Published on August 13, 2010 by Cocorioko News · No Comments
Written by Joseph Seidu Sherman, Washington, DC
When President Kabbah was restored to power after the AFRC coup of 1997, a group of SLPP mobs went on the rampage lynching and hanging tyres from the necks of APC partisans, pouring petrol and burning them alive because as these mobs put it, “They are “Collaborators” and should have left Freetown when the AFRC took over.” Among victims of the lynching were Alhaji Musa Kabia, Chief Abu Black, Alias “Tassman” and so many others unaccounted for.
Lynching is the practice whereby a mob–usually several dozen or several hundred persons–takes the law into its own hands in order to injure and kill a person accused of some wrongdoing. The alleged offense can range from a serious crime like theft or murder to a mere violation of local customs and sensibilities. The issue of the victim’s guilt is usually secondary, since the mob serves as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Due process yields to momentary passions and expedient objectives.
In a country like Sierra Leone with a still-fledgling independent media and a lack of reliable crime statistics, it is difficult to pinpoint just how bad crime has become, how common the lynching are, or what exactly motivated them. Why, for instance, did similar killings not happen in President Koroma’s administration? Or do SLPP vigilantes’ lynchings occur, but the media simply has not reported them?
There can be no absolution for those who continue to profit from past crimes, and plot new ones. The terror of lynching created the social relationships that resulted in the SLPP vigilantes in taking the laws into their hands in disregard for sanctity of human lives and the due process of law. The survivors and descendants of the lynched—which includes some Northerners and APC paertisans —have paid socially, psychologically and financially for the violence done to their families. They are owed public apology by the SLPP party.
Justice is about enforcing consequences for ones own actions, and to enforce personal responsibility. We cannot expect anyone to take liability for their own actions if there are no consequences for them. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be derived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Legalist scholars and advocates offer several arguments in favor of trials for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and torture. First, they argue that war crime trials that adhere to international standards are the appropriate method for dealing with the perpetrators of mass atrocities and should replace alternatives ranging from vengeance to assassinations or executions.
Some international lawyers, however, criticize the design of the ICC as being heavily influenced by power politics. For example, some legalists sought to create a court that could examine past perpetrators of mass atrocities, such as Ethiopia’s Haile Mariam Mengistu and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, on the grounds that genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity were established in customary international law long before the 1998 Rome Statute that created the ICC.
In the end I’m not sure how much it mattered. If the SLPP party apologizes to members of the families of those lynched, then like any other true offering it would not come with strings: they would have to be free to accept or to toss it. As for me, the process of investigation should bring enough clarity that the memory no longer burned for the families of the victims.
Sierra Leoneans are good about feeling bad. Perhaps we get angry, perhaps we get mad enough when we hear the outrageous stories of hate crimes in our community that we pay attention for a news cycle or two. Perhaps we read an article like this, and even write a little check to an advocacy group. And once we are past the first flush of emotion, then the economy gets our attention and we go dormant until hate strikes again, for hate surely will strike again if we do not act. Yes, Sierra Leoneans are good at feeling bad, until we start to feel better.
We cannot afford to let emotion alone motivate the work of justice. We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! When memory shakes the soul like an earthquake, we have the obligation and opportunity to remember Alhaji Musa Kabia, Chief Abu Black, Alias Tassman and refuse to rest until Sierra Leone perfects the hate crimes statutes.
We who believe in justice cannot rest! We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes! Until Sierra Leoneans irrespective of tribe, national status or political affiliation and all the citizens of this nation can live free and love without fear of acts of violence, until hate is overcome by acts of love and forgiveness and hope, until the glory of this land of that we “ Exalt High” and this home of the humble and the hospitable shines on all people without distinction and without discrimination.