Sierra Leone: Ensuring justice for the victims of rebel war crimes

Source:             www.MNNonline.org

Date:                 April 17, 2014

 

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12 years after Sierra Leone's civil war ended, a half-million survivors are still trying to deal with the trauma.  (Image courtesy ReachBeyond)

12 years after Sierra Leone’s civil war ended, a half-million survivors are still trying to deal with the trauma.
(Image courtesy ReachBeyond)

Sierra Leone (MNN) — April 26 marks a milestone anniversary in Sierra Leone, the country known worldwide for its “blood diamonds.” On April 26, 2012, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was convicted of planning and funding rebel war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war.

An in-country partner of ReachBeyond, formerly HCJB Global, is securing another level of justice for survivors through personal healing.

Two years ago, a war crimes tribunal found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. From 1996 to 2002, Taylor abused his position as President of Liberia to aid rebel fighters committing horrific war crimes in Sierra Leone.

According to court documents, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters used terror to subdue and intimidate the country’s 6.2 million civilians.

“This is not a war in which civilians are accidental victims,” said Peter Takirambudde in a 1999 report. Takirambudde was executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division at the time.

“This is a war in which civilians are the targets.”

The HRW report uses survivors’ and victims’ testimonies to describe a January 1999 rebel attack on the capital city of Freetown. Women and girls were reportedly rounded up by rebel forces and subjected to sexual abuse by individuals and groups.

One 11-year-old girl describes how she and two of her friends were captured by a group of rebels, who then sawed off their hands. Another child told HRW how she watched RUF rebels kill 17 of her friends and family.

According to the 2012 war crimes trial summary, children under the age of 15 in Tonkolili District were kidnapped by the RUF and forced into child soldiery. Between 500 and 1,000 kids had “RUF” carved into their forehead or back to prevent escape.

An estimated 500,000 people are still living with trauma from the country’s civil war. Physical scars like amputated limbs and burns aren’t the only reminders haunting survivors: most suffer from anxiety disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse.

ReachBeyond's in-country partner is helping victims find peace and healing in Christ with a drop-in counseling center and on-air counseling.  (Image courtesy ReachBeyond)

ReachBeyond’s in-country partner is helping victims find peace and healing in Christ with a drop-in
counseling center and on-air counseling.
(Image courtesy ReachBeyond)

Cultural traditions and nonexistent services keep survivors in the chains of their violent past. According to ReachGlobal, there is only one professionally-trained psychologist in all of Sierra Leone.

But, Believers Broadcast Network (BBN), ReachBeyond’s in-country partner, is helping victims find peace and healing in Christ with a drop-in counseling center and on-air counseling. BBN’s station director, Ransford Wright, says the counseling center and future ones like it could play a strategic role in advancing the Gospel in Sierra Leone.

“There is a lot of openness to the Gospel,” said Kenny Dennis, a U.S. counselor who helped lead a 2013 counselor training workshop.

“Many [people] realize they are coming to a Christian center even though they don’t have a Christian faith, so it’s an evangelistic tool.”

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