Sierra Leone: Rights lawyers file case against ECOMOG

An ECOMOG soldier points a gun at a Sierra Leonean

One fighting force during Sierra Leone’s armed conflict has not yet been held accountable for the egregious crimes committed against civilians: The Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). Nevertheless, there is hope that this impunity gap may close since, recently, a collective of human right lawyers filed a case to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone on behalf of the victims.

Filing a petition to the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone, Shyamala Alagendra, Karim Khan QC and Ibrahim Sorie Yillah represent many of the victims that suffered the horrors captured on-camera. By doing so, this collective of human rights lawyers is hoping to effectively plug the impunity gap for victims of ECOMOG crimes get justice.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed ECOMOG soldiers in an attempt to end the bloody civil war. ECOMOG troops were active in the country between 1997 and 2001.

Despite their peacekeeping mandate, ECOMOG forces were allegedly responsible for grave international crimes including murdering civilians suspected to be rebels, rape, and torture.

The crimes allegedly committed by ECOMOG forces in Sierra Leone during the civil war have been well documented by several journalists as well as reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone.

Sorious Samura, with much courage and effectively risking his own life, documented the terrible acts of violence committed by the “peacekeepers” with his video camera. His films serve as evidence of many crimes committed by ECOMOG troops. Although the images from Samura’s video “Cry Freetown” were seen around the world and used as evidence by the Special Court for Sierra Leone itself, ECOMOG soldiers have not yet faced justice, fuelling the culture of impunity.

Despite the compiled evidence against ECOMOG forces, the Special Court for Sierra Leone held trials for other fighting factions during the conflict.

High-ranking members of the government forces Civil Defense Force (CDF), the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) faced trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone but there have been no judicial processes for ECOMOG soldiers for the international crimes allegedly committed.

It is disheartening and discouraging for victims of ECOMOG crimes to know their suffering continues to go unpunished. This impunity causes distress to victims on an individual level, but may also set a dangerous precedent for future peacekeeping missions, implying an element of “permission” to perpetrate crimes and not be held accountable. Noticing these gaps of impunity in accountability for the Sierra Leonean conflict, a group of lawyers is working with the victims of ECOMOG crimes and have submitted a case to the governmental authorities.

Civitas Maxima

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