For War Crimes… ECOMOG Soldiers In Trouble

 

Two international lawyers associating with a Sierra Leonean counterpart have filed 9 cases in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone against Nigerian soldiers for alleged war crimes committed in Sierra Leone between 1998 and 1999.

Karim Khan and Dr. Shamela, who worked with the United Nations’ backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that was set up in 2002 to try those bearing the greatest responsibility during the eleven-year-long civil war in the country. Commanders from the various warring factions including the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Civil Defence Force (CDF) that was commonly called Kamajor and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) were tried and slammed long-time sentences after they were found guilty for war crimes. But what was very conspicuous about the Special Court trials was that no ECOMOG commander or soldier was tried by the court.

Based on a documentary that was filed by Sierra Leone journalist Sorious Samura tilted: Cry Freetown, the lawyers who have filed the cases in the Sierra Leone Supreme Court alleged that there was clear evidence that Nigerian soldiers committed rape, torture, illegal detention, murder and other inhuman and degrading treatments against innocent Sierra Leoneans.

Defendant in the case is the Sierra Leone Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz.

It could be recalled that Karim Khan, Dr. Shamela and their Sierra Leonean counterpart, Ibrahim Yillah last year tried to lodge the case in a Nigerian court but the authorities refused to accept it, stating that their jurisdiction is limited to only the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

As a second line of action, they decided to take the matter to the Sierra Leone Supreme Court, pleading with it to invoke the Government of Sierra Leone to establish accountability mechanisms that will get at the truth of the allegations of war crimes made against Nigeria ECOMOG soldiers.

Khan and Shamela’s argument is that the Sierra Leone Supreme Court is duty bound to accept the case because the Government has the responsibility of protecting the fundamental human rights of its citizens as enshrined in Chapter 3 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.

Sorious Samura, who filmed the documentary that provides the bulk of the evidence for five of the nine cases filed, was in The Hague last year working with the lawyers to compile the evidence. While he said he would not give evidence against the Government of Sierra Leone, he would willingly do so against the Nigerian soldiers he accused of being butchers instead of protectors of the people they were supposed to defend in Sierra Leone.

He maintained that the atrocities allegedly committed by the Nigerian soldiers against innocent civilians should not be swept under the carpet of history, as clear evidence exists for prosecution whilst nothing was done.

Khan commenting on the merit of the cases said those charged with official mandates must do just that. He said the cases are a request for redress for the victims for whom they are asking for US$410, 000 each as compensation for the sufferings caused them by Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers between 1998 and 1999. “I have confidence that justice may be possible,” Khan said, despite admitting that it could be a difficult case.

Evidences adduced in Sorious Samura’s documentary against Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers include the testimony of one Lamin Mansaray, who said Nigerian soldiers shot dead his mum, dad and two sisters after defending a youth the Nigerian soldiers had accused of being a rebel. The youth, according to Lamin Mansaray, was thrown into a fire but was rescued by his grandmother. He lamented that he was now a lone man in the world and has never had a mental balanced after the traumatic incident.

Another victim, a mother, narrated the killing of her 16-year-old son, Gibrilla which incident took place at Caulker Lane in Sorie Town and was filmed by Sorious.

Another victim said: “These guys were inhuman; they treated me like a beast.”  Sorious alleged that victims were dumped into mass graves and buried.

The lawyers seeking redress for the victims, who they said are just few of many victims, think that reopening the case after 19 years is a worthwhile case and the best way to help the victims.