4) Victims of Sierra Leone’s Civil War to Receive Reparations

By: Beverly Baker
Pace International Law Review, Junior Associate

The Sierra Leone Civil War lasted from 1991 until 2002, but its devastating effects continue to be felt today.  The civil war began when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, launched brutal attacks against villages in eastern Sierra Leone from Liberia.  The war’s primary goal was to gain control of the diamond industry; corruption and mismanagement in this sector were largely to blame for the reason the country was one of the poorest in the world by 1998.

Physical mutilation was the RUF’s terror tactic of choice.  The rebels used machetes and axes on over 20,000 civilians to amputate arms, legs, ears, lips, or tongues.  RUF members often killed nearly all the members of a village, save for a few boys and men; anyone who attempted to escape would be killed.  Often, civilians were maimed and sent to nearby villages to serve as a warning.  The RUF also recruited children and used them to commit horrific atrocities, such as being forced to kill their own parents or neighbors.  Women that were not killed were mutilated, raped, and kept as sex slaves.

In 2000, a Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) agreement was signed but fighting continued.  A second agreement, signed in May 2001 significantly reduced hostilities.  By 2002, over 72,000 former rebels were disarmed and demobilized.  President Kabbah declared the civil war to be over on January 18, 2002.

Although the fighting ceased eight years ago, civilian victims of the war have continued to suffer.  Now, some of these victims may receive money, education, and health benefits from the government.  Although there can be no compensation great enough for the victims of physical mutilation and rape, the assistance is welcomed by civilians who have found themselves unable to work after the war.

In the town of Makeni, the government has begun interviewing residents as part of the National Commission for Social Action in order to determine whether they are victims and eligible to receive reparations.  According to Regional Coordinator Sainku Fofanah, “any part of your body that was damaged during the war, they are going to look at it on a percentage basis.” To register for the government’s program, alleged victims must submit photographs depicting their injuries and provide testimony regarding what happened to them.  Applicants must also furnish proof of their identity and paperwork that demonstrates they were wounded in the war.  Although this is an easy task for amputees, who often belong to associations and carry ID cards, the victims of sexual abuse have a more difficult task proving their injuries.  However, government officials are hopeful that, in time, victims of sexual violence will also receive benefits.

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