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NDA presidential aspirant attends rebuilding Sierra Leone conference in USA

NDA presidential aspirant attends rebuilding Sierra Leone conference in USA

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Presidential aspirant, Mohamed C. Bah, on April 1, 2011 attended a one day conference on rebuilding Sierra Leone – changing institutions and culture – at the University of Columbia, South Carolina, USA.  (Photo: Joel H. Samuels, conference organizer with NDA Presidential Aspirant Mohamed C. Bah)

The one day conference was both rich in its background of the war, where salient issues that have hindered Sierra Leone’s development were discussed and several ways were strategized to further the rebuilding of the post war Sierra Leone. The event was among the first interdisciplinary academic conferences in the United States that solely focused on the unique challenges of redeveloping Sierra Leone. The conference also commemorated Sierra Leone’s independence on April 27, 1961- fifty years ago this month.

Opening the conference, Joel H. Samuels, Associate Professor of Law spoke about Sierra Leone’s past brutal civil war and thanked the panelists and moderators including the participants for attending. He challenged everyone to bring their honest perspectives into the open debates of changing public institutions and restoring the infrastructures of justice in Sierra Leone. Mr. M.C. Bah commended the conference organizers, Professor Ron Atkinson and Joel Samuels for hosting such a historic event and complimented them for adding their unique academic voices into the rebuilding process of Sierra Leone.

The first panelists, Christopher DeCorsse, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology-Syracuse University highlighted the anthropological discoveries of Sierra Leone and urged the government to utilize the “archaeological richness” of their country for potential tourism and cultural developments. 

Dr. Herbert Frazier, Author of “Behind God’s Back” narrated the story about his first visit to Bunce Island in 2002. He described Bunce Island, as one of the oldest slave castles in Africa, with a deep history and a common ancestry that connect African Americans from South Carolina, and Georgia to Sierra Leone.  “Bunce Island is a sleeping history that needs to be extensively researched and developed both for tourism and academic exploration” he advised.

The American born author, Kevin Lowther, who wrote, “The African American Odyssey of John Kizell” spoke of a brave slave, John Kizell, who helped to bring freedom to his native Sierra Leone and championed the movement for social justice after the emancipation of freed slaves.

Professor Joe Opala, Director of Bunce Island Coalition gave a historical significance of his anthropological research and outlined the impact of his decade old discoveries in Sierra Leone. He cautioned the panelists and participants to bring the reality of the Sierra Leonean experience into the discussion forum. 

Director of Bunce Island, Joe Opala and NDA Presidential aspirant, M.C. Bah

 Erika George, Professor of Law at the University of Utah, on the second panel of discussion, outlined the practices of the rule of law in Sub Saharan Africa. She pointed out the challenges of the establishment of such democratic values due to the fragile educational system in Sierra Leone and the lack of cultural commitment in promoting the fundamental principles of the rule of law. Rebuilding educational institutions, providing a transparent justice system and restoring trust into the justice sectors are some of the solutions mentioned by Professor George in upholding the tenets of the rule of law.

Jennifer Moore, Professor of Law, the University of New Mexico talked about grass root organizations in Sierra Leone like “Fambul Tok” that have bridged the linguistic and cultural barriers of many tribal groups in Sierra Leone. “These community based organizations are playing a major role in reducing domestic violence, increasing religious tolerance and improving women’s participation in the political and economic livelihood of the rural communities,” Professor Moore eloquently explained.

The former American ambassador to Sierra Leone, June Carter Perry, described her experience in the civil rights movements in America and how such life learning lessons have influenced her passion to support women’s issues globally. She mentioned about her two primary missions to Sierra Leone which were to promote bilateral trade and lay the ground work for the return of the Peace Corps. These achievements as the ambassador said:  “largely helped to promote the common bond and shared interests of both the United States and Sierra Leone.” 

American Ambassador to Sierra Leone June Carter Perry and NDA Presidential aspirant

 The ambassador pointed out some of the serious problems women face in Sierra Leone from female genital mutilation (FGM) to reproductive health medicine and access to better health care, especially in the rural communities. “The free health care for pregnant women and infants offers some sign of relief to women” the ambassador said. She praised women’s increasing participation in the decision making process especially the 19% of women who were elected as councilors during the last election. She, however, reiterated the difficulties women face from domestic violence, to human trafficking and the need for more inclusion into the political structures of government. The ambassador was optimistic about the reduction of the infant mortality rate and urged the government to increase its budgets on the health care sector.

Lieutenant Colonel, Mark Daubney, Royal Engineers (UK) analyzed the security sector and discussed the huge reforms instituted by the British military after the war. These military donors, especially the British troops, provided financial, military, logistical training and peace building mission in Sierra Leone.

The third panelist discussed the Special Court in Sierra Leone. David Scheffer-Professor of Law at Northwestern University and Former Ambassador-at-Large for war crimes spoke via Skype video about the rationale and justification of the Special Court, its impact on International Justice and its legacy of prosecution on war criminals in Sierra Leone.

James Hodes, one of the Special Court prosecutors, who is now an Attorney at the Cochran Law Firm in Atlanta, USA, offered a critical cross-examination on the Special Court. That the court was more politicized and the limitation of prosecuting cases only after 1996 hindered the ability of the court to implicate strong participants like Colonel Ghadaffi and others who allegedly supported the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone in the early 1991.

Prosecutor James Hodes believed that Chief Hinga Norman, who was head of the Civil Defense Force (CDF), was a victim of false persecution and that the burden to prove he committed a crime that was widespread and systematic was not sufficiently established.

Special Court prosecutor, James Hodes was troubled by the Special Courts appointments of Judges, whom he said had poor records of service and failed to establish their knowledge and understanding about international criminal Justice. He was equally dismayed about the International donor’s keen focus on reducing the cost of operations rather than seeking the transparent Justice the court was mandated to do. “At least, there is today an establishment of some Justice in Sierra Leone and the Special Court played some vital role in that effort” he concluded.

While Anthony Triolo of the International Center for Transitional Justice and former Liaison officer of the Special Court highlighted the legacy of the court from its impacts on marriages and the protection of women’s rights to the establishment of International humanitarian laws in Sierra Leone. The Special Court created some Outreach projects that provided capacity building for the police forces like the witness protection program and fighting drug trafficking. “The physical structure of the Special Court is indeed a legacy itself” he concluded.

The final panelists looked at the problems of Child Soldiers during the war. Daniel Hoffman-Assistant Professor of Anthropology, at the University of Washington informed the participants that the child soldier phenomenon was a terrible experience for Sierra Leoneans and the International community. The post stress traumatic disorder (PSTD) that many children encountered were incalculably damaging to the psychological and psychiatric welfare of these ex-combatants. The rehabilitation and psychological support systems, he added, minimized the long term effect these former child soldiers had to endure and live with. 

Some of the panelists from the Rebuilding Sierra Leone conference in the USA

 Mark Drumbl-Professor of law, at the Washington and Lee University took a critical analysis of Child Soldiers and the International Legal Imagination while Noah Novogrodsky Professor of Law at the University of Wyoming added a compelling background to the definition of the legal frameworks of Child soldiers in the International criminal jurisdiction and how such laws proved valuable in the prosecutions of those “who bear the greatest burden” of the atrocities committed to the children and people of Sierra Leone.

Mohamed Kamara, Atlanta, Georgia -USA

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