By Allieu S. Tunkara
“Sierra Leoneans have a right to security forces that are professional, disciplined and representative of all classes of people,” P. 49 VoL-2 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report, 2004.
The excerpt is one of the key findings of the commission in its due execution of its duty bestowed on it by law when it was set up.
The said volume opens with two fundamental questions:
How did a peace-loving nation become engulfed seemingly overnight in horror?
What events occurred in the history of the country to make this possible?
The TRC was set up in 2002 after the decade-long civil war to create an impartial historical record of the armed conflict, and make recommendations for preventing another war in Sierra Leone.
The commission went a long way in establishing how the police contributed to the outbreak of a war tagged as the bloodiest guerilla warfares in the world.
The TRC pointed accusing fingers at the Sierra Leone Police as an institution that contributed in no small measure that led to the outbreak of the war.
Unprecedented scale of police brutality, abuse of human rights, unlawful arrest and detention of citizens, unjustifiable police crackdowns are the many ways the police ignited the war.
The commission also noted that the security forces, the police and the army failed the people of Sierra Leone during a period of the greatest crises.
Significant elements within the security forces desecrated the constitution against the wishes of the people.
Successive political regimes abused their authority over the security forces and unleashed them against their political opponents in the name of national security.
Owing to the horrific findings, the TRC recommended that new principles governing national security ought to be adopted.
Those in power must never again use national security as a ploy to deploy security forces for political ends and to terrorise civilian population.
The commission further recommends that national security must reflect the commitment of Sierra Leoneans, as individuals and as a nation to live in perpetual peace and harmony and to be free from fear.
Owing to the TRC recommendations, post-war Sierra Leone saw an all-out police reform project in the name of the Commonwealth Community Safety and Security Project led by the British government.
The CCSSP project was to ensure that the SLP which is the principal law enforcement agency within the state is appreciably reformed to make it fit within a democratic order.
The SLP went through local and international trainings to enhance their policing capacity and to instill in them a culture of respect for human rights.
In most of the trainings SLP officers went through, human rights are the core of the lectures, and human rights manuals that contain rules, laws and important international conventions on human rights were availed to police officers.
The aim is make them au fait with several human rights instruments so that they could recognise and respect the rights of the people while in due execution of their duties.
However, police actions quite recently have shown that they have not learnt lessons from the war, and are not willing to respect and comply with the recommendations of the TRC.
Police brutality is widespread and visible in almost all conflict scenes in which they have operated.
The North-eastern headquarters of Makeni, the home of the former President is currently under police siege after police brutality in July this year which claimed the lives of six youths.
40 armed police officers of the Operations Support Division have been deployed in Makeni led by Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Mr Senessie.
The deployment of the heavily armed police officers came after it was reported that the youths have threatened to burn down government buildings in retaliation to the killing of their colleagues.
Although the reports have been vehemently denied by community stakeholders, heavy police presence still continues in Makeni where a police state is about to be created.
Residents of Makeni have been placed under constant threat, intimidation and fear owing to the heavy-handedness of the police.
The continued presence of the police in Makeni symbolises terror, oppression and intimidation.
A great number of people in Makeni have raised serious concerns over the deployment of armed personnel in Makeni as they continue to lord it on the people.
The genesis of the conflict in Makeni could be traced back to July this year where the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) transferred a 1.65KVA thermal plant from Makeni to the North-western town of Lungi without proper consultation.
EDSA says the move to transfer the generator was to add more megawatts to improve energy in a community that hosts the country’s only international airport.
The events that followed in the thermal plant relocation could not be explained in one piece. The bottom line is: precious lives were taken away.
The investigations that were embarked upon were a sham as the killers were never targeted.
Government rather threatened the key stakeholders in Makeni including the Mayor of the municipality, Sunkarie Kabba of arrest and detention for an alleged incitement.
Tracking down police actions immediately after the 2018 elections would lengthen this piece to an immeasurable length.
However, few incidents demand particular mention.
Few Months after President Bio came to power in 2018, the police launched one of the most brutal raids in Rosengbeh village in the northern district of Tonkolili district where a man with a wife and children was fatally injured by an alleged police shot.
Dwelling houses were broken into and property worth millions of Leones was allegedly stolen by the police.
They defended their actions saying the money seized from innocent and defenceless villagers are proceeds of the sale of cannabis.
The Local Unit Commander who was never informed about the operation was illegally suspended when he explained to the media about the illegality of the operation.
None of the culprits of the killing was investigated and they continue to have a field day.
Impunity among state arm-carriers boomerangs in the face of a politically manipulated Independent Police Complaints Board (IPCB).
An IPCB has similarly defended his institution that the business of IPCB is to investigate incidents of police killing and not to prosecute.
“IPCB refers its files to the law office for prosecution,” the official says.
The impunity generated in the police raid in Tonkolili led to a number of state killings whose perpetrators walk as free men.
The tragic incident of April 29 at the country’s main correctional Centre on Pa Demba Road in Freetown is one the brightest examples of impunity in the state of Sierra Leone.
A brutal encounter between inmates and state security forces on the said date left dozens of prisoners dead.
Official accounts put the number of fatalities at 31, but credible sources indicated a number above the figure.
To date, no ordinary member of the public knew where the prisoners were buried, and the killers were never brought to justice.
In what appears a sinister cover up of the lethal act of the security forces, government accused the main opposition, All People’s Congress to have incited the riots that led to the deaths.
Instead of targeting the killers, key opposition figures were arrested and slammed with police charges.
Many of them are in law courts while others remain behind bars.
The resentment nursed by the people of Sierra Leone bubbled and flared up in two major communities, Lunsar and Tombo towns in the north-western and western-rural regions respectively.
Security in the two communities was brought to a sudden halt when the youths had it hot with the police.
The two communities currently reel of the pains of police brutality.
Civilians again are the wrong end as dozens of them were arrested and arraigned with dozens of police charges.
Some have been granted bail while others languish in cells.
Almost all the incidents share a common feature-state sponsored.
The notorious modus operandi adopted is the provocation of a situation into crisis by a public service agency and then invite the police to come in.
The incident in Makeni is a typical example. It was government-provoked later inviting the police.
Police intervention into such conflicts always is not problem-solving but to cause mayhem on the other side to protect government interest.
As illegal police crackdowns continue, the commission has warned that respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life.
It says a society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.
Deprivation of liberty is a serious infringement of human rights.
It is however legitimate when sanctioned by rules and laws which agree with principles of fairness and due process.
Arbitrary arrest and detention without trial cannot be tolerated in a just and democratic society.
The SLP must learn from the TRC report to make a fundamental point.