Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dismissed Sierra Leone soldiers seek relief -- but at which window?

The slow-moving court-martial is not the only military legal matter making news in Sierra Leone. According to this report, 11 soldiers have sought the assistance of the Human Rights Commission in connection with their dismissal from the service:
As dismissed soldiers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) take their case to the Human Rights Commission (HRC), officials there have assured thorough investigation of their concerns. But the military command has ruled out any possibility of any redress outside the forces. 
The aggrieved former soldiers, eleven of them, were dismissed for incitement, indiscriminate firing and theft, among other offences they allegedly committed while serving in the United Nations-backed African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The armed forces have taken the position that this is a military matter, and the soldiers must seek relief within the military structure.

The men were dismissed in February, shortly after they returned from Somalia after serving about two years in a mission that was intended to last for a year. This is part of Sierra Leone`s contribution to global peace, which has seen the country contributes troops and police officers to restive countries like Darfur in Sudan, Haiti and East Timor. 
But the Somalia mission has proven controversial, both in terms of the performance of the troops and also the sudden interruption of the mission by the ongoing Ebola epidemic. 
When the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an International Health Emergency, it disrupted international travel schedules to and from Sierra Leone. ‘Leobatt One’, the first contingent of the RSLAF deployment, was left stranded in Somalia and so they could not be replaced by Leobatt Two. Eventually, the Somalia government, giving the excuse of fear of transmission of the virus, asked the AU to stop Sierra Leone`s participation. 
Meanwhile, in the battle front, the RSLAF troops were already fed up, with some reports indicating that some of the troops were demanding to be returned home. 
Among the men who were asking to be returned were those dismissed, hence the charge of incitement. But the dismissed soldiers themselves told Politico the reasons forwarded for their dismissal were more than that. They cited the controversial deduction of US$200 from their allowances, which they said they opposed vehemently. They also said they complained of constant food shortage.
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To back up their claims of theft, the dismissed soldiers said one of their former commanding officers in the mission, Major Sam Moses Kpaika, was currently being investigated by military police officers for alleged fuel theft. 
Colonel Abu Bakarr Conteh, Commanding officer of the RSLAF peace enforcement troops in Somalia, confirmed reports of the ongoing investigation over alleged fuel theft. Even the Col himself is serving as a witness, he told Politico
But Col. Conteh said the dismissed soldiers met their fate in accordance with army regimental discipline. 
“Discipline is the bedrock of any professional army,” he said, alluding to the “indiscipline” of few soldiers who “caused mayhem” in the country in 1997 which resulted in the execution of 24 senior military officers. 
“We no longer tolerate such a situation in the army,” the Col. stressed.

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