The United States praised the work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Sierra Leone, in giving the summary and extrajudicial killings in ‘92 of 29 individuals – alleged to have been involved in an attempted foiled coup d’état against the former military government of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) – and other issues, a fair hearing, a State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Hilary Renner, Bureau of African Affairs Spokesperson and acting Chief of Public Affairs at the State Department explained that, United States recognises the concern with investigating and seeking remedy – by many groups – for incidents that occurred during the brutal and messy conflict in Sierra Leone. “As Sierra Leone continues to consolidate its hard-won peace and stability, the United States emphasises the importance of working within the rule of law and existing judicial structures to resolve such matters,” she stated. Late October last year, the 29 Memorial Foundation for Justice and Development – a group consisting of family members of the 29 executed victims on December 29, 1992 – who are tenaciously seeking redress for the untimely deaths of their loved ones at the hands of the ex-military government of the NPRC – descended on foreign embassies in Freetown; to seek support for an investigation into the demise of the victims. “Ambassador Owens met personally, two representatives of the Foundation at the US embassy and listened to their concerns,’ Renner confirmed.
It is unclear why successive Sierra Leone governments have not opened a formal investigation into the brutal killings – especially, when senior members of the ex-military regime have publicly confirmed that the executions were indeed carried out brutally, summarily and extra-judicially by them in 1992. Julius Maada Bio (an army Captain) in early 1992 was among 17 young military officers that usurped power from the government of Maj. Gen Joseph Saidu Momoh and was Public Liaison Officer (PLO) of the NPRC regime. He became deputy chairman of the NPRC and in 1996, led a palace coup that overthrew Valentine E M Strasser, who was head of state when the junta seized power in 1992 but fell out-of-favour with his comrades. Strasser was bundled on a military helicopter and flown to exile in neighbouring Guinea. Valentine Strasser, in his TRC testimony, callously explained that his government (NPRC) was busy fighting the RUF rebel incursion thus, had insufficient time to immediately bring the accused persons to trial.
But he further suggested that a military tribunal was later set up and the alleged coup plotters were tried posthumously. TRC noted that it was obvious from the aforementioned testimonies and other testimonies of associates of the NPRC military regime that, there was no trial of the accused persons. “The Commission is dumfounded to think that the Government of Captain Strasser, first killed people and then put them on trial,” it stated. The alleged coup plot was announced on national radio on April 29, 1992 and on April 30, a follow up announcement stated that: the coup plotters have been arrested and executed, after a military tribunal. Colonel K M S Dumbuya, Major Yayah Kanu and Inspector General of Police, Bambay Kamara – accused of orchestrating the coup plot – were in fact, already in detention at a maximum security facility in Freetown in May; and never saw freedom until their premature deaths in December 1992.
Widow of Major Yayah Kanu, Mrs. Kanu – once an army officer herself, but later dismissed after her husband’s execution – testified to the TRC that those who witnessed the execution narrated to her how the corpses of the victims were taken to Kingtom cemetery. At the cemetery, she continued, acid was poured on their bodies, burnt and buried in separate unidentified graves. On hearing these testimonies, the TRC summoned the Director of Prison Services and requested that he identify the location of the graves, where the men were buried – so as to enable the family exhumed the remains for reburials and proper funeral arrangements. Disappointingly to the family members, the Prison boss replied that all documents concerning the 29 victims were burnt thus, destroyed during the RUF/AFRC attack in Freetown on January 6, 1999.
However, the US will not deny nor confirm whether they have approached authorities in Sierra Leone about the possibility of launching an inquest into the extrajudicial killings. It is also unclear if they will extradite members of the NPRC regime, residing in America, to face trial – if requested by the Sierra Leone government. Instead Hilary Renner said: “We do not comment on extradition requests by other governments or those prepared by the U.S. government.” In its quest to seek justice and accountability for victims, and to restore peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the region, the United States government has donated over $81m towards the Special Court for Sierra Leone and also sits on the Management Committee of the Court, according to Ms. Renner.
The mandate of the Special Court for Sierra Leone is to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in that country’s brutal war. A US press release in April, shortly after the Charles Taylor verdict in The Hague, stated in part: “The Taylor prosecution at the Special Court delivers a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions, that they will be held accountable.”
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