February 23, 2009 | IRIN | Online here
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – With just a quarter of the funding required to compensate victims of human rights violations in Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, the government now faces tough decisions as to who will receive what kind of assistance.
Assistance to victims, among the recommendations of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), is expected to begin at the end of February 2009. Up to 100,000 people – among them amputees and other war-wounded, victims of sexual violence, war widows and children – are eligible.
But the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA), which is running the reparations programme, has less US $3.5 million to run the programme in 2009-10 – far less than the $14 million it requires, according to Amadu Bangura, reparations programme manager for NACSA.
The bulk of the funding for this year is coming from the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
Reparations come in the form of housing, skills training, health care, education and agricultural assistance, as well as symbolic activities such as reburials, memorials and remembrance ceremonies, NACSA’s Bangura told IRIN.
A shortage of funds means war widows are being registered but will not receive benefits until at least 2010, said Bangura, while new housing, at $6,500 per unit, is expected to be given only to amputees and war-wound victims.
Show us the money
NACSA chose to provide reparations in the form of services, not money because, Bangura said, “We think money is an ephemeral benefit that goes quickly. We are giving social services to help restore personal dignity and promote healing and reconciliation.”
But not everyone is satisfied with what is being offered. Lamin Jusu Jaka, chair of the Amputees and War Wounded Association, a community-based organisation in the capital, Freetown, told IRIN members would prefer to receive cash.
Ex-combatants received cash handouts of a few hundred dollars, and some received skills training after they disengaged from the armed forces in 2002.
“We were expecting people could pay us benefits, as they did to ex-combatants,” said Jaka, who had both hands cut off by a rebel known as CO Cut Hands.
We are adults. We are not children. We can make our own decisions.
– Lamin Jusu Jaka
“Money would allow recipients, many of whom are unable to work, to decide for themselves what they most need, and this could empower them,” Jaka said. “We are adults. We are not children. We can make our own decisions.”
He told IRIN he currently relies on charities to support his two wives and six children.
But others welcome the services on offer. Marie Kargbo (not her real name), who lost her husband and young son in the war, said she would be happy to receive free health care and money to pay school fees for her three surviving children.
Kargbo was raped by three rebels during the war, after which she was rejected by her community, including her late husband’s family. She fled Batkanu in the north for Freetown and has not remarried. “People laugh at me. I cannot feel good about myself.”
She now supports her family, including a daughter from a rape, selling water and ginger beer on the side of the road.
Kargbo said she would like to be trained in tie-dyeing and tailoring. “I want to be self-dependent,” she told IRIN.
Pensions and skills training will be part of the reparations, but they will have to be put off until more funds come available.
Finding more money
The $3-million UN Peacebuilding Fund for Sierra Leone is scheduled to last one year, according to Bangura, leaving the future of the reparations programme uncertain. The Sierra Leone government is currently providing $246,000.
Securing more funding is NACSA’s biggest challenge now, said Bangura. There are currently no further funds lined up to continue compensation to war victims, and Bangura says many donors are holding off until they see how well the initial money is spent.
Sierra Leone cannot continue to blame only the international community for the lack of funds. The issue of reparations is mainly national.
– Mohamed Suma
But Mohamed Suma, programme director for the Sierra Leone Court Monitoring Project Reparations, which monitors application of the TRC recommendations, told IRIN it is the government’s responsibility to find the funds.
“Sierra Leone cannot continue to blame only the international community for the lack of funds. The issue of reparations is mainly national.”
More commitment needed
Both the 1999 Lomé peace accord and the 2004 TRC report recommended reparations fundraising mechanisms to the government, including using money generated by the diamond-mining industry. But Suma said the government has not attempted any of the recommended mechanisms.
NACSA’s Bangura said reparations delays have been due in part to the government’s focus on restoring peace and reforming the military, police and justice sectors. “The focus is now on reparations,” he said.
For Suma the government must show more support for the programme. “While the government vigorously supports reparations in rhetoric, [the talk] is not backed up by action,” he said, pointing out that the TRC released its recommendations in 2005.
And a show of government commitment involves going further to issue a public apology for its own role in the civil war, Suma said. “The state failed to protect its citizens. You cannot give reparations without apologising. It’s like bribing victims to keep quiet.”