Independent report calls on Libya to pay reparations for role in civil war

[Sierra Leone] A young man waits for medical attention after rebels from the Revolutionary United Front used a knife to mark both his chest and back with the initials RUF. The rebels then attempted to cut off his ear. In a similar attack, the rebels hacke
Un jeune homme, marqué par les rebelles du Front révolutionnaire uni (RUF), en Sierra Leone (C Dufka/HRW)

An independent report on Sierra Leone's brutal decade of civil war has recommended that Libya pay reparations for having trained top rebel military commanders, but it also warned the government in Freetown that poverty and corruption were still as rampant now as when the conflict broke out.

Following a two-year investigation into atrocities committed during the war, the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission said both Libya and Liberia had played a key role in the West African conflict which saw drugged-up rebels and government soldiers hacking off the limbs of innocent civilians.

A summary of its final report, handed to the government on Tuesday, was made available to IRIN.

"Libya has the resources to make a substantial financial contribution and it must make it because it was in charge of training key players in the Sierra Leone conflict," Howard Varney, the Commission's chief investigator, told IRIN by telephone on Wednesday.

He said the seven-member commission, chaired by Bishop Joseph Humper, had not recommended a particular sum.

In the last 14 months Libya has helped to cast off its international pariah status by agreeing to pay almost US$3 billion in compensation to victims of the 1988 bombing of a Pan-Am airliner over Lockerbie in Scotland, the 1989 bombing of a French airliner which exploded in the sky over Niger, and the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said Liberia, whose former President Charles Taylor has been indicted for war crimes by an international tribunal for financing and arming Sierra Leonean rebels, should also accept its responsibility for stoking its neighbour's civil war.

But the commission said that since Liberia was still emerging from its own crisis, enjoying its first fragile year of peace after 14 years of civil war, the reparation should be symbolic.

"It would be something like building a monument or holding a ceremony," Varney explained. "Liberia is a very poor country going through its own transition so it's not in a position to make a financial contribution."

"Dire conditions"

Besides dealing with past responsibilities, the independent report sounded alarm bells over the current state of affairs in Sierra Leone.

"Many of the dire conditions that gave rise to the conflict in 1991 remain in 2004," said the summary of the final report.

Two years after the civil war ended, Sierra Leone was still ranked bottom out of 177 countries in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2004 Human Development Index.

The country may have lucrative deposits of diamonds, titanium and bauxite, but in Freetown shacks and streets get washed away during the long heavy rainy season and the average Sierra Leonean is not expected to reach his 35th birthday.

Diplomats say corruption is rampant and they increasingly express fears about the continued stability of Sierra Leone's elected government once the last UN peacekeeping troops are withdrawn in June 2005.

"We are not suggesting for one moment that war is about to break in Sierra Leone," Varney clarified. "But there are concerns that issues like political participation need to be addressed quickly to stop a possible recurrence."

Youths, defined by the Sierra Leone government as those aged between 18 and 35, are one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's top priorities, given that they formed the bulk of the fighting forces across all factions.

"As in the late 1980s, many young adults continue to occupy urban ghettos where they languish in a twilight zone of unemployment and despair," the report said.

It recommended that this age group should be encouraged to participate more fully in society, and provide at least 10 percent candidates at national and local elections.

The report also urged the government to stop women being pushed to the periphery by making sure they represented 30 percent of those in public office and standing for election.

Combat corruption

The commission, which included members from Canada, South Africa and Gambia, as well as four appointees from Sierra Leone, called for measures to control widespread corruption.

This has drawn public protests from businessmen trying to resurrect Sierra Leone's service sector and tourism industry and private complaints from donors angry at seeing their aid money diverted into private pockets.

"The Commission proposes the introduction of a new and transparent regime in which citizens will have reasonable access to government information, where senior public officials disclose their financial interests and where government informs people down to the community level what amounts are being spent," the summary of its report said, without giving more details.

Another important task identified by the commission is to help Sierra Leoneans heal their psychological scars and recover from the atrocities experienced during the civil war

To this end, it called for 18 January to be declared a national reconciliation day every year.

The commission proposed free physical and mental healthcare for amputees and rape victims and recommended paying a monthly pension to all war wounded whose injuries meant they could only earn half of their previous income.

It also called for free education for their children, as well as youngsters who had been injured or orphaned during the fighting.

But the report gave no clue as to who would be footing the bill for the amount and the size of the pool that would be eligible for the benefits.

Varney said some money would hopefully be provided by the government and that maybe the international community would step forward with funds.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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