By Philip Neville
Below is an excerpt from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It is piece of work done by Bishop Humper and his team of Commissioners. Despite loads of criticisms slammed on the Chairman and team about the work, but when critically examined could be described as a very successful work, which gives a clear insight as to how our men and women in uniforms paid from the taxpayers fund brutalized, tortured and killed their brothers and sisters under the guise of a purported coup. Those men and women killed by the junta when the NPRC undemocratically seized State House and terrorized the people of this nation to succumb to their demand for change should not be left in the hands of God alone. Those killed were Sierra Leoneans who in one way or the other have contributed to the political and socio-economic developments of Sierra Leone for which, the killers should be punished.
Many questions have been asked by Sierra Leoneans and some of those questions are neither reasonable nor rational in thoughts and formation. Among the questions is why should the relatives of those killed unlawfully, unconstitutionally and illegally raise the issue about the killings of their fathers, brothers, wives, uncles, you name them at this time?. These types of questions may sound absurd and inhuman especially when the true story of how the killings were done is told. There was no justification, no trials and no record to show that effort was made to prove the allegation of a coup true beyond every bit of doubt. Those who are asking such inhuman and impertinent question should just change positions for five minute with some family members of the victims and realize the pains and mental torture they are going through. What have their parents and loved ones done that deserved untimely and humiliating deaths? Bishop Humper’s assignment was to investigate and not to prescribe punishment, which he did and for which himself and team should be giving a pat on their backs. He will not tell relatives of the victims to take their case to the International Criminal Court(ICC) nor would he advised them to consult a firm of Human Rights Lawyers in Britain, America or Canada, but the pieces of evidence documented are substantial to take the matter anywhere in the world for justice. Perhaps, those asking “WHY NOW”? Haven’t got the opportunity to peruse the Truth and Reconciliation Document and read what is contained in it. Perpetrators of WW1&WW2 and the Holocaust are still being haunted by the International Community. Also perpetrators of the Japanese War and other Human Right Abuse issues in the world are sought out in every part of the Globe, so why the inhuman scenario in Sierra Leone should be different? This should be the question on the lips of those asking “WHY NOW”? And not the provocative type with political reason. As Sierra Leoneans we should be our brothers and sisters keepers not abusers and destroyers of lives. Read the report
Extra-judicial Killings, Torture and Intimidation
The Commission finds that forces deployed by the NPRC junta were responsible for the extra-judicial executions of many innocent civilians on the grounds that they were suspected of being rebels or rebel collaborators. In particular, the Commission finds that the SLA, supported by civil militia men and women from the Koinadugu District known as Tamaboros, committed numerous excesses as it attempted to dislodge the RUF from Kono District in late 1992 and early 1993. Among the officers who carried out torture practices on captured rebel suspects was Colonel K.I.S. Kamara.(Bishop Humper and his team did not mince their words to name and shame those who killed. We see how bluntly the Commission has named Colonel KIS Kamara as one individual who took the lives of his fellow Sierra Leoneans. The defence, no doubt would be linked to the war situation)
The Commission finds that the NPRC regime was responsible in December 1992 for the execution of 26 persons, including a former Inspector-General of Police and a former Brigade Commander for the Eastern Province, without due process of law and in flagrant violation of international standards. The NPRC’s attempt to justify these executions retrospectively by decree, on the basis that the 26 were alleged coup plotters was an unlawful abuse of executive power.(This paragraph alone is a clear indictment on those core members of the NPRC. The Commissioners came out clearly and stated their position on the unlawful killings and went to the extent of naming the victims by their positions, such as the Inspector General of Police and the former Brigade Commander of the Eastern Province. The effort shows the impartial stance of the Commissioners)
In particular, the Commission finds that the Deputy Chairman of the NPRC, Captain Solomon A.J. Musa, was personally responsible for acts of torture on detainees and those who were subsequently put to death.
The Commission finds further that the NPRC Government authorized a campaign of intimidation and human rights violations against certain individuals in public office who were related to or associated with those who were executed. One of them was Major Lucy Kanu, who was unlawfully dismissed from the Army in 1993. She was targeted because her husband was one of the alleged coup plotters of December 1992.
Eventual Demise of the NPRC amidst Internal Power Struggle
Towards the end of its period in Government, the NPRC administration became mired in internal power struggles. The Commission finds that the “Palace Coup” that replaced Valentine Strasser with Julius Maada Bio was a calculated effort on Bio’s part to wrest power from a Head of State he thought did not have the best interests of the country at heart. Bio became the greatest individual influence in securing the transition from NPRC military rule into democratic and often defying basic tenets of military conduct. Combined with the ‘power of the gun’, as so many ex-combatants described it in their testimonies, such an attitude gave rise to a dangerous propensity on the part of these soldiers to commit violations.
In the end the recruitment intake and its accompanying disregard for the quality of human resources served to exacerbate the overall lack of common understanding and common purpose in the SLA. The Commission heard that the NPRC never managed to unify its Army under a single, coherent command structure. The recruits of 1992 formed another distinct faction in an already divided force.
It was the high degree of intra-factional disharmony that had always appeared most likely to spark confrontations within the Army and to give rise to negative sentiments towards the Army on the part of civilians. That likelihood merely increased after 1992.
The Executions and Associated Violations of December 1992
On 29th December 1992, the airwaves burst with the news of an attempted coup on the government of Valentine Strasser. On the 30th it was announced that the coup plotters numbering 26 had been executed after a trial by a military court-martial. According to Strasser “a group of officers and civilians had attacked the presidential residence at Kabassa Lodge” in Freetown.
The mastermind of the story of the coup plot was the Vice Chairman of the NPRC, Captain SAJ Musa. SAJ Musa’s version was that someone came and informed him about the plan in the offing; he then spiked the officer and sent him back to report – on two further meetings, in which the list of those involved was compiled and various items of documentary evidence were apparently procured. Strasser claimed in his testimony to the Commission that there was in fact a plot to overthrow his government. What has become evident is that despite the official posturing in 1992. No judicial trials of the coup plotters took place. According to Strasser, his government was too busy with the war effort to organize a trial immediately. A trial was subsequently organized posthumously. Some of the alleged coup plotters like Lt. Col. Yaya Kanu were actually in detention at Pademba Road prison at the time of the alleged coup plot.
The Commission has been able to piece together the circumstances of what transpired on the day of their arrest on 28 December 1992 and their execution the next day.
SAJ Musa had known some of those implicated in the coup from their time together in the army; he regarded them unambiguously as traitors who had betrayed him, personally and politically. According to Maada bio, who had known in advance of SAJ Musa’s volatile temperament and the likelihood that he would attempt to carry out some kind of summary justice, some of the implicated men were taken to Musa’s own residence and subjected to torture by Musa himself; “When I went there at night, he had actually tortured them very seriously – their ears were cut off and they were practically dead”. SAJ realized that by daybreak they had been really badly tortured in his compound; so he confronted the gruesome, “it was better to do away with them, than to keep them on his hands in this terrible state” – he was then alleged to have organized the summary executions. Maada Bio lamented their inability to put the coup plotters through proper judicial process, blaming it on SAJ Musa’s ambitions for power, “to a very large extent, SAJ was somebody who liked power and could do anything to retain it… that was the darkest side of our whole period in power”.
“SAJ Musa’s quest for power was an obsession for the man; and he had a wife who inculcated that into him; so it was a terrible combination”; SAJ was also responsible for the killings of looters. At this point in time, he was actually the key actor; Strasser was much more laid back, and to an extent he let SAJ get on with his business.”
Maada Bio’s account is an attempt to shift responsibility for a gross failure of leadership by their government to the shoulders of one person. The execution of the alleged coup plotters did not advance SAJ Musa’s lust for power in any way.
Lt. Col Yaya Kanu was arrested on the 29th April, the day of the coup and taken into detention at the Pademba Road, prisons, from which he didn’t emerge alive. No reason was offered to his family or his wife who was at the time, a major and second in command at the Army ordinance Section of the Sierra Leone Army.
Throughout his period of detention, his wife made several representations to most of the NPRC officers. They assured her that her husband had not committed any offence and would be released shortly. Public statements by the NPRC were that they were being held in “protective custody” and would be very well taken care of.
Col. Kanu was in detention for eight months. All through that period neither his wife nor any member of his family was allowed access to him. Even when he developed dental health problems and his family made arrangements for him to be treated by a dentist, the NPRC authorities refused to take him to the hospital because “they were afraid for his security”.
On the day the alleged coup plotters were executed, there was a passing out parade for newly commissioned officers. As was the custom, the Head of State would normally take the salute. In the instant case, all the key officers of the NPRC including Strasser were not present at the passing out parade at Wilberforce Barracks in Freetown. Brigadier Jusu Gottor took the salute. Captain Strasser and his key henchmen claimed that they were busy and couldn’t attend the passing out parade. The Commission was informed that they had assembled at Strasser’s Kabassa Lodge residence where the coup plotters were brought for trials”.
The Commission was told that Col Kanu was tricked that he was finally going to be taken to the dentist. So he entered the van and was taken to Kabassa Lodge where Strasser and his colleagues resolved that they should be executed. SAJ Musa then took them away and subjected them to terrible torture before they were executed at the Lumley beach in Freetown. Mrs. Kanu told the Commission that witnesses to the execution informed her that their bodies were taken to the Kingtom cemetery; acid poured on them and burnt before being buried in unmarked graves. The Commission requested the Director of Prison Services to identify the location and graves where the men were buried so that their families could organize funeral services and reburials for them. He replied that all documents relating to their execution and burial had been burnt during the January 6 1999 attack on Freetown
On 29 December 2002, Captain Strasser made a public broadcast that a coup attempt against his government had been uncovered, all the people had been arrested and “executed summarily”. Capt. Strasser, Col. KES Boyah, Lt. SAJ Musa, Lt. Karefa Kargbo and other henchmen and murder of the alleged coup plotters. None of the other leaders of the regime intervened to ensure that they were granted any form of judicial process. The Commission holds all the leaders of the NPRC responsible for the murder of these men.
In a press statement issued the same day, the NPRC claimed that: “the special military tribunal convened by His Excellency the Captain to immediately try the suspects apprehended has met and they have proved beyond all reasonable doubt that (alleged plotters) did try to overthrow the government of the National Provisional Ruling Council and has found each of them guilty of treason and has sentenced them to death by firing squad. The confirming authority of the National provisional Ruling Council have met and endorsed the sentence recommended and have ordered that the executions take place immediately”.
The three alleged coup plotters were killed in a “cross fire”. They were
Among those executed were the following:
On 31 December 1992, armed soldiers from the Military police unit invaded the Kanu’s official residence at the Wilberforce Barracks, arrested Mrs. Lucy Kanu and took her to the military headquarters at Cockerill in Freetown. She was presented before Brigadier Jusu Gottor, who read to her a letter compulsorily terminating her services with the army for “being the wife of Yaya Kanu”. She was further ordered to vacate her official residence the same day. She returned to her house under armed escort to forcibly hand over possession of the house to the army. The family subsequently moved in with some family members. For months thereafter, soldiers of the NPRC raided the family’s residence at random or would cordon off the neighborhood shooting indiscriminately into the air, so as to put Mrs. Kanu and members of her family as well as her Gooding, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice conveniently put the blinkers on and allowed the Government to trample on the rights of the people.
In his testimony before the Commission, Captain Strasser claimed that there was a military tribunal appointed which tried the coup plotters. He named Colonel K.E.S. Mboyah as the president of the tribunal. When confronted with this allegation by the Commission, Col. Mboyah replied:
“My own contribution here [before the Commission]) is that we want people to accept responsibilities for whatever right or wrong they do. It has happened [that way] in many, many areas. It is good to distribute blames; it is normal. But if you do it in a way that you know people who were destined to rule, or people who for whatever reason found you as their leader, then it can be unfortunate.
[…] What I want to say is that never, never in my career have I sat down as President of any court Martial in this country. That is what I wanted to tell the Sierra Leone public… Never in my life have I sat down on a Court Martial (Board) in t his country since I joined this Army; you know, from 1976 to now. So anybody who attempts for any reason to say that I served in such a capacity; he is doing it for his own purpose or whatever.
Despite Colonel Boyah’s denials however, his colleagues in the army allege that at that time, he was claiming publicly that a tribunal had been set up and that he was the president of the tribunal. K.E.S. Boyah claimed that it was later in 1998 that someone told him that a paper had been circulated within military circles early in 1993 that a military tribunal had been set up which named him as a member of the tribunal. According to him, all his efforts to trace the letter were abortive.
What is obvious to the Commission is that there was no trial of the suspects. This much was admitted by Captain Strasser at his public testimony before the commission that the suspects were tried retroactively. The commission is dumfounded to think that the Government of Captain Strasser, first Killed people and then put them on trial.
Having got them executed, SAJ Musa according to testimony before the commission poured acid on the bodies of the suspects and then had them buried at different graves at the Kingtom cemetery. Effort by the Commission to get the prison authorities to identify the exact locations where the men were buried has not met with success as the prison authorities deny knowing where the men were buried.
In spite of having killed them extra judicially, the families of the alleged suspects began to be targeted. In one particular, case, the wife of Colonel Yaya Kanu, Mrs. Lucy Kanu who herself was a major in the RSLMF at the time was dismissed without excuse by the Army High command. All her supervising officers who testified before the Commission in response to the petition she wrote to the Commission, including the then force commander, Brigadier neighbours under psychological stress and torture. The army authorities withdrew her passport:
“I went from one office to the other requesting them to give me back my passport. Lt. Karefa Kargbo told me that they needed to know why I wanted to travel out of the country and that in any case, my file was on the desk of the head of state, Captain Strasser and only he could decide my fate. These were people I had known fairly well in the army. They were very junior to me but I had treated them well and regarded them as colleagues”
Col Kanu was very popular in t he army. The first broadcast on the coup by the NPRC on 29 April 1992 had claimed that Col. Kanu was the leader of the coup. This was a trick designed to tap into his huge popularity with the officers and the rank and file of the army. On the basis of this announcement, SLA troops in Freetown did not resist the coup plotters. Some of the soldiers even encouraged him to take over power as he mediated between President Momoh and the mutinous soldiers but he refused. The coup was therefore largely bloodless and the plotters secured the capital, Freetown, before the end of the day. The claim that Kanu led the coup has entered the literature on the conflict as some scholars have repeated it as truth.
Col Kanu was not one of the plotters. On hearing about the coup, he had gone to meet the plotters at the State House, urging them that as soldiers, their loyalty was to the government of the day, and that they could not change the government by force of arms. His mediation effort was to get the mutineers to renounce the coup in exchange for pardon. Finally he was arrested and taken to the Pademba road Prison.
Brigadier Sam King, National Security Adviser to the NPRC regime, informed the commission that the alleged coup plotters were killed and buried without any trial. All the officers of the NPRC that the Commission spoke to denied knowledge of a coup and of any trials that followed, including the chief of Army Stall, Brigadier Kellie Conteh, the Attorney general Mr. Arnold Gooding, colonel K.E.S Boyah and major General Tom Carew. Brigadier Conteh denied that the coup plot was ever discussed at a meeting of the Council of State or any of the organs of Government of which he was a member. He claimed he heard the rumour just like any other officer. At no time did the Council of State or the Army Council meet to confirm any sentences from a military tribunal. There was however speculation that a military tribunal had been set up with two officers’ colonel K.E.S. Boyah and Colonel J.A.S. Conteh as members
There was indeed an attempt to retroactively legitimize the process. Accusing fingers were pointed at the then Attorney General, Arnold Bishop Gooding as the arrowhead of the government attempt to mitigate the backlash following the execution of the coup plotters. Bishop Gooding was said to have been very close to Capt Strasser, yet when confronted with the allegation by the commission, he claimed that he actually felt threatened by the NPRC and was afraid that if he had left the government, he and his family would have been targeted.