From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

FEATURES
Sierra Leone Exports Rape to Nations on UN Security Council
By Citizens’ Advocates
Jun 14, 2010, 14:56

Hon. Elizabeth Alpha-Lavalie is one of Sierra Leone’s most respected women. Not only is she the country’s longest serving elected female Parliamentarian but she is also an Eminent Person of the ECOWAS Council of the Wise and a Commander of the Order of the Republic of Sierra Leone who acted as Speaker of the House of Parliament here in Sierra Leone on several occasions and served for a long spell as Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament.


She is usually soft-spoken and nationalistic in outlook but on Tuesday June 8th 2010, whilst holding a chat with this medium, she held back little as she slammed at the “hypocrisy” of the current Ernest Koroma regime in holding a Street March to celebrate United Nations Resolutions 1325 & 1820 that aim to protect women from sexual and violent assault.


“I will attend the programme but I will not march along the streets of Freetown to celebrate because it is an act of hypocrisy. What is there to march for? What is there to celebrate? Until women who were gang-raped at our party offices in broad daylight under the supervision of President Koroma’s bodyguards, get the justice they deserve, I cannot celebrate our country’s current efforts at combating sexual and gender based violence. We have been going backwards and not forward,” Hon. Lavalie asserted.


She was speaking of the reported gang raping of women at the country’s main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Headquarters in the capital city during which female SLPP members on March 16th 2009 were assaulted by male supporters of the country’s ruling party in an invasion of SLPP offices that was led by the President’s personal bodyguards who moved from their stationed assignment next to the President up at State House, Tower Hill all the way down to the opposition headquarters by the seaside which they forcibly broke into; subsequent to which, the women report they were gang-raped.


“When we complained bitterly, they said SLPP Women are liars who were not raped. Well, President Koroma’s regime has started exporting of Rape and Sexual violence to Nations seated on U.N. Security Council like Russia and China; now maybe there will be a rethink of the credibility of the SLPP Women who reported they were raped. Sierra Leone is now exporting Rape to China, Russia, other places through our diplomats sent there,” Hon. Lavalie stated firmly in reference to scandals of rape and sexual assault that has plagued the country’s formerly esteemed diplomatic cadre.


Sierra Leone’s Ambassadors to Russia & China were recalled back amidst serious rape scandals this year.

For the issue of the reported Rape of opposition women, a Commission of Inquiry set up to look into the allegations, produced a Report that was at variance with what the women reported happened to them. The Report said it could find no “sustainable in law” evidence of Rape. This created angry furore with SLPP impugning both the Report and also the Inquiry Chairman, Justice Bankole Thompson.


However, even in its impugned state, the Bankole-Thompson Report clearly stated the following conclusion about the very serious allegations against the President’s Bodyguards and other males who had illegally invaded the SLPP Offices:


We also conclude that the said victims were each subjected to physical mistreatment amounting to outrages upon their personal dignity or other inhumane conduct in violation of their human rights protection.

Continuing, even the condemned report which claimed it could not “sustain in law” if women got raped, confessed:

Based on the evidence presented to the Commission to the effect that sexual violence was meted out to the alleged victims as a political tool, a strong and legitimate perception held by advocates of the elimination of gender-based discrimination especially against women, We recommend Gov’t considers the advisability and expediency of addressing this problem as a matter of utmost priority, from the perspective of social justice.


This medium’s been in regular contact with the women who strongly allege that they were gang-raped on that fatal day last year. As of last evening Sunday June 13th 2010, we can authoritatively state that many of these women are still badly emotionally traumatised and at least one of them remains with significant physical trauma as a result of what she suffered on that day. She can no longer bend down to use the toilet but has to perform that bodily function whilst standing up. She no longer has a sex-life. We visited with her just yesterday and she was in bed in pain at her residence along Old Road in eastern Freetown. Not a single effort has been made by the Government or any of the United Nations agencies in the country to ameliorate the pains and trauma that these women suffered.


However, in a reflection of a well -oiled orchestrated campaign to minimise collateral damage of Ernest Koroma regime being perceived as a regime that allows broad daylight sexual-violence to be meted out to innocent, vulnerable SLPP women, Michael von der Schulenburg, the Executive Representative of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, filed a report to the United Nations that was signed and sent to the Security Council by Mr. Ban Ki Moon in which the extent of seriousness of the assault on the Opposition Women was seriously downplayed and the language of the Report was diluted. There was an abominable attempt at covering up the serious findings and recommendations with a careful deleting of the reference to ‘outrage on the women’s personal dignity’ and an omission of the fact that the Report had clearly stated that based on the evidence presented, the women were ‘subjected to sexual violence as a political tool’.


There’s been dismay at an abominable diluting of the words but this has been quietly uttered. It has been quiet for a suspected reason that is disturbing. The fact is that Mr. Schulenburg is a major player in determining how U.N. Peace Building Funds allocated to sustain Sierra Leone’s peace process is shared. In other words, he wields the knife that cuts the Peacebuilding ‘cake’ and he can determine for the ‘cake’ to be cut in a particular way and shared out to now-silent voices that might have been otherwise loudly critical of his overt and covert support for regime excesses.


To a large extent, in a poverty-ridden country like Sierra Leone that is pretty much donor-driven and where a ‘colonial master mindset’ still exists, Mr. Schulenburg, a white man wielding the ability to dish out an odd ten thousand dollars here or five thousand dollars there or fifteen thousand dollars over there, commands tremendous powers at his disposal. People are poor here and susceptible to unscrupulousness.


Civil Society groups, including so-called Womens’ Rights Groups and Objective Journalists expected to be at forefront of challenging the sheer attempts to sweep a grave sexual violence under the carpet, have been somehow made to become quite reticent even as funds from the Peace-Building Funds are being allocated and re-allocated in  a certain manner skewed towards achieving what a pre-set agenda seems to want to achieve. Women’s Groups and Women holding prominent positions in Institutions concerned with Human Rights, are not only silent but it is not uncommon to have them attempt to browbeat other women away from condemning what Mr. Schulenburg’s omission or the Rapists perpetuated.


For example, at a recent Women’s Support Solidarity Group meeting held at the YWCA Hall, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, this country’s only female newspaper Publisher, though not a member of the SLPP, had to walk out of the meeting in protest when an attempt was made by the WSSG High Table to browbeat a representative of SLPP’s Women’s Wing from going on to mention further about the reported Rapes of her SLPP female colleagues in broad daylight. It was only after Dr. Sylvia Blyden loudly protested, that the SLPP representative was then allowed to freely speak her mind unhindered. Whilst Blyden was to return after the SLPP Woman was allowed to then speak, one only wonders if she had not been expressive enough to walk out, how skewed the discussion might have been! The long arm of Schulenburg-controlled Peace Building Funds have far reach indeed!


Local journalists who are expected to critically look at these issues; some of which have the propensity to send the country back to war, have also been on the sidelines, with some of them preferring to grumble in little corners. How much the generous donations of Mr. Schulenburg from the Peace Building Fund towards the operations of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists has contributed to this reticence from otherwise critical journalists, remains untested but it is a fact that Mr. Schulenburg has been splashing emoluments on journalists’ association most generously and it is also a fact that senior, critical voices of the association have been strangely silent on criticising worrying excesses  and omissions of Mr. Schulenburg.


As an example, a recent scandalous physical and verbal assault by Mr. Schulenburg on the UN’s country Security Chief, an Indian national, in the presence of the Head of Political Affairs, an Ethiopian, inside the Living room of Mr. Schulenburg which spilled out into grounds of the Cabenda Hotel housing the UN’s mission was never reported on by many newshouses.


Head of a U.N. mission going physical on the mission’s Head of Security is a threat to mission’s peaceful  existence yet..SILENCE! The Power of dollars in Schulenburg-controlled UN Peace Building Fund can be staggering!###


MORE ABOUT HON. ELIZABETH LAVALIE:


She is usually very nationalistic in her contributions to debates in Parliament and also whilst travelling abroad. On a trip to New York with a ruling party Minister  Haja Afsatu, she told US Senator Bill Perkins that, “Haja Asatu was in the opposition when I was in governance. Now she is in governance while I am in the opposition but we have chosen to work together for the good of our country”. On another occasion, whilst meeting with Ambassador John McNee of Peace-building Commission of UN Security Council, she openly expressed support for President Koroma’s stated vision for the youths of this country by saying “I am not supposed to agree because I am from the opposition but, I am doing so because we aspire for a better Sierra Leone.” In Ethiopia, she openly lauded the President’s initiative towards women and children getting free health care. Lavalie is a honest woman who heaps praises where due and condemns when it is also due. At the moment, her strong condemnation for the mal-handling of the SLPP Rape Victims by both President Koroma’s Government and the Schulenburg-led UNIPSIL cannot be louder or more clear! And her condemnation is being echoed and re-echoed across the entire Sierra Leone!!!



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