CHRDI: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 06 January 2022:
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), has uncovered credible evidence of corruption, sexual harassment, and serious human rights violations in the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). During our investigation, we documented over 20 sexual harassment recorded cases and over 200 gender-based violence (GBV) cases across several military barracks in the country.
Our organization interviewed several individuals at the 5 Infantry Battalion, stationed at Wilberforce, who provided details on how money ends up in the pockets of unregulated tribunals held in the military barracks, headed by Commanding Officers (COs) and Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs).
We find it extremely disturbing to uncover such serious allegations of corruption and impunity among top level RSLAF staff, which clearly undermines the country’s efforts to combat sexual-based violence and corruption.
Our findings point that corruption and mismanagement within the RSLAF remain endemic. This has led to less transparent military budgeting, spending and procurement. Our investigation found out that a grant of over $290,000 USD (two hundred and ninety thousand US dollars) received by RSLAF in 2010 from the Norwegian government, through the government of Sierra Leone/Ministry of Defense (MoD) to promote gender equality and protect army personnel from sexual harassment/assault, has been mismanaged and is currently under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Since May 2020, the ACC has been investigating an offence alleged or suspected to have violated the Anti-Corruption Act, 2008. While this investigation is yet to be concluded, the Gender and Security Sector Reform Project continues to suffer from multiple alleged corruption and gross mismanagement.
In late July 2021, the Head of Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) wrote a letter to the Bank asking for an opportunity to regain access to the remaining $49,619 USD from the initial grant from the Norwegian government. According to our sources, the donors are unsatisfied with the implementation of the project, particularly with the several allegations of misappropriation and mismanagement of the project funds.
While the project appears to be under criminal investigation by ACC, the MoD recently sent a letter to the Accountant General’s office to nominate four (4) senior MoD staff to serve as signatories to the remaining funds for the Gender and Equal Opportunities project.
Our findings also revealed troubling incidences of corruption at the 34 Military Hospital at Wilberforce barracks, Freetown. Documents in our possession show that the X-ray machine at the 34 Military Hospital has been inoperable (since 2017) and, as of the date of this press release, it has not been repaired. Documents with reference number JFCCR/4030, show that 21 staff members of the MoD / RSLAF, and one representative of the supplier for the X-Ray machine formed an expert verification team which met to evaluate whether the X-ray films were correct or not, but issued no statement on their findings.
We also found out that MOD and RSLAF personnel have been collecting over $36,000 USD (thirty six thousand US dollars) for quarterly payments from the state for X-ray films. However, whilst charging the government for X-ray films, the 34 Military Hospital was sending military patients to private hospitals for X-ray scanning at the patient’s personal expense. We also observed that the medical storage facility is too small and despite the several recommendations that have been made to expand the facility, there has been no progress.
We believe that for far too long, women have been subjected to gender-based discrimination and violence in the workplace and when no one is held accountable; it creates a hostile environment for all survivors, and sends a message to criminals that they can act with impunity.
Violence against women in the Army should be stopped. Proactive steps should be taken at all levels to end sexual harassment within RSLAF, as many of these women do not only serve their country with the same level of sacrifice as men do, but they also serve their families and, in many cases, they are the primary caregivers to children and the elderly in their household.
Serving women in the RSLAF/MoD should be given the respect and recognition they deserve. We have evidence that despite the government’s efforts to address sex-based abuses, a lack of accountability for official misconduct and mechanism to hold perpetrators accountable persisted at all levels of the Army, contributing to widespread impunity.
The new International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019, is an opportunity for Government to strengthen its obligations towards ending gender-based violence in the work place.
These actions also demonstrate that the RSLAF has failed to make progress on two of its main Policy Objectives, i.e. “To transform the RSLAF into an organisation that is accountable, incorruptible and subject to democratic control, and develop and maintain a re-structured and robust RSLAF that is well trained, well-disciplined and well cared for.”
We believe that the alarms we have raised here stand in marked contrast with RSLAF’s rhetoric and almost every point raised in the institution’s Mission Statement. The RSLAF cannot build the image of a respected member of the peace mission community while allowing appearances of corruption and human rights violations to thrive within its ranks. We urge RSLAF to choose rule of law and respect for human rights, a course that is in the best interest of the men and women who serve in the Force and for the cause of international peace.
There is an urgent need for more transparency, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and urgent steps to end gender-based discrimination and harassment in the Army.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is a rights-based social policy advocacy organisation. We draw attention to the responsibilities of duty-bearers to uphold human rights and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to several UN Agencies.