“We recorded over 20 sexual harassment and over 200 GBV cases in military barracks in the country” CHRDI report
By Alpha Kamara
Center for Human Rights and Development International CHRDI has accused Sierra Leone’s Army and the defense ministry of corruption, sexual harassment and other gross human rights violations. During their investigation, CHRDI says it documented over 20 sexual harassment cases and over 200 gender-based violence (GBV) cases across several military barracks in the country.
CHRDI noted that it interviewed several individuals at the 5th Infantry Battalion, Wilberforce, who provided details on how money ends up in the pockets of unregulated tribunals held in the military barracks, headed by Commanding Officers (COs) and (RSMs).
“CHRDI find it extremely disturbing to uncover such serious allegations of corruption and impunity among top level RSLAF staff, which clearly undermines the country’s efforts to combat sexual-based violence and corruption,” the report said.
The findings of CHRDI point that corruption and mismanagement within the RSLAF remain endemic. This has led to less transparent military budgeting, spending and procurement. The investigation also found out that a grant of over $290,000 USD (two hundred and ninety thousand US dollars) received by RSLAF in 2010 from the Norwegian government, through the government of Sierra Leone/Ministry of Defense (MoD) to promote gender equality and protect army personnel from sexual harassment/assault, has been mismanaged and the issue is currently under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission. Since May 2020, The ACC has been investigating an allegation of suspected corruption. The investigation is not yet finished.
In late July 2021, CHRDI said, the Head of Gender and Equal Opportunities wrote a letter to the Bank asking for an opportunity to regain access to the remaining $49,619 USD from the initial grant from the Norwegian government. But CHRDI said he donors are unsatisfied with the implementation of the project, particularly with the several allegations of misappropriation and mismanagement of the project funds.
While the project appears to be under criminal investigation by ACC, CHRDI explained that the MoD recently sent a letter to the Accountant General’s office to nominate four (4) senior MoD staff to serve as signatories to the remaining funds for the Gender and Equal Opportunities project.
The findings also revealed troubling incidences of corruption at the 34 Military Hospital at Wilberforce barracks. Documents show that the X-ray machine at the 34 Military Hospital has been unworkable since 2017.
Documents with reference number JFCCR/4030, show that 21 staff members of the MoD / RSLAF, and one representative of the supplier for the X-Ray machine formed an expert verification team which met to evaluate whether the X-ray films were correct or not, but issued no statement on their findings. CHRDI also found out that MOD and RSLAF personnel have been collecting over $36,000 USD (thirty six thousand US dollars) quarterly from the state for X-ray films. However, whilst charging the government for X-ray films, the 34 Military Hospital was sending military patients to private hospitals for X-ray scanning at the patient’s personal expense.
The report also said violence against women in the Army should be stopped. Proactive steps should be taken at all levels to end sexual harassment within RSLAF, as many of these women do not only serve their country with the same level of sacrifice as men do, but they also serve their families and, in many cases, they are the primary caregivers to children and the elderly in their household.
Serving women in the RSLAF/MoD should be given the respect and recognition they deserve. CHRDI stated that it has evidence that despite the government’s efforts to address sex-based abuses, a lack of accountability for official misconduct and mechanism to hold perpetrators accountable persisted at all levels of the Army, contributing to widespread impunity.
These actions also demonstrate that the RSLAF has failed to make progress on two of its main Policy Objectives, i.e. “To transform the RSLAF into an organization that is accountable, incorruptible and subject to democratic control, and develop and maintain a re-structured and robust RSLAF that is well trained, well-disciplined and well cared for.” CHRDI urge RSLAF to choose rule of law and respect for human rights, a course that is in the best interest of the men and women who serve in the Force and for the cause of international peace.
Meanwhile, a response from the Defense Ministry condemns the CHRDI report describing it as fallacious, unfounded and an effort to dent the integrity of the Army.
Assistant Chief of Defense (ACDS) Operations, Brig. Gen. R. B. Harleston expressed total dissatisfaction with CHRDI for misinforming the public about the RSLAF particularly when according to him CHRDI failed to reach out to the senior management of the Army before publishing such a damaging report against the institution.
“Management believes that those issues raised by CHRDI are not well researched. If CHRDI has any issue that has to do with the MoD/RSLAF, let them approach the MoD/RSLAF senior management for access to credible information that will be accurate and balanced,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Harleston on the sexual harassment claim said that the RSLAF has policies on sexual harassment and gender based violence with stringent actions taken against defaulters. Colonel M.S Fofanah, the Director of Gender and Equal Opportunities at the MoD, said they don’t discriminate in the Army, emphasizing that recruitments and promotions are purely based on merit.
He further said the military has zero-tolerance to gender based violence, adding that the Army has been very encouraging especially for women. “In 2019 an all-female recruitment was done and they were given equal opportunities for scholarships and promotions. We don’t discriminate here,” he stressed.