Whilst in Hospital, she was surprised to learn that the energy ministry had arrived in Makeni with security forces to forcefully remove the generator.
Marcus Bangura reported that the Makeni stakeholders failed to inform residents about the ministry’s plans to remove and relocate the generator. He said that the timing of the relocation was odd (at midnight), which gave rise to suspicion and distrust between the residents, local council, and government officials.
He said that the response of the Makeni youths was spontaneous and without intent to cause destruction; and that the Sierra Leone Police was incapable of controlling the crowd and had to call on the heavily armed military for assistance.
He reported that the offices of the ruling SLPP which is located about 100 metres away from the electricity transmission station was vandalized and pelted with stones by the angry youths.
The heavy handedness and use of live bullets by the military resulted in the deaths of six unarmed civilians and eleven seriously injured. A lot of human rights violations were committed against the protesters, Marcus Bangura told reporters.
He said that in their engagement with AIG Alpha in Makeni, it was clear that the protesters were unarmed, but some had machetes, stones, and sticks. The police he said, was overwhelmed by the protesters and therefore felt they had to call on the military for assistance.
Brigade Commander at the Tekor Barracks told the investigators that the force used by the soldiers to control the crowd was proportionate to the threat presented by the protesters.
Both the Bombali District Council and the District Human Rights Committee blamed the breakdown in communication between the parties, the unreasonable use of force by the security forces, suspicion, and lack of trust in public officials as the root cause of the rioting.
Bereaved family members also expressed frustration and anger at the way those killed were taken away to Freetown without their knowledge, and their remains are still being held at the Freetown mortuary by authorities.
CGHRD made several recommendations, including the immediate establishment of an independent judge-led investigation into the incident; all suspected perpetrators of the shooting be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation; all those found guilty of killing be made to face the full penalty of the law; training of both security apparatus periodically to keep them in line with international best practices; the energy ministry to pay compensation of Le150 million to each family of the deceased as a show of regret for the killings; and that the remains of the deceased be handed over to the families for immediate burial, paid for by the government.
Police in Freetown this week informed journalists at a press briefing that they have decided to charge all 51 youths arrested in Makeni with riotous conduct. They also said that they will be prosecuting the Mayor of Makeni, the Makeni City Council and several others for conspiracy.
CGHRD is composed of twelve Civil Society and Human Rights Activists whose key focus and commitment is to expand the culture of democratic good governance, human rights, the rule of law and socio-economic justice, as well as ensure transparent and accountable society in Sierra Leone.