Africa, Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-SIERRA LEONE: Reparations Stretched Thin

Mohamed Fofanah

FREETOWN, Oct 23 2008 (IPS) - "Eight years ago my husband threw his haversack on his back and bade us goodbye. My two kids and I came out of the house and watched him leave. Water was dripping from our eyes uncontrollably; it was as if we were already mourning his death. He was bound for the war front."

Designated a priority for reparations , Sierra Leone's war widows fear they will be sent to the back of the queue. Credit:  Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

Designated a priority for reparations , Sierra Leone's war widows fear they will be sent to the back of the queue. Credit: Mohamed Fofanah/IPS

Fatmata Kallon, a tall, rail-thin woman in her early 40s is seated on the front porch of her shack at Sorie Town, located at the hill top in the west end of Freetown, a fast-growing settlement of tin houses, with no running water.

"About three weeks after he left, we were informed that he was killed in an ambush at the Bo-Kenema highway by the rebels. Osman Kallon, my husband had been the nerve centre of the family. Since his demise things have been hell for us."

Kallon is among the large group of women described as war widows – their total number is still unknown.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in 2002 to investigate the causes of Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, a brutal conflict during which all factions were accused of committing gross human rights violations.

The TRC specifically recognised the effects of violence on women and the family structure. War widows – in the words of the TRC's report, "women whose husbands were killed as a consequence of any abuse or violation and who, as a result, have become the primary breadwinners for their families" – such women were designated as a privileged categories for reparations, notes the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, Jamesina King.

The TRC recommended the provision of skills training and micro-credit schemes for these women, defined in its final report as to help equip and empower them to provide for their families.

But the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), the body that will be implementing the reparations, has no immediate plans to begin these projects.

"Because skills training and micro-credit schemes for these women need a lot of planning and the money that we have now will be insufficient to take this venture on board, when we have more funding we will consider that recommendation," the Reparations Program Manager, Amadu Bangura, told IPS.

NaCSA instead has chosen to give priority to the implementation of a housing project, providing housing to only three other categories affected by the war: adult war wounded, adult amputees and adult victims of sexual violence. The housing project was not a reparation recommendation by the TRC.

"I feel so deprived and the loss of my husband during the war will be more painful to me and my family if the reparations recommendations set out by TRC will not be followed strictly by NaCSA for whatever reasons," Kallon appealed.

Bangura maintains that the housing project is in line with the recommendations of the Reparations Steering Committee after analysing the TRC report and finding that 49 percent of victims called for the provision of housing.

He stated that when they did their assessment they found that out of the 960 amputees and war wounded registered by the Amputee and War wounded Association, 500 have already been provided with housing by international NGOs.

"We want to continue with what has been started and finish off the 460 beneficiaries that remain. We intend to start off with 50 houses for amputees and 25 for war-wounded beneficiaries," Bangura pointed out.

Bangura said that the whole reparations programme is expected to start next year, as soon as the verification process of beneficiaries is concluded. It is expected to last for six years.

Each house will cost $6,500 dollars, taken from the present reparations budget total of three million dollars.

"Housing is the best reparations and I support NaCSA to include housing," says Jusu Jarka, the chairman of an association of amputees and war wounded who stand to benefit from the housing project. Jarka is the only active representative of beneficiaries in the reparations committee.

"I agree that housing is very good, but if the TRC in their wisdom expressly did not recommend it, they must have taken into consideration many factors like limited budget for the reparations," said Jariatu Kamara, a war widow. "So I do not see any justification in providing housing for one set of people and excluding the skills training and micro credit schemes that were directly proposed for us in the report. It is unacceptable."

Jamesina King said that the TRC Report makes provisions for amendment of the reparations recommendations by the implementing body, but only with the unanimous consent of the members of the Advisory Board to the proposed amendment.

"The HRCSL was not aware that such directions had been followed before the housing decision was taken and at what level."

She told IPS that they have done a letter to NaCSA to request an explanation and justifications for making the amendments to the TRC reparation recommendation.

A total of 2.3 million dollars is expected to be expended on reparations for amputees, war wounded, sexually violated and children victims in the project's first year.

Amadu said that the Reparations Committee was expecting funding from the government which is still not forthcoming.

In addition, he said that the committee has developed a five-year strategic funding plan to attract international donors and if they have the funds they will implement all the TRC recommendations before the end of the six year Reparations Programme.

"We have suffered greatly during the war and up till now we are suffering. We are helplessly looking at NaCSA to help us get our lives back. Whatever decision they will be taking on reparations, we hope will be selfless and should be in the spirit of the TRC report that has made provision for us," Kallon pleaded.

The TRC Report stated that they were enjoined by statute to give special attention to the needs of women and girls because while the majority of victims were adult males, perpetrators singled out women and children for some of the most brutal violations of human rights recorded in any conflict.

The report states that "it is only when the legal and socio-political system treats women as equals to men, giving them full access to economic opportunities and enabling them to participate freely in both public and private life, that they will realize their full potential."

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