''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 10 No 2

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Monday June 24, 2013 - A new United Nations Security Council Resolution (United Nations S/RES/2106 (2013)) aimed at sending a strong message to perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict and post conflict situations has been unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council, paving the way for governments to punish perpetrators of violence as well as ending impunity.Sierra Leone very own Zainab Hawa Bangura in conversation with other participants. Photo: UN MediaUK Foreign Secretary Hague supports the campaign to bring perpetrators to justice.

A new UN Security Council Resolution that should send a strong signal to perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict that their crimes will not be tolerated and bring an end to impunity has been adopted by the world body.

According to the United Nations media outlet, the Security Council recognised the need for "more timely, objective, accurate and reliable information" as a basis for prevention and response and requested UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the relevant United Nations entities to speed up the establishment of monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements on conflict-related sexual violence".

It is worth noting that this time round the net has been closed on perpetrators not only in ongoing conflicts but in post-conflict situations as is to be found in countries like Sierra Leone where the UN agencies as well as rights groups within Sierra Leone have reported the unwillingness and apathy of the Ernest Bai Koroma government in bringing to justice perpetrators of violence against children, men and women.

Among those who made passionate pleas for the protection of people at risk in conflict and post-conflict situations is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, our very own Zainab Hawa Bangura who noted that

"today, it is still largely “cost-free” to rape a woman, child or man in conflict but for the first time in history, we can reverse this reality. It will require leadership and political courage, and a relentless determination to match the cold, calculating brutality of those who would rape the innocent for military or political gain.” 

Zainab Hawa Bangura is no stranger to impunity in conflict and post-conflict situations and had seen and met victims in her own country Sierra Leone where the vulnerable were targeted in an orgy of rape, murder, plunder, enslavement and forced marriages by armed groups during the country's decade-long war from 1991 to 2002 when then President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah declared that the war was over.

Zainab Hawa Bangura must be aware too that despite the many reports of sexual violence against children and other vulnerable groups, victims have not received the support and compensation so badly needed in a country where politicians are more concerned with the acquisition of personal wealth by whatever means rather than taking the fight in the defence of victims. What is even more alarming is that the Ernest Bai Koroma government has refused to condemn in no uncertain terms the ongoing sexual violence against the vulnerable including perceived political opponents especially by the security forces including the armed wing of his APC party wearing the colours of the police OSD, (former ISU and SSD as the renaming deception continues).

A number of reports by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) puts the spotlight on rape in post-conflict Sierra Leone with one noting -

"Social workers in Sierra Leone worry that rape has become even more pervasive in peacetime than during the country’s decade-long civil war. Most of the victims come from areas with a high concentration of former soldiers. Although it has been nearly a decade since the war ended, some activists theorize that the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war has resulted in rape being ingrained into the social conscience and even normalized. The head of the International Rescue Committee, Alan Glasgow, says that rape is now “something that is understood and even accepted...Some of the perpetrators were children during the war and were exposed to rape and sexual violence then and just carried on doing it,” says Hannah Kargbo, a nurse for the IRC.

The IRC reports that there were 1,176 recorded attacks on women last year, but this number is likely only a fraction of the total number of incidences that occurred. Due to Sierra Leone’s increasing stigmatization of rape and a blame-the-victim mentality, few victims are willing to come forward. And the younger the victim, the stronger the fear of being stigmatized—a sobering fact considering that 65 percent of the IRC’s patients are under the age of fifteen.

The head of the Rainbo Centre in Freetown, Eunice Whenzle, says, “The young ones refuse to go back to school after the attack because they think other children will tease them about it. Some of the girls completely retract from society, refusing to eat or engage with anyone.” In the case that victims do speak out about the crimes, they have to deal with an exceedingly slow legal system and administrative obstacles such as medical exams and certificates. A school girl in Sierra Leone - one of the lucky ones. Photo: IRC - Sierra Leone

In the end, many simply cannot afford to go through with the prosecution. The unfortunate result is that the majority of rapists avoid punishment and often go on to claim more victims—even raping the same women and girls again. And of the 896 men charged with rape by the IRC in 2007, only thirteen were convicted. In addition to the stigma placed on victims, there is disagreement among Sierra Leoneans on what actually constitutes rape. For example, marital rape is still not punishable by law. Many people also believe that rape is avoidable, and only occurs at the fault of the victim for her clothing or behavior."

Speaking from her experience as a lawyer and activist working to bring justice to victims of sexual violence in conflict, Jane Adong Anywar of the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice said that leadership on accountability for conflict-related crimes, including sexual violence, must be provided at the national level, with priority given to resourcing; adequate legislation prohibiting acts of sexual violence; and capacity building for police, investigators, lawyers and judges regarding the adjudication of these crimes. Sierra Leone, it must be noted has legislation that could be used in the detection, investigation and brining to justice such perpetrators but must be noted also that the government remains unmoved in dealing with such terrible crimes.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon did not mince his words on the matter as he noted that

"Sexual violence, whenever and wherever it occurs, is a vile crime. It must be exposed and met with the anger and action that it deserves"

The Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) has noted in its report after investigating the violence in Bumbuna in which the armed wing of the APC party, the OSD of the Sierra Leone police rained violence reminiscent of the brutal war years on unarmed and vulnerable civilians -

"When the tension was at fever pitch, the women decided to perform a traditional ceremony with great cultural significance to calm down the situation by showcasing and parading behind a Women Secret Society masked “devil” called ‘’Shekereh’’. The practice is that whenever the “Shekereh’’ is showcased accompanied by traditional songs and dance by all members, all male residents should stay indoors until they complete the traditional rituals. In this context, according to the women, it was used as a conflict resolution method to calm the situation because by staying indoors the men would be prevented from aggressing on the police and vice versa. The women were peacefully dancing carrying green twigs. Unfortunately, instead of calming the situation down, things became worse. The police marched behind the women and physically and emotionally intimidated them thereby disrespecting the women’s secret society. According to them, the police were raining the worst forms of verbal insults saying they will ‘’fire gunshot into the sexual organs of the women’’ and “vaginate” their new weapons. The women reported that they were traumatized because the police operation reminded them of the rebel war. “It was like any rebel attack”, the women repeatedly said. “Due to this incident, our memories of the nineties were recalled when the rebels attacked here in 1994. All what we saw on that day [of the police operation in Bumbuna] can be compared to what we went through during the war. We were worried to imagine we were going to lose all we have worked for a second time. We even thought it was another war.”

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