Justice must underpin democracy to sustain national development

7 October 2011 at 01:55 | 1376 views

Titus Boye-Thompson, Development Consultant, London, UK.

Ours is a fledgling democracy. In the course of recent events that engulfed Sierra Leone, it is without doubt that instances of grave injustice and human rights abuses occurred. The rule of law was sacrificed for wanton abuses of individual and community rights as the state machinery failed woefully to function effectively especially in relation to protecting the citizenry. Amongst all the multiple ills, people in power and authority engaged in vendettas and abuse of power whilst blaming the rampant lawlessness on the marauding forces and rebels. It was a relief therefore when, after the dust started to settle and with the negotiated settlement taking hold, democracy returned to our shores and the civilian dispensation engaged with the international community to assess the damage done and also to draw up a road map for sustainable peace and reconstruction. In the event, the nation came to a crossroads when during the deliberations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it became apparent that given the intricate nature of our society, the interrelationships that determine our common existence and the over-riding need for national healing, certain matters needed to be handled with extreme care, caution and sensitivity. Amongst these salient matters, the issue of the extra-judicial killings of Bambay Kamara and others was dealt with somewhat conclusively. This matter came to national prominence once again, not unsurprisingly, as from the election of Maada Bio as SLPP Flagbearer. Maada Bio was undoubtedly a senior operative at the time of that incidence. The family of the deceased are right to raise their concerns at the emergence to a position of national consequence of a person to whom they ascribe blame for the loss of their loved ones.

The ensuing brouhaha engulfed even the UNIPSIL hierarchy, raised concerns about the impartiality or otherwise of the UN System of Organisations in Sierra Leone to the extent that a demonstration against the UNIPSIL representative in Sierra Leone was mounted in New York in September 2011. The issues here are varied but consist of some very crucial pointers as to the manifestation of the territorial integrity of our nation state. What business does Michael Shulenberg have in interfering in the internal discussions around matters predominantly domestic amongst the populace? Does his interference by way of endorsing Maada Bio smirk of international or indeed UN backed support for his candidature and if so, what business does the UN have in determining any debate or topics necessary for discussion as regards the operations of political discourse in Sierra Leone? The answers to these questions are not as easily determined as one would hope. Suffice it to say that the operations of the UN and its Agencies in Sierra Leone are crucial to the sustenance of peace and security in the entire sub-region. If you consider that all the members of the Mano River Union have until recently experienced violent political and civil unrest, and that for the most part, the UN and its Agencies had to be heavily involved in the protection of innocent civilian lives and property by the deployment of peace keeping forces, then it stands to reason that the UNIPSIL Representative may be justifiably concerned with rumblings that are likely to affect national security and the peace of the nation state. Such concern however, should not extend to any intervention that may be construed as interference in the operation of law within our sovereign state.

It may be for that very same reason that President Ernest Bai Koroma accorded the UDM leader, Mohamed Bangura an opportunity to evince the International community via fringe meetings at the UN of the concerns of his party and the subsequent proclamations of the UDM against Michael Shulenberg. It is clear that the President acted in a magnanimous way in according the UDM Party this exposure and such a gesture goes a great way in solidifying the stature of President Koroma as a defender of democratic rights and freedoms. The issues raised by the operations of political activities in the country are the direct responsibility of the Sierra Leone institutions such as the NEC, The Police and the Judiciary. In the intervening periods, Sierra Leone’s politicians have tested their rights to engage and challenge decisions of political succession in court and with great success. While the APC had their own time at resolving internal conflicts and disagreements culminating in the ascendancy of Ernest Koroma as Party Leader prior to his leading the party to victory in 2007, the SLPP Party came out of such an experience only recently, culminating in the holding of a selection process for their flagbearer for the forthcoming elections in 2012. What this tells any observer is that the Sierra Leonean institutions are robust enough to deal with issues raised by internal party politics and that there should be no need for prevarications including overt or covert endorsement of any candidate by any political party other than by the people of Sierra Leone through the ballot box.

Having dealt with the issues above, it is now necessary to seek to assuage those who continue to suffer from State abuses or abuses of human rights suffered in the hands of the State. In the instance of the extra-judicial killings, it is clear that sufferings still persist and the loss and injustice suffered by the survivors have not been addressed by the TRC. It is one thing to sacrifice personal loss for national peace and reconstruction. It is another thing altogether when the State recognizes the injustice but fails to address its cause and consequences. Given that the Country is in a process of healing, it would not be justified to re-open healing wounds by the establishment of commissions of Inquiries that would inevitably lead to further hurt and harm to the very survivors that such activities set out to assist in getting closure in the first place. In the event, it is for the current machinery of State to come to terms with the suffering of the survivors and implement practical steps to help them secure closure. One such instrument that can be used may be a public statement on behalf of the Country that recognizes the contributions of such persons to our development as a nation, a statement that accords them some dignity even in their passing and also a statement that openly decries the extra judicial manner by which they were dispensed with and a commitment that such acts or injustice must not be repeated under our new democracy. It may not be impractical also for some measure of compensation to be paid to victims’ families, and also for assets of victim to be released back to their families with a view to securing closure of these matters.

These are practical suggestions that would in the long run, save the country from any further internal disputes or conflict that would unleash repercussions of retribution or other hate based crimes. It may well be asked, why should the current President be burdened with the responsibility of resolving issues or injustice committed by a previous dispensation? The answer is simple. President Ernest Koroma is a sensitive man, a respected advocate for peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone. It may do well for the victims and their families to listen to him and trust his sincerity much more than they can pay any mind to any of the alleged perpetrators of their loss. The head of state can give assurances and recompense to survivors of injustice in a manner commensurate with the laws of Sierra Leone. He has the authority to make a Presidential declaration and only his will secure the closure that these survivors need at this point in time. In the event, any attempt at reassuring them of the Government’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law to the extent that such incidents will never happen again will only be convincing if it comes from the Fountain of Honour, Peace and Justice. It is incumbent on the President to close this matter, once and for all so that the country can move to addressing the issues of development including the strides he has made in moving Sierra Leone towards a more sustainable peace and democracy!