Africa, Headlines

POLITICS-SIERRA LEONE: Different Forms of Justice

Lansana Fofana

FREETOWN, Apr 2 1998 (IPS) - Twenty-one members of Sierra Leone’s former military government and civilians who collaborated with them appeared in court this week, while the Kamajor militia group meted out its own form of justice against former junta members and civilians in various parts of the country.

The 21 who include high ranking officials in the deposed Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) government of Major Johnny Paul Koroma, appeared in court on Wednesday and have been charged of crimes ranging from treason to murder, rape and armed robbery.

The West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) provided tight security at the court as angry civilians thronged the court to listen to the proceedings. “Why waste time with the murderers and barbarians? Hang them all,” shouted Marie Sandy.

Sandy told IPS that her husband and two children were killed by the junta troops before the ECOMOG military offensive toppled Koroma’s government in February.

According to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Solomon Berewa, “about 1500 accused persons are currently detained at the Maximum Security Prison in Freetown” awaiting trial. They include military officers, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front(RUF), which joined forces with the AFRC, and civilians.

“We will ensure that the trials are conducted as fast as possible so as to get down to the task of rebuilding our devastated country,” Berewa told IPS.

However, many observers say speedy trials in a civilian court of law are not quite feasible since a large number of judges, magistrates, lawyers and state prosecutors fled the country soon after the May 25 coup last year which brought Koroma to power.

Although the civilian government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was reinstated in March, many of Sierra Leone’s legal experts have not returned.

Also, the country’s Chief Justice Samuel Beccles-Davies, who has been accused of legitimising the former junta government by swearing in Koroma, has been asked to resign. President Kabbah has nominated Desmond Luke to replace Beccles-Davies, and his appointment is awaiting Parliamentary ratification.

But while President Kabbah’s government begins the trials in the capital city, its supporters, the Kamajor militia, have unleashed a reign of terror on civilians suspected of supporting the former regime.

The Kamajors, a hunter militia recruited in 1992 by the then military National Provisional Ruling Council to fight against the RUF, are reported also to be carrying out revenge killings against captured junta members and opposing ethnic groups like the Temnes of the North.

Members of the Mende ethnic group, the largest in the country, the Kamajors had succeeded during the civil war in dislodging the RUF rebels from their key bases, and had almost brought the civil war to a close just before the May 25, 1997 coup changed Sierra Leone’s political map.

The AFRC junta attempted to disarm and disband the Kamajors who were strong supporters of Kabbah’s government. But the militias put up stiff resistance and increased their numbers. Now, they are having their revenge.

“The Kamajors have set up various roadblocks in the districts of Kenema and Bo in the east and south respectively, and are busy extorting monies from commuters,” says David Baryoh, editor of the ‘Punch’ newspaper.

Baryoh told IPS he was forced to pay 1500 Leones (about One U.S. Dollar) as a “pass”, before being allowed to cross the Kamajor roadblock.

Sixteen year old Mariama Bojma says she and a group of civilians were attacked by the Kamajors. “I was abducted together with my mother and 10 other people who were travelling in the same vehicle by the Kamajors on the Kono highway,” Bojma narrates from a private clinic in Freetown where she is undergoing treatment.

“A young Kamajor raped me after isolating me from the group and he accused me of being a junta sympathiser,” she says. She says the group was searched, robbed and passengers who resisted were beaten.

Sierra Leone’s Deputy Defence Minister Sam Norman has travelled to the Kamajor-controlled areas to urge the militia to stop their atrocities. He said in a recent newspaper report that it would be “left with the President and the people to decide what becomes of the Kamajors in the near future”.

But one analyst fears that the militia may be completely out of government’s control. “I hope and pray they are not transformed into a party (ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party) militia who would be unleashed on us during elections in three years time,” says Santigie Kamara of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

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