Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission reports on sexual violence against female paramount chief

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 January 2020:

Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission has published its summary report on a fact-finding mission it carried out in the Motuo village of the Kpanda-Kemo Chiefdom in the Bonthe district of Sierra Leone, where the residence and family members of Paramount Chief Melrose Foster Gberie were subjected to horrific sexual violence on the 11th of January 2020.

This is what the report says:

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) during media monitoring, noted that the Paramount Chief Melrose Foster Gberie of Kpanda-Kemo Chiefdom Bonthe District and her sister, were allegedly attacked by some unidentified members of the Poro Society during their initiation ceremony on Sunday 11th January. It was further alleged that the said sister was raped. (Photo: Commissioners of HRCSL with president Bio).

The HRCSL is mandated by Section 7 (2) (a) of its Act No. 9 of 2004 to “investigate or inquire into on its own or on complaint by any person any allegations of human rights violations and to report thereon in writing”, undertook a fact finding visit to Motuo village and Mattru Jong town in the Bonthe District on the 21st and 22nd January 2020.

The HRCSL on 21st January also visited the Aberdeen Women’s Center in Freetown where the sister was transferred for medical treatment.

The HRCSL engaged Paramount Chief Melrose Gberie, the LUC and other officers at Mattru Jong Police Station, the Councilor of Ward 320, medical personnel at UBC Hospital Mattru Jong and the victim (sister) at Aberdeen Women’s Center. Other engagements were held in Freetown with the Ministry of Local Government, the Sierra Leone Police and the Council of Paramount Chiefs.

Findings

■ There is an existing “Guidelines for the Organisation of Secret Societies in Sierra Leone” circulated by the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development dated 13th December 2019 which requires authorization from the Paramount Chief/District Officer in order for secret society activities, including those of Poro society, to be undertaken.

■On the 11th January 2020, the said Guidelines was flouted by members of the Poro society, who conducted initiation without the relevant authorization.

■The movement of non-members of the Poro society in the township was restricted without prior notice while the initiation was ongoing.

■The residence of Chief Gberie was surrounded and attacked by a large crowd of men who were members of the Poro Society whilst reigning insults and threatening remarks against her.

■The door and windows of the Chief’s house were damaged as a result of this incident.

■Chief Gberie confirmed that she was not physically assaulted but that she spent 7 hours under siege.  She alleged that Fourteen Million, Five Hundred Thousand Leones, five pregnant goats, one plastic chair and her Necklace (which is the symbol of her authority as Paramount Chief) and several personal effects were looted.

■A Police Officer from Mattru Jong was deployed at the Chief’s residence following the incident.

■The Chief’s sister was abducted that same night by approximately 15 men and on the following day (12th January 2020) was rescued by the Mattru Jong Police at an abandoned building in an unconscious state. She was taken to the UBC Hospital Mattru Jong, Bonthe District and later transferred to the Aberdeen Women’s Clinic in Freetown.

■ Medical personnel at the UBC Hospital Mattru Jong and the Aberdeen Women’s Centre confirmed the Chief’s sister was physically and sexually assaulted.

■The police confirmed that no arrest was made on the day of the incident due to the limited number of police personnel on the ground as they would have been overpowered by the Poro members. However, an arrest has now been made since HRCSL’s visit.

■ HRCSL’s efforts to contact other traditional leaders, including members of the Poro society, proved futile. According to the police, they were all on the run following the incident of 11th January.

Human Rights Abuses – The following human rights abuses were noted:

i. Restriction on the Right to Freedom of Movement contrary to section 18 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone

ii. Inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Section 20 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone

iii. Invasion of privacy contrary to Section 22(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone

Recommendations

After engagements with some of the relevant stakeholders, the HRCSL recommends the following:

■The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should work with local authorities and other relevant stakeholders to popularise the “Guidelines for the Organisation of secret Societies in Sierra Leone” in a bid to avoid a recurrence in other communities.

■The Council of Paramount Chiefs should consistently engage heads of secret societies on how they should conduct themselves without hindrance to the enjoyment of rights of non-members of their secret societies.

■ The Sierra Leone Police should expedite the ongoing investigation into the incident and increase security in the Motuo village.

■ The Ministry of Social Welfare should facilitate the rehabilitation of the Chief Gberie’s sister as stipulated by Section 39(i) of the Sexual Offences Act 2012 as amended by the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2019.

5 Comments

  1. I deeply regret the problems our sister Paramount chief Gberie and family suffered because of a secret society. Secret Society has existed in Sierra Leone for centuries. I know there are people advocating its banishment. This cannot just be something simple. If we are seperated from any livelyhood and our prestige, what can we do in that situation?

    The lives of paramount chiefs and the chiefdoms must be well protected. The lives of Sierra Leoneans must prevail in any circumstances. The Sierra Leone scret society must continue. The government must look into the malpractices of its members and have them fully punished according to the laws of the country. If this is not quickly done those in waiting for their initiation will do the same.

    The secret societies in Sierra Leone must exist without prohibition against them. We only need some laws to control them.

  2. Honorable Abdul Thomas I thank you for your kind sincere words Sir. I am deeply humbled. Creating the Sierra Leone Telegraph was not only a sign of Patriotism,but also one of true greatness. To me, the Sierra Leone Telegraph is like the “Apache Guardian”, Attack Helicopter Gunship on a rescue mission that focuses its high intensity,concentrated,blinding,dazzling searchlight into the darkest,murkiest,most impenetrable,depths of battlefronts,and unforgiving jungles of warfare,looking for fallen soldiers, and everyone that has been forgotten and left behind. Bravo!

    With your help, we are now able to highlight, discuss and find solutions for our global and national problems. Because of your kindness Sir, we can now replenish barren gardens and restore orchards once neglected. And, lest I forget, rivers that were once full,that trickled miserably dry,are already swiftly becoming boundless again,overflowing to their brims,and edges,even though we had already concluded,they will forever remain dry…Many thanks to you Sir! ….Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  3. Susan Y.Manga – Why not put a total ban on this unproductive cultural practice? I’ll tell you why; because in any progressive, free, law abiding, and democratic society,the individual rights,liberties,and freedoms of citizens are guaranteed, and protected rigidly and inflexibly from unwanted government interferences,and intrusions.Clear enough? As long as skies above remain blue, and clouds continue to turn grey,and white,be rest assured lady, those self assertive, autocratic pronouncements of yours will never ever materialize in our poor,suffering fragile,democratic Sierra Leone.

    Again, it seems to me you are totally convinced that others with strange,or weird lifestyles,and beliefs much different from your own do not deserve the dignity,respect,consideration,empathy,and honor,that every citizen in our beloved nation is entitled to, and rightfully deserves. Now for some people being part of a secret,or sacred society,gives then a sense of belonging to something fulfilling,and far greater,than the consolations that come from the pursuits of material riches. And for what sensible,and logical reasons,lady,will you rob them of such highly cherished emotional,and sentimental rewards?

    Frankly,even though I do not,and will not subscribe,promote,or participate in the bizarre practices,and beliefs of any secret society in Sierra Leone,trust me,I will go the ends of the earth,and back,just to protect their right to freely,and peacefully assemble, and express themselves without the slightest hesitations, whatsoever. If we are going to build a sustainable democracy then it must be built from scratch,on a dependable,and solid foundation that purposefully embraces civil liberties, individual freedoms,mutual respect, diversity,ingenuity,and creativity. It must be without any signs and traces whatsoever of influences, sentiments and attitudes of any forms of prejudices, marginalisation and discrimination.

    Now if there are a few bad apples in these secret societies then,the proper thing to do is to flush them out, and let them face the consequences of their actions in a court of law, and if found guilty they must be fined heavily where property had been destroyed, and sentenced to many years of hard labor behind bars. Stronger and more efficient laws are what is urgently needed,not a biased,impractical,unconstitutional ban of Secret societies in Sierra Leone…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

    • Mr Saidu Conteh, did I hear you say you are twenty something years old? You sure do have a wise old head sitting on top of that young frame. Lol…have a blessed day my friend. Let me run back to my job of refereeing this platform. :-) as I anticipate Ms. Manga’s response!!

  4. Why not put a total ban on this unproductive cultural practice? Many countries in sub Sahara Africa abolished secret societies as well as the institution of paramount chiefs. This secret society menace is increasing and it is high time that they are totally abolished.

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