Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Leone’

Sierra Leone anti-FGM activist Rugiati Turay wins German human rights prize

October 30, 2020

Campaigner Rugiati Turay has won the Theodor Haecker human rights prize for fighting female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone. [for more on this and similar awards see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/23523519-3931-9E2E-2D4F-8F614F366500]

Rugiatu Turay, anti-FGM activist from Sierra Leone

When Rugiati Turay was 12, she was taken to an aunty together with her three sisters and a female cousin.

We were told it was just a visit,” Turay, now 47, recalls. “But I was grabbed and blindfolded and taken to a room. Women sat on me and held me down.”

Turay’s clitoris was then cut off. She still remembers the pain.

“I bled excessively and I almost lost my life. For one week, I could not walk,” Turay told DW. “All I knew was just the pain and the bleeding.”

Like Turay, some 90% of women and girls in Sierra Leone undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM. It is a cultural practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genital organs, such as the clitoris or labia.

In Sierra Leone, the cutting is part of the initiation into secret women’s societies, known as Bondo, that prepare girls for marriage and motherhood.

When she was cut as a girl, Turay didn’t have the knowledge to express what had happened to her. She just knew it was wrong, she said in a telephone interview from Lunsar, a town some 120 kilometers (74 miles) from the capital, Freetown. Rugiatu Turay works to persuade traditional practitioners to lay down the tools used to cut girls

“I started talking to my friends, explaining to them what I went through,” she said. “Because we were all eager … to become members of the Bondo society. But when I experienced what I experienced, I thought it is high time to talk to others and not to be fooled.”

More than a decade later, Turay found herself in Kalia refugee camp in Guinea, where she had fled Sierra Leone’s civil war that raged from 1991 to 2002. In the camp, she was shocked that amid the hardship and insanitary conditions of the camp, mothers were still organizing for their daughters to be cut.

That was the moment when Turay, who had trained and worked as a teacher before fleeing the fighting, started on her journey to campaign to stop female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone.

The nation is one of 28 African countries where female genital mutilation is practiced

“I decided [that] we needed to engage these people. They needed to know that we have run away from violence committed to us by people  and we are now perpetuating that violence on us,” she said.

In 2000 while still in Kalia camp, Turay founded the Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), together with a group of like-minded women, to reduce the incidence of FGM among the refugees.

The name was taken from the “strong and fearless” Amazonian warrior women from Greek mythology, explains Turay, chosen because “looking at the issues I was determined to address and knowing [Sierra Leone] and the people where I came from, I knew it was going to be a rough battle.”

In 2003, when she returned home after the end of the civil war, Turay started up a branch of the grassroots organization in her hometown of Lunsar.

As part of their activities, Turay and other AIM activists visit villages to talk to those involved in FGM, from women and girls, to local chiefs and imams. They also seek out the soweis, the traditional cutters, who earn a living from the practices. They seek to convince them to stop cutting and look for alternative livelihoods for these women. AIM has held several public ceremonies involving hundreds of soweis who have vowed to lay down their knives and razor blades.

It has also held a large alternative rites of passage lasting for 14 days to replace the traditional Bondo bush ceremony that girls usually pass through during initiation  but without the cutting.

As well as running a safe house for girls fleeing from FGM and other violence such as forced marriage, AIM has built a school that includes a curriculum teaching about cutting.

Turay’s work hasn’t been easy. Initially, she couldn’t even rent a building for AIM as no one wanted to have anything to do with an anti-FGM organization. Luckily, her father supported her efforts, turning over his own house to use as her office.

She, and others involved in the organization, have also faced numerous death threats as well as being banned by the village chief – something Turay says has only hardened her resolve.

“When you threaten me and say you’ll kill me, I come back and I engage you,” she said.

“I ask, ‘Why do you really want to kill me? Tell me, what have I done? Have I killed anyone? No, I want to change your beliefs that are not progressive, that have killed so many people, that have kept others quiet but suffering in silence’.”

And so I use those threats and I talk to the leaders of the secret society and I engage them.”

Because of coronavirus travel restrictions, Turay will attend the awards ceremony on October 24, 2020 virtually. Turay was nominated by the German women’s rights organization, Terres des Femmes, for the award.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/19/profile-of-fahma-mohamed-a-young-british-anti-fgm-human-rights-defender/


https://www.dw.com/en/sierra-leone-anti-fgm-activist-wins-german-human-rights-prize/a-55356392

New magazine “Global Geneva” puts “Civitas Maxima” in the limelight

March 21, 2017

Global Geneva is a new English language magazine for the international hub that Geneva want to be. In the issue of 15 March 2017. William Thatcher Dowell discusses the work of ‘CIVITAS MAXIMA’A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity“.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague was created in 2002 to hold individuals responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The concept was good, but the international tribunal was almost immediately paralyzed by politics (See article in the latest edition of Global Geneva on justice must be seen to be done). As William Dowell writes, Alain Werner, who created Civitas Maxima in 2012, has a different idea: “represent the victims and fight the cases in domestic courts if need be

Rather than depend exclusively on international tribunals, Werner believes that it is worth shifting the focus to the actual victims of war crimes, and working with them to compile the solid evidence that is needed to enable a prosecution to stand up in any court of law. Once the evidence is there, the cases can be prosecuted in any court that expressly outlaws crimes against humanity. It does not matter if the court is an international tribunal, a specially constituted war crimes court or even an ordinary domestic court.

The name, Civitas Maxima, which translates roughly as “the greater state”, is reference to the legal term in Latin that captures the notion that all civilized societies hold certain values in common.  The implication is that any society, which considers itself civilized, will instinctively condemn international crimes such as crimes against humanity and war crimes. So far, Werner’s group has been investigating well over 10 cases, and at least three have led to actual arrests by national authorities since 2014. That may not seem much, but in fact, it represents a third of the extra-territorial arrests by national states for international crimes in 2014 and 2015. During that period, only eight extra territorial arrests by national authorities took place world-wide. One of Werner’s cases is currently being prosecuted in Switzerland; two are in Belgium. One of the accused, a naturalized American who held Belgian nationality and was arrested in Spain, died while in jail awaiting trial this spring.  This was the first time ever a Western businessman was arrested for the trade of so-called blood diamonds. Werner did this in conjunction with a local Sierra Leone partner, the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL). Most of the current public cases involve militia leaders who were responsible for atrocities during civil wars in Liberia.

Alain Werner as a lawyer is also representing victims of Hissène Habré, who was president of Chad from 1982 until 1990. The Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, convicted Habré last May on charges of rape, sexual slavery, and slaughtering members of opposing tribes. Werner had been working on the case since 2008, and it was typical of the kind of case that the ICC would have particular difficulty in dealing with, even if it had jurisdiction. …….“One of the major issues in international justice,” Werner says, “is the fact that politics always affects the process. The International Criminal Court tries to create the impression that it is independent, but so far it has been mainly driven by political factors.” The answer to this conundrum, Werner feels, is for more independent organizations with legal expertise similar to that of Civitas Maxima to take the lead in building convincing cases that will stand up in court, and which cannot be ignored. “Organizations that advocate and write reports, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are doing a great job,” he says. “But in the end, you badly need independent lawyers and trained investigators who can compile evidence that meets international standards.”

A key requirement, of course, is funding. Werner says, “If you work independently you have to come up with the funds on your own, and in our case that is complicated by the fact that we do not accept funding from governments.”  

[Werner’s own involvement in prosecuting war crimes started with his work for the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2003, including the trial of the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor…… In 2009, he went to Cambodia to represent victims in the case of the Khmer Rouge who had run the infamous S-21 concentration camp that fed into the “killing fields.”  After that he joined an independent group, the Aegis Trust, which also runs the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda , and which had a small programme focused on helping victims gather evidence.  The initiative ran out of funding after about two years, but by then Werner was already heavily involved in a number of cases involving victims of Charles Taylor’s operations in Liberia.  Werner decided that he couldn’t abandon the work, and so he created Civitas Maxima]

Werner is also collecting evidence from victims of Ivory Coast’s current president, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces are accused of committing atrocities during the post-electoral violence of 2010 and 2011. His predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo, is the first head of state to be tried for war crimes at the ICC for atrocities committed during the same period by his own forces.  With both current and past president accused of war crimes, Ivory Coast is a particularly sensitive area…..

We need to grow the concept,” he says. “Will Civitas Maxima continue to be successful, or will another independent take the idea and make it grow? I don’t know, but I am convinced that we really need this innovative approach. In the United States, you have a head of state saying that torture is fine and in the Philippines another one boasting about the fact that he has killed criminals. The climate is getting crazy. We absolutely need more fiercely independent lawyers to use their expertise to counter impunity for mass crimes.

Source: CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity | Global Geneva

Selection of what happened at the local level on Human Rights Day 2015

December 13, 2015

International human rights day is an occasion for a multitude of local activities, some denouncing violations others quietly remembering, some (trying to) march in the streets, others issuing statements. This anthology of 10 such events is far from complete but gives an idea of the variety, from human rights defenders speaking out to governmental institutions ‘celebrating’ …. Read the rest of this entry »

Ebola used as threat against human rights defender in Sierra Leone

August 29, 2014

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped reports that  on 28 August 2014, human rights defender Mary Conteh [national coordinator for Women’s Centre for Good Governance and Human Rights (WOCEGAR) in Sierra Leone] received a call from an unknown number where the caller threatened to spread false information that she contracted Ebola if she does not stop her human rights work. This comes just two days after she recorded a statement  with the police denouncing threats pronounced against her as a result of her recent investigation on reports of misuse of public funds.  On 24 August, she had visited the office of Mr. Osman O. Sesay, who represents the constituency in which WOCEGAR is located, to inquire about reports suggesting that the grant assigned to his constituency had not been used for its original purpose. The member of parliament reportedly argued that the fund was placed on a personal account and that he was not accountable to any member of the local human rights groups. As the discussion proceeded, he reportedly started hurling insults at her and eventually threatened that he could make her disappear.

(In early August 2014, Mary Conteh and her colleagues received information that members of the Sierra Leonean parliament had each received from the government a grant estimated at US$20,000 for the purpose of fighting the outbreak of Ebola in their respective constituencies.)

HRD George Reginald Freeman attacked and threatened in Sierra Leone

May 24, 2013

On 22 May 2013 human rights defender George Reginald Freeman was driving to a guest house when he was intercepted by two unknown assailants on motorbikes. One of the men threw a stone through his car window and Freeman was  badly beaten as he attempted to escape. The assailants also robbed valuables from his car after he escaped. George Reginald Freeman is the director of Pride Equality, an organisation which works on LGBTI rights in Sierra LeoneFrontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped Read the rest of this entry »

Visual Journalism for Human Rights: the Tim Hetherington award

December 12, 2012

English: Human Rights Watch logo Русский: Лого...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The photojournalist Fernando Moreles has been awarded the second Tim Hetherington Grant, an annual visual journalism award focusing on human rights, Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo announced 0n 11 December 2012. Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo established the grant to honor the legacy of Hetherington, a photojournalist and filmmaker who was killed during fighting in Libya in April 2011. The €20,000 grant was given to Moleres for his project “Waiting for an Opportunity,” in which he is documenting the harsh realities of juvenile justice in Sierra Leone.  For more than two decades Moleres, who was born and lives in Spain, has been committed to documenting the plight of the most vulnerable populations and covering issues relating to children and labor, juvenile justice, and refugees. “Fernando Moleres’ moral and emotional commitment to his photographic subjects is clear,” said Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch. “Tim Hetherington would have loved this work and Human Rights Watch is thrilled to support it.”

Related articles:

Fernando Moleres Wins Tim Hetherington Grant (hrw.org)
Tim Hetherington, 1970-2011 (edendale.typepad.com)