Sierra Leone's 'see no evil' pact
Why, a mother asks, is there no war-crimes tribunal here?
FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE
The rebels who lined up Victoria Kajue's family against a wall and opened fire will never be punished for killing her six children - or the tens of thousands of other civilians who died in one of the most barbaric civil wars this continent has ever seen.Skip to next paragraph
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"I saw them execute all of my children and a two-year-old grandson," says Mrs. Kajue, caressing photos of her lost children with trembling fingers. "And I have nowhere to lay a complaint. I have no justice."
The eight-year campaign of terror waged by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) against this West African country ended in July with a peace pact that gives a blanket amnesty for war crimes committed by the combatants.
Sierra Leone's democratically elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, is now compelled to welcome eight of the world's worst war criminals into his cabinet - four ministers and four deputies. RUF leader Foday Sankoh will take a position equivalent to vice president and supervise sales of the country's bountiful diamond reserves.
The amnesty pact angers Kajue, the mother of six, and a host of human rights observers who all ask the same questions: Can there really be peace without justice? Why has the world not condemned this deal?
"The world seems to seek justice in Kosovo," says Kajue, her anger pouring out amid tears. "Are we on a different planet? Are my children worth less than the children in Kosovo? Why don't we get the same treatment?"
The comparison to war crimes in Kosovo is made again and again by survivors here.
A case can be made that the Sierra Leone rebels were more ruthless than Serbian fighters in the Balkans: There was a concerted terror campaign by the RUF. They amputated people's limbs, raped children, kidnapped boys for their armies, burned civilians alive, used human shields, massacred people in churches, and violated the rules of war - outlined in the Geneva Conventions - at every turn.
While the death toll in Kosovo is estimated at 10,000 over three months, more than 5,000 died during a January rebel siege in Freetown alone. At least 50,000 have perished over the years and more than 1 million Sierra Leoneans have been forced to flee their homes.
The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, former Irish president Mary Robinson, concluded during a June visit that there had been "more loss of life" here than in Kosovo and "more violations of human rights."
Why then, by comparison, has the war here been largely ignored by the developed world?
"Well," sighs one Western diplomat, "the difference is, who's looking? It is the difference between Africa and Europe."
"We are of no strategic or economic interest to the West," fumes Kadi Sesay, chair of Sierra Leone's National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, a government entity. "So the international response is: 'Oh, here goes Africa again. They are killing each other, but let them sort it out themselves.' "
Adds Marie Manyeh, a local aide worker: "It's like the world believes that we as black people can absorb more horror than the white race."
The UN representative here, Ambassador Francis Okelo of Uganda, signed the controversial peace pact as a "moral guarantor." He received last-minute instructions from New York to insist upon a disclaimer noting the UN does not recognize amnesty for genocide and crimes against humanity - an add-on that came so late it does not appear in copies of the agreement sold on the streets of Freetown.
There has been no mention of pursuing Mr. Sankoh, the RUF leader, in an international court - and the UN has not heeded calls for special investigators to document atrocities.
"I don't see the problem," says an exasperated Mr. Okelo. "Really, human-rights people can be so sanctimonious sometimes ... If we did not agree to this amnesty, there would have been no peace ... We had no choice."
So it would seem.
President Kabbah has had to rely solely on foreigners to fight his war against the RUF - and the peace deal was
struck because they didn't have the stomach to continue.