Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Fundamental Human Right to Prosecution and Compensation

Academic journal article Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

The Fundamental Human Right to Prosecution and Compensation

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

The right to obtain financial compensation for a human rights abuse and to have the perpetrator of such an abuse prosecuted and punished is itself a fundamental human right that cannot be taken from a victim or waived by a government. Although it is sometimes tempting to enact a general amnesty in order to heal a nation's wounds, promote harmony, and "let bygones be bygones," such efforts rarely achieve their goals because the wounds fester and the victims need a just resolution to their suffering. The only way to bring true healing to a divided society is to face up to the wrongs that were committed, to prosecute those who violated the fundamental human rights of others, and to provide compensation to the victims.

II. THE SIERRA LEONE CIVIL WAR

   Time and time again, the United Nations' experience has shown that peace
   accords built on impunity are shaky and do not hold. In Angola, for
   example, six amnesties have been granted as part of the peace process, and
   each has served as little more than an invitation to further bloodshed and
   atrocities. (1)

The West African country of Sierra Leone has experienced an eight-year civil war led by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). (2) Although the fighting began as a struggle among competing factions, in recent years it has been focused against the country's first President elected in a multi-party election, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. (3) President Kabbah took office in March 1996, was forced from office 14 months later on May 25, 1997 by the AFRC/RUF rebel alliance, and then was reinstated in early 1998 as President by the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force formally called the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). (4)

The AFRC/RUF-led campaigns of terror, called "Operation No Living Thing" and "Operation Pay Yourself," have been designed to kill, destroy, and loot anything in their paths. (5) Civilians have been subjected to systematic and gross violations of human rights such as amputations by machete of one or both hands, arms, feet, legs, ears, or buttocks and one or more fingers; lacerations to the head, neck, arms, feet, and torso; gouging out of one or both eyes; gunshot wounds to the head, torso, and limbs; burns from explosives and other devices; injections with acid; rape and sexual slavery of girls and women including sexual mutilation where breasts and genitalia were cut off. (6) Often child soldiers too weak to hack off the entire foot have carried out the mutilations. (7) The victims would have to finish the amputation, or would be forced to participate in their own mutilation by selecting which body part they wanted amputated. Political messages were slashed into backs and chests, and amputees were told to take their limbs to President Kabbah. (8)

Children have often been the targets of brutal acts of violence -- murdered, beaten, mutilated, tortured, raped, sexually enslaved, or forced forced to become soldiers for the AFRC/RUF. (9) Parents have been killed in front of their children. (10) Women and girls have been targets of systematic brutal gang rapes at gunpoint or knifepoint, or of rape by foreign objects such as sticks or flaming logs. (11) Rapes have occurred in front of family members, or, in some cases, rebels have forced a family member to rape a sister, mother, or daughter. (12) Witnesses have reported seeing the mutilated bodies of pregnant women whose fetuses have been cut out of their wombs or shot to death in their abdomen. (13)

The AFRC/RUF forced many civilians into slavery, to serve the rebel forces' cause. (14) Women and girls have been required to become "wives" or sexual slaves and forced to cook for the soldiers. (15) Young men and boys have been forcefully recruited as soldiers, and required to commit armed attacks against Sierra Leone civilians, Civilian Defense Forces, and the ECOMOG. …

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