Salone News

"No More Impunity for Soldiers"----Army Chief

5 August 2006 at 05:39 | 420 views

By Alpha R. Jalloh, Vanguard Bureau Chief, Fretown

The Chief of Defence Staff of Sierra Leone Major - General Sam Mboma(photo) says the days of impunity are over.

He was making reference to human rights violations committed by soldiers during the almost eleven years war in the coastal West African country.

The Sierra Leone Army head was speaking at the launch of a handbook on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) for the Republic of Sierra Armed Forces. The Ministry of Defence in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, did the launch on July 31. The handbook contained IHL and Code of conduct for the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Major-General Sam Mboma said impunity for IHL infractions would be addressed in the future through the court martial system.

He stressed that achieving these goals would be the greatest achievements for the Ministry of Defence.

The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier Nelson Williams recalled that during the war, Sierra Leoneans had horrible experiences. It could be recalled that renegade soldiers of the Sierra Leone army became a fighting faction known as "Westside Boys".

During the war all the fighting factions, the Kamajors, a pro-government militia, Ecomog, which was the West African intervention force and Westside Boys committed atrocities.

The Deputy Chief of Defence Staff said many of those atrocities were committed "in ignorance". He said the RSLAF should now take a proactive approach in the dissemination of information relating to IHL.

He said the handbook served as a guide to all soldiers for all services, personnel including those in public offices. "This is a warning that impunity will never go unpunished," he stressed.

Brigadier Nelson Williams said during the war, lots of lives were lost due to ignorance.

He said the Republic of (Sierra Leone Armed Forces)RSLAF "are guarantors of human rights, protectors" adding that the days of impunity were over.

"We will strive within the ambit of the law to protect lives and property", he said.

Captain J. F. Matturi, Adjutant, Armed Forces Education Centre said IHL had been designed to protect non-combatants. He said previously all parties to the conflict in Sierra Leone were not aware of IHL principles, which led to gross violations of human rights during the war. He said though there was no likelihood for another war in Sierra Leone, the Armed Forces may engage in international peacekeeping operations for which personnel of RSLAF need to be adequately equipped with principles of IHL.

He said the launching was a signal to the people of Sierra Leone and to the international community that soldiers of RSLAF were now committed to protecting lives and properties.

"Soldiers now know that they should not rape, torture or kill civilians," he said.

He said IHL should not just serve as a document to be kept but a reference for soldiers to remind them of their obligations. He commended Lt. M Koroma who played a great role in enhancing a collaborative venture with ICRC in the compilation of the handbook.

Patrick Massaquoi communications field officer of ICRC said similar projects had been undertaken in other countries.

He said the handbook on IHL that had been provided contained information on war crimes, the sick, the wounded and "Standards that will add to the professionalism of RSLAF."

Captain Joanne Edwards of International Military Advisory Technical Team (IMATT) a British-led contracting team comprising military experts said she was impressed with the standard of teaching and the rate of learning during the lectures on IHL in the RSLAF. She expressed the hope that those train in IHL would continue to teach and train others so as to sustain the knowledge derived.

Nordine Ducie head of ICRC in Sierra Leone said the handbook would help the RSLAF to be professional in their conduct.

The Deputy Minister of Defence Mr. Joe Blell said gradually RSLAF was transforming into a well-trained and professional force. He said civilians were normally those who die most in war.