Voices From Confinement

31 January 2007 at 02:24 | 836 views

By Karamoh Kabba

Sierra Leone’s decade-long war is over at last, but the new coalition of detained former members of warring factions says the awkward combination of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Special Court (SC) of Sierra Leone is the detractor of the provisions of the Lome Peace Accord of 1999 and TRC’s imperative recommendations.

The Lome Peace Accord, which was ratified by the government of Sierra Leone Parliament grants pardon to all combatants of the civil war, whilst one of the ‘ten commandments’ [imperative recommendations] of the TRC reads; “Release of person held in Safe Custody detention. Never again resort to Safe Custody detention.” Nonetheless, detaining and trying those allegedly bearing “the greatest responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone by the SC contradict the aforementioned provision of the Lome Peace Accord and recommendation of the TRC.

On Thursday, January 11, 2007, various members of warring factions in SC detention for allegedly bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity coalesced in common interests to participate in the democratic process and jointly support a single political party in Sierra Leone. Chief Sam Hinga Norman, Moinina Fofana and Alieu Musa Kondewa of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF); Issa Hassan Sesay, Augustine Gbow and Morris Kallon of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF); and Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Kanu of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), signed a press release denouncing violence, thanking the international community for bringing peace to Sierra Leone, accusing the SLPP government as the dividing force in Sierra Leone and declaring their joint-support for the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC).

Scholars are divided between the usefulness and counter-productiveness of the TRC and SC in Sierra Leone. One argument that stands out the most amongst many Sierra Leonean scholars supports the detainees’ claim that the SC is a distraction to especially the TRC’s recommendations: How would the ANC have become the honorable democratic institution it is if South Africa had chose a special court over a truth commission? One question that often garnishes the preceding assertion is; what would have become of the fate of Nelson Mandela? The most egregious war crimes and crimes against humanity were reported out of Sierra Leone during its darkest period of that bleak decade. These crimes were because of fighting one of the most ruthless civil wars in recent histories. As well, members of the ANC and the Apartheid government of South Africa committed serious crimes against humanity on the long walk to freedom.

Sierra Leone’s war was unique in the sense that unlike many rebel wars in Africa that metamorphose into ethnic cleansing, a fourth angle to the rebel, army and peacekeepers in Sierra Leone was fomented by ethnic groups against their tormentors in the form of what we know as CDF that was headed by the then Deputy Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Chief Sam Hinga Norman, who is now one of the SC’s detainees. It is a fair to middling assertion that the CDF helped to avert ethnic cleansing in Sierra Leone.

The army had been demoralized and its members transmuted either into various warring factions by force, by default or by choice or fled. The Commander in Chief was at the head of that fleet of soldiers that fled. That left the Deputy Commander in Chief, Sam Hinga Norman, with no choice but the courageous members of the CDF that came to his rescue to represent his Commander in Chief, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, with valor and honor. Chief Norman had the fullest support and backing of President Tejan Kabbah, who gave directives from Guinea, until the badly negotiated SC by Solomon Berewa, the then Attorney General, now Vice President and frontrunner of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), came into the picture.

What would be the fate of the President of Sierra Leone after he leaves the office of the president when the SC sticks to its gun of going after those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity? In 1998, President Tejan Kabbah wrote an article for the Daily Mirror in London denying an allegation of using mercenaries provided by Sandline and trafficking of weapons to the CDF through the same source, [Sandline now mines Sierra Leone’s diamonds]: “My Government did not use mercenaries provided by Sandline.

It is true that a delivery of light weapons, arranged by a third party, was made by Sandline for the use of our Civil Defence Units. But that only occurred after the removal of the illegal regime.” Wayne Madsen, in his well-researched work, “Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999” writes; “On February 22, 1998, Sandline, with the approval of the Britain’s Foreign Office and British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone Peter Penfold, arranged to ship thirty tons of Bulgarian AK-47 riffles to Kabbah’s waiting forces in Sierra Leone.” The Nigerians of the ECOMOG troops at Lungi Airport seized the cargo of ammunition, bound for the Kamajor local militias who were waiting to stage a counter coup against the military regime that had kicked President Kabbah out of office, Madsen explains. Is it a double coincidence that Sandline Company mines Sierra Leone’s diamonds?

The warring factions that signed the January 11 press release are the major stakeholders in Sierra Leone’s civil war and peace process. These united voices from confinement accusing the SLPP government as the dividing force empirically debunks the SLPP’s claim of bringing peace to Sierra Leone. These former warriors who are signatories to the January 11 press release surely know who brought peace to Sierra Leone. They write; “We also fully appreciate efforts by the international community to bring peace, stability and security to Sierra Leone through our various collaboration efforts as former combatants and members of the various warring factions in Sierra Leone.”

These men know very well that there would have been no peace without their collaborations and continuous admonishment of their followers to remain peaceful despite their status in confinement. That cannot be said of President Kabbah who might have been busy trafficking weapons to CDF against the UN-Resolution 1132 that barred the purchase and shipment of weapons to all warring factions. What is more, the detainees know very well that their demise in SC confinement is because of the deceptive Lome Peace Accord that promised them what the government of Sierra Leone could not deliver.

These men demonstrate a complete commitment to the peace process and stability when they write; “Because we love our country; because we love peace, unity and stability for our country; because we believe in the development of our country and the welfare of our people; and above all, because we believe that the present SLPP government does not stand for peace, reconciliation, unity, stability and the development of our country and our people, we hereby unite and state as follows:

1. “That we have put all of our individual differences aside to support a single political party of our choice in the forthcoming elections.

2. “That we know that the only dividing force that bears greatest responsibility for the current problems in our country, Sierra Leone, is the government of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP)

3. “That like us, we urge our supporters, sympathizers, friends, relations, and well-wishers to support the People’s Movement for Democratic Change (PMDC), which is the only political party we jointly and individually believe in to save our country, Sierra Leone, and bring peace, reconciliation, unity, love and stability to our nation.

4. “That we are unanimously sending this message to the office of the PMDC through our wives and next-of-kin, hoping that the party will accept our membership, wishes and desires for our beloved country, Sierra Leone.

5. “We urge the PMDC to spread this message far and wide within Sierra Leone and beyond to the international community, our friends, well-wishers, sympathizers, relations and supporters.

6. “We are open to any visits, questions and comments about this united, friendly and God-inspiring decision we have taken. We thank God for our lives so far and sign accordingly.”