DAKAR, 9 December 2009 (IRIN) - Sierra Leone has made a strong start in compensating war victims but these are early days: Long-term government commitment and funding is needed, says an NGO which monitors progress in this area.
“The reparations made to date have been an important effort by NaCSA [National Commission for Social Action], but we are afraid the government might see these as having filled its duty of complying with obligations to victims,” said Cristián Correa, senior associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
To meet its obligations to eligible war victims – orphans, war widows, amputees and rape survivors – the government must commit financially to long-term health and education assistance, building a sustainable national programme in collaboration with victims and civil society, ICTJ says in a 4 December report.
ICTJ examined and reviewed the lessons learned from a one-year project – funded at US$3 million by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF) – for boosting national capacity to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations. To date the government has put US$246,000 toward the reparations programme.
ICTJ notes that conditions put on the PBF funding – that it be used within a year and that 75 percent go to direct victim benefits – made it difficult to lay the groundwork for longer-term goals.
In 2009 NaCSA provided small grants to victims, as a way of providing relief before longer term help is in place.
“This is an interim measure and is an important source of immediate support to those in most need,” the ICTJ report said. “But these grants will at best serve as a preliminary stipend… so it is necessary that a permanent measure of financial reparations be implemented soon.”
NaCSA said it was seeking funding from international donors, but ICTJ researchers say the government must not depend on outside sources.
“The TRC clearly said the government is mainly responsible for funding reparations,” said Mohamed Suma, ICTJ consultant and co-author of the report. “[The TRC] proposed a variety of mechanisms by which to do so - including taxes [e.g. on diamonds] and government budgetary allocations. To date there is no indication that the government has taken these up and developed such mechanisms, apart from launching the Trust Fund.”
The government recently in October launched a war victims trust fund, to be financed by private and public sources.
ICTJ called the trust fund a good starting point, if overdue, but said it must not depend on international funding. “The main responsibility for funding reparations resides with the government and Sierra Leonean society.”
Government director of reparations Obi Buya Kamara told IRIN the government is doing what it can to mobilize resources both locally and internationally. "This government is committed to reparations. The trust fund is one example of the serious commitment." Sierra Leone is "a post-conflict country" and is working to address human rights violations from the war, he added.
On ICTJ's recommendation that the government carry out a new registration scheme to catch people unable to register in the initial round, he said: “This would be difficult for us to manage.”
ICTJ said there were probably 25,000 people who had a right to reparations but who have not registered. They could be from some of the most vulnerable groups, such as rape survivors, ICTJ said. It called for a second and more comprehensive registration effort focusing on remote rural areas.
In 2009 some 21,000 people received micro-grants, 235 women victims of sexual violence received fistula surgery or other medical treatment, some 50 victims had surgery or other treatment for life-threatening injuries and symbolic reparations ceremonies took place in more than 40 communities, according to the International Organization for Migration, which is providing technical assistance and expert advice to the government in implementing the reparations programme.