Civilians who lost limbs in Sierra Leone’s atrociously brutal war are mobilising to ensure promises of aid to victims do not remain mere words on paper.
“Our hearts still bleed with tears because we are not satisfied,” one amputee told a 14 September forum in the capital Freetown, which government officials attended.
The gathering was the culmination of two months of meetings of amputees and other war victims organised by the national human rights group, Forum of Conscience.
While Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war ended in 2002, its images of drugged-up youngsters hacking off the arms, legs and ears of innocent civilians have yet to fade.
Reparations for amputees and victims - including free health care and monthly pensions - is one of the recommendations of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), whose final report was presented to the government last October.
Civil society and human rights groups have since been pushing for the government to act on the TRC recommendations, which include reparations, better government accountability and laws to protect human rights.
Alhaji Ahmed Jusu Jarka, chairman of the national amputees and war wounded association, told the forum on Wednesday that when amputees testified to the commission, they were told something eventually would be done for them.
“This has not been realised and now we are suffering,” he said.
He added that war victims must not go unassisted while those committing atrocities received rewards for disarming.
“If the perpetrators who cut off our hands have been given money to turn over their weapons and even to return to their villages, then I see no reason why the government and the international community cannot raise enough money to help [victims] live their lives.”
Victims’ groups are reviewing their reparation demands, after the government rejected an appeal that amputees and war wounded receive US $3,000 per month.
Sierra Leone Attorney General Frederick Carew instead presented a government plan for assisting war victims, including free primary and secondary education, free medical care and free transport on public buses for victims and their relatives. He also promised plots of land for farming.
Victims' groups will meet again to discuss the government’s plan and come up with a revised demand, John Caulker, head of Forum of Conscience, said on Thursday.
Attorney General Carew told IRIN that the government is willing to do what it can to help amputees and war wounded, but that calls for pensions of US $3,000 a month were unfeasible.
“Not even ministers make that much money per month - how are we going to afford that?” he said by phone from Freetown.
“We are ready to improve their lot in any way we can. But the government has a responsibility to help with development and to eradicate poverty in the country. There are other people who are deserving and who need help, too.”
Carew noted that the government, with assistance from Norway, has already built over 400 houses for war victims and plans to build more.
The Sierra Leone government’s point-by-point strategy for applying the TRC recommendations, released in July, sparked dismay among civil society and human rights groups. Some lamented that the government had failed to commit to concrete steps for helping amputees and other war victims.
The government’s white paper said it “accepts in principle” the TRC’s findings and recommendations, adding, “the government will use its best endeavours to ensure the full and timely implementation of various reparation programmes recommended by the commission, subject to the means available to the state….”
Many said the government should have laid out a plan to seek assistance from the international community for victim reparations.
The TRC recommendations include: free medical care for life for amputees, free medical support for other war wounded, free health care for victims of sexual violence and a monthly pension for amputees, war wounded and sex-crime victims who lost at least 50 percent of their earning capacity, and skills training for amputees, war widows and other victims.
But at Wednesday’s meeting, some victims were sceptical about government help.
Andrew Cooper, an amputee, wondered aloud how effective the plan for free health care would be, given that many hospitals have no medicine.
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