Government of Sierra  Leone faces court action for alleged violation of human rights

Abdul Malik Bangura: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 November 2018:

The government of Sierra Leone is being sued at the Country’s Supreme Court for allegations of serious violations of fundamental human rights, said to have been committed by Nigerian troops in 1998-2000 against innocent Sierra Leoneans, during the country’s civil war.

Victims are demanding a compensation of $100,000 (one hundred thousand dollars) each.

According to the Plaintiff Statement of Case, the Government of Sierra Leone has been sued for violating the fundamental human rights of the victims as enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Sierra Leone Constitution.

Paramount among the violations allegedly committed by the Nigerian troops under the guidance of the SLPP government of Ahmed Tejan Kabba were rape, torture and other inhumane and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests and detention and murder.

The Sierra Leone government is being sued because the Nigerian troops at the time were incorporated into the Sierra Leone army, and placed under the direct command of the Nigerian military leader – Brigadier Maxwell Khobe as Sierra Leone’s Army Chief of Staff.

This meant that the then SLPP government of the former President Ahmed Tejan Kabba (1996-2007) was in control of the Nigerian troops, rather than under the command of ECOWAS.

“If Khobe had been an ECOWAS or ECOMOG officer it would have been impossible for him to accept the appointment without running foul of Article 20 of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS 1993. That Article stipulates that an officer of the community, in the performance of his duties, owes his loyalty entirely and is accountable only to the Community,” Abass Bundu, former Executive Director of ECOWAS and former Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone is quoted in the Plaintiff’s statement of case.

The statement of case in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone further added: “The plaintiff contends that the decision of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to appoint General Khobe as Sierra Leone’s Chief of Defense Staff, and General Khobe’s acceptance of the same, demonstrates  that Nigerian forces operating in Sierra Leone at the time relevant to the plaintiff’s claim, were doing so qua the Armed Forces of Sierra Leone and subordinate to the Commander in Chief and President of Sierra Leone.”

The statement further cited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone. In its findings, the TRC states: “While the mandate of the Nigerian-led force was specifically confined to that of ceasefire monitoring group, ECOMOG increasingly came to play the role of the government’s defense force. It took instructions and directions from the executive of the Sierra Leone Government and some of its military officers issued orders and commands on behalf of the Government… The Commission finds that ECOMOG was the surrogate national army from the points of its arrival in February 1998.”

Meanwhile, the Africa Bar Association (AfBA) has assured the human rights lawyers taking up this case of its fullest support, whilst the current Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone – Dr. Priscilla Schwartz is the defendant in this case before the country’s Supreme Court.

This is the statement made by the Africa Bar Association (AfBA):

“The African Bar Association (AFBA) has received a very strong Petition from Lead Counsel representing the Victims, Dato’ Shyamala Alagendra regarding allegations of Gross Human Rights Violations and Crimes against humanity committed by members of the Nigerian Armed Forces as part of the ECOWAS Intervention Force (ECOMOG) drafted to intervene in the civil conflict that engulfed Sierra Leone between 1997 and 2000.

“The Petition is supported by compelling video evidence and witness testimony of summary executions, torture, cruel treatment, arbitrary detention and sexual abuse of Sierra Leonean civilians. Some of the violations included in the Petition were also featured in a public documentary “Cry Freetown” produced by Sorious Samura.

“AFBA expresses grave concern over these apparent serious violations against civilians. Given the gravity of the allegations and the extreme nature of suffering that has been allegedly inflicted on civilians, the AFBA has decided to intervene in this matter and consider various options of redress on behalf of the victims.

“AFBA assures the Victims and Lead Counsel that it will do everything possible to ensure Justice is done, if investigations confirm the said atrocities.”

5 Comments

  1. A misguided action. They should not sue Sierra Leone, but Nigerian Army, who did all the atrocities. The useless Army, who cannot deal with a handful of Boko Haram rebels.

  2. I am sure Soldiers under the command of the Nigerians did not do worse things but raping which was very brutal for the victims. Nobody can expect during the war arbitration between the army and the civilian and moreover the Sierra Leone civil war in which nobody knows who the rebels were and as the war spread to all part of the country it was hard to do anything but to continue to rid the rebels off.

    I cannot understand why people are doing such things to the newly elected president trying to put the country in her place.
    I cannot judge anyone. The war is over and most people responsible are now dead. Why should people continue opening wounds.

  3. As much as I believe in justice for all, and that perpetrators of such evil acts be brought to book, I also believe that this lawsuit is totally misplaced at this material time. I am a victim of the war in Sierra Leone, one who witnessed gruesome things happen to many families including mine. Nigerian troops were very brutal and unprofessional in every aspect of their conducts.

    But the question is, why the lawsuit against the current government, why not against ECOWAS, past governments of Sierra Leone including the Tejan Kabba and the Ernest Koroma lead governments? As a Sierra Leonean, I saw it all happen during the war, I do not need to be shown videos of it anymore as it will only bring back sad memories.

    The Special Court for Sierra Leone, that was established to look into all the crimes committed against humanity had done its job and people who were found responsible for war crimes have been punished. Why does the so-called Lawyers not go to Congo, Sudan and sue those governments now instead of trying to distract the current government that is working hard to make the lives of the people of Sierra Leone better? I pause here for now on this issue.

  4. hmmm…I wasn’t in Sierra Leone during the civil war but my brothers were there when these actions took place. Trust me, I wasn’t in any better case either because I was in Liberia then, well, you already know what that means. While I did not come face to face with ECOMOG or ECOWAS’s troops, maybe I should say thanks be to God for that, but I often hear gruesome story about them.

    My brothers often talk about the actions of Nigerian soldiers in Lungi and though I’ve never really revealed to them during any of those discussions but it angers me hearing about the things ECOMOG soldiers were doing to young men and women. Even now, as I reflect on those discussions with my brothers and things I’ve heard, I’m furious.

    It also saddens me to know that our own people sent to protect the weak would engage in such dehumanizing practices. I empathize with the victims alive and my heartfelt condolences to the families who may have lost love ones to such atrocities.

    At the end of their term, my brothers recount of ECOMOG soldiers loading their military plane with things gained from their stayed in Sierra Leone to the point where it was almost impossible for the plane to take off Lungi airport. I mean this is eyewitness account. Beating and killing of young and old men. And the objectification of young girls and women by those soldiers are painful to hear.

    They had no respect for human lives. With guns in their hands, they violated every basic human rights and moral code under heaven. My brothers would go on expounding these things while I stand there to the point of tears.

    Listen, while I believe the government of Sierra Leone should be blamed, but ECOMOG/ECOWAS should also be equally liable. The government of Sierra Leone should be blamed on the premise that they allowed such atrocities to the citizens and people of Sierra Leone to happen on their watch without taken drastic actions against the perpetrators.

    But I also hope the government of Sierra Leone will not be sycophantic in this matter. Correct me if I’m wrong but the ECOMOG/ECOWAS soldiers had on a distinctive badge that showed who they were. And I believe this was in fact how the people were able to recognize who they were.

    Now, they may have been placed under the command of the Sierra Leone government but that doesn’t mean they were not operating as ECOMOG/ECOWAS soldiers. This is in fact the reason they still had their ECOMOG/ECOWAS badges to distinguish them from the regular Sierra Leone Soldiers.

    If you have on the badge of an entity, you represent that entity and therefore your actions should be in accordance with their regulations. And off course, you must also respect the regulations of the nation you are present to serve. Yes, the nation you are present to serve must police you but you must also police yourself as a humanitarian peacekeeping force.

    I may be saying this as one who was not at the agreement table but at least this is how I see it. And if in fact the ECOMOG/ECOWAS soldiers had on badges showing they were ECOMOG then it further proves my point that charges should be brought up against ECOMOG/ECOWAS as well.

    Though we do not hope for war again but if it was to happen, we want to make sure these practices don’t get repeated by our heroes.

  5. Why now? So the Bambay Kamara saga has been laid to rest and a new loophole has been initiated to politically tarnish the SLPP government. Why didn’t all these so called legal experts initiate this petition during Kabba’s regime or against the Ernest Koroma APC government?

    Let’s give peace a chance. Whoever initiated this lawsuit, is acting out of anger, self interest and not for the interest of the populace (victims) they are claiming to seek justice for. If they prevail, will the settlement benefit the entire Sierra Leone? All Sierra Leoneans are victims of the senseless war. Can the families of deceased Nigerian servicemen also sue?

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