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RightsWay accuses IG of Sierra Leone Police of crimes against humanity

RightsWay accuses IG of Sierra Leone Police of crimes against humanity

RightsWay is asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Inspector General of Police and senior Police Officers for alleged crimes against humanity.

The human rights group RightsWay today expressed bitter disappointment that the Government has again delayed its determination of whether action will be taken against senior police officers involved into the fatal shooting, killing two innocent civilians, wounding several people including children and women and the widespread destruction of property during a labour strike by workers of OCTEA formerly Koidu Holdings in Kono in December 2012.

Coordinator of RightsWay, Alpha Umar Barrie said:

‘’Such action by the Police is the gravest of steps in a democracy. It can only ever be justified where absolutely necessary, where there is no other way of effectively protecting the lives of other. The actions of the police are not isolated or sporadic events, but and are part of a widespread or systematic practice. They are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government.

‘‘Whether it be police atrocities in Bumbuna where the police went on the rampage shooting and beating up people, the murder of bike-rider at Goderich, the shootings that killed several civilians in Calaba Town, the violent eviction of a disabled youth group at Ecowas Street, some political leaders sanction of violence during elections, the unlawful detention of political activists from Kenema for 15 days without charge, the illegal detention or custodial violence by police throughout the country, the culture and legal structure of impunity has allowed the most fundamental violations of human rights to go unchecked.

‘’Despite the countless number of human rights abuses committed by the police, the decision by the Government not to pursue credible evidence of systematic crimes against humanity has been taken for political reasons; it ignores Sierra Leone’s clear obligations under both international and domestic law. The International Criminal Court has an opportunity to set another important precedent, which will ensure that Sierra Leone lives up to its legal responsibilities to prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes’’.

An independent legal consultant of RightsWay, Messeh Kamara said, ‘’the continued misconduct and criminal behavior of the police with impunity to murder; torture; rape; political persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings’’.

Sierra Leone is a signatory to the ICC and the constitution did not exclude anyone from approaching the international court, but only after all domestic avenues had been exhausted.  Unfortunately, legal loopholes in Sierra Leone make the country a potential safe haven for fugitives suspected of crimes against humanity.

The lack of confidence in the domestic mechanisms available for holding police accountable, may compromise criminal investigation, hence the need for an ICC investigation. Under international law, every victim of these heinous crimes has the right to justice, truth and full reparation. Victims must be allowed to seek justice. RightsWay calls on the Sierra Leone government to amend domestic legislation and eliminate obstacles to the exercise of universal jurisdiction.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights projects the right to life, liberty and security of person. The 1991 Sierra Leone constitution protects the right to life and places onerous obligations on the State to protect the lives of all us.

Even in the context of defence of a person from unlawful violence; or in the defence of property; or in effecting lawful arrest; or in preventing a crime or the escape of a detained prisoner; or in suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or in self-defence or war, international law requires that everything possible is done to avoid a moment where lethal force is the only viable means in defence of life and property. However, there may be situations where lethal force is the only means of protecting huge loss of life. This principle places tight limitations on the use of deliberate and lethal force.

The justification that striking OCTEA workers had forcibly disarmed a police officer of his fully loaded AK-47 rifle, is preposterous, cruel, disgraceful, and nothing other than a politically-motivated justification to defend the police from such a grave human rights abuse.

RightsWay is disappointed that the miners’ protests received little media attention anywhere until things turned nasty, which creates a dangerous paradox, yet some selfish and misguided element within the media community are now pursuing an unfounded defence strategy of this police action.

There can be no justification for the action of the police. It’s inconceivable for a large group of well-trained and armed police officers to allow being disarmed by poor civilians. The situation raises questions about the efficacy of the police complaints system, recruitment into the police, the police’s internal disciplinary procedures, the vetting of officers and a failure to monitor disciplinary offences.

RightsWay is also disappointed in the nonchalant attitude of the Police Communications Department who refused to comments on the details of the shootings. When the Police head of media, ASP Ibrahim Samura, was contacted to explain the situation, unfortunately ASP Samura humiliated our staff and accused RightsWay of publishing a recent damming report on police misconduct, and that he was not pleased about the report. But neither the Police or the OCTEA Mining Company were able to comment on the details of the shooting, amid conflicting reports. ‘’There will be a statement later but we are investigating the situation,’’ the head of media for OCTEA, Ibrahim Sorie Kamara said.

It is important to draw a distinction between accepting that such action might be justified and the need to scrutinise any policy that allows for innocent people to be shot. Whenever someone dies at the hands of the State, there must be a fully independent and comprehensive Inquiry. This applies whether the person concerned was innocent, reasonably suspected or even guilty of criminality.

RightsWay calls on the government to promptly establish an investigation.  This Inquiry must answer questions about the police operation; the pursuit of the striking miners; and why non-lethal action was not taken. It must also scrutinise guidance given on the use of lethal force, the training of officers, and the adequacy of intelligence and information through the chain of the command. The Inquiry should not be a witch-hunt, but everything must be done to ensure that no more innocent people die.

We call for a prompt and satisfactory criminal and Independent Police Commission of inquiries. RightsWay strives never to prejudge legal process, whether it concerns state and non-state actors. We believe that these investigations and any further police operations must be governed by the human rights values enshrined in international human rights law.

RightsWay is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different parts of the country. The sheer scale and consistent pattern of human rights abuses committed by Police and security forces on innocent civilians and the widespread destruction of property could only be possible with the approval or complicity of the state.

Many citizens, particularly those from mining communities, will now be concerned not only about future violence attacks but also further police shootings. The Police should now do everything possible to reassure the public that death was a tragic mistake that will not be repeated

RightsWay is of the view that the mineral wealth of this country must bring in the greatest benefit for citizens. The question, then, of how the Kono shootings is likely to impact the trajectory of the mining industry in Sierra Leone– and with it, the rest of the Sierra Leone economy – cannot be dismissed.

We would like to encourage the contributions of mining investments; however, our pursuit for the ‘agenda for property’ and a booming economy should not be achieved at the expense of innocent lives, mineworkers and people living around the mines. Most mining companies paid lip service to mining regulations. We are now having unintended consequences due to lack of adherence to the policies and the unwillingness of mining companies to accept that they need to share the wealth of this country with the people.

For now, the mining strikes appear to highlight the income gap, as well as a human rights gap in a country that witnessed a decade of brutal civil conflict, fuelled by diamonds and injustices.   A “new deal” is needed for transforming Serra Leone’s mining industry.

RightsWay, Sierra Leone

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