Sierra Leone telegraph: 24 March 2017
When those elected to run the affairs of state and to manage the complex and sometimes basic needs of society, instead decide to turn their weapons out of anger and frustration at the very people that gave them power, it becomes obvious that they have lost the moral right to govern.
Such is the state of Sierra Leone today – one of the poorest nations in the world, where yesterday and so often in the past, young people protesting at government failings to meet their basic needs, were gunned down in cold blood by those in power.
The line between crimes against humanity and the right of the authorities to take reasonable action to safeguard the lives and properties of communities is clear.
But when those in power push the boundary beyond the protection of lives and property – through the use of deadly force, then this action cannot be deemed to be justifiable, lawful, nor constitutional.
Sierra Leone is at cross-roads once again, as it has been several times in the past. But each time the nation edges towards anarchy and the rampant abuse of power, those in authority must be held responsible for indirectly legitimising the violent reaction of the young and defenceless.
The government must equally be held responsible for radicalising those youths, who today are not only being repressed, but gunned down in cold blood for standing up for the right to be educated.
So often we speak about the causes of the ten year brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, and how the international community has spent more than $10 billion in the last fifteen years to help build a fairer and better society. But has this investment been well spent?
Judging from yesterday’s violence against protesting young students across Sierra Leone, it is obvious that the culture of violence, abuse of state power, impunity, and social and economic marginalisation, which are some of the key root causes of the war, are still strongly perpetuated by those in power today.
The gunning down of innocent citizens by those meant to protect them is an undeclared act of war against the people, and a crime against humanity.
Sierra Leone goes to the polls next year to elect a new government. In any normal democracy this should be cause of celebration and hope of change of the status quo, for a better future.
But in a country where elections are largely decided on tribal lines, electoral fraud, and pre-election cash for votes by the rich, there is little sign in the horizon of the change Sierra Leone needs.
The only guarantee that Sierra Leoneans are hoping for now is that which is provided for and safeguarded under international law – the Human Rights Convention. Those committing crimes against their own people must be brought to justice, even after they have left office.
Sierra Leone is far from being opened for business. Those in authority are still grappling with the simple task of providing the most basic of human needs – security, food, water, healthcare, and education, after 56 years of independence from colonial rule.
After decades of brutalising his own people and committing serious crimes against humanity, the people of Chad have been granted justice against former president Hissene Habre.
“Habré was found guilty of both direct and indirect commissions of war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture. For indirect guilt, the chamber applied international criminal law jurisprudence that permits guilt to be assigned where a defendant can “foresee” criminal violations arising from his acts,” says Kerstin Carlson – an Assistant Professor in International Law at the American University of Paris.
This must be a lesson to those in power in Sierra Leone today, that, they cannot sleep in the comfort of their erroneous belief that they can continue to kill innocent young people without facing justice – even after they are no longer in power.