United Methodists in Sierra Leone Celebrate Launch Of University

Sierra Leone’s newly opened United Methodist University was dedicated at ceremony attended by academics, diplomats, senior government officials and United Methodists who had traveled from near and far.

Map of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Map of the Republic of Sierra Leone

According to the United Methodist Church, the Jan. 27 event included the official launching of the first faculty, the Bishop Wenner School of Theology, named after retired German Area Bishop Rosemarie Wenner. The school has been up and running since November, with students and staff in place, said the Rev. Edwin Momoh, the university’s adjunct professor of research and development.

Addressing the gathering, Sierra Leone Area Bishop John Yambasu, chancellor of the university, recalled with joy how his dream of a United Methodist University nine years ago had come to fruition.

“My many travels across the African continent (as a missionary of The United Methodist Church) opened my eyes to the massive illiteracy, poverty, misery, marginalization and exploitation of young people and the helplessness of many of them to take responsibility for their own destiny. Many still live in squalor and go through life-threatening experiences every day because they lack the needed education and skills that will make them employable.”

Yambasu also thanked all those who believed in his dream and had either journeyed with him or spurred him on to achieve his goal.

United Methodist Church Bishop Wenner School oF Theology in SIerra Leone
United Methodist Church Bishop Wenner School of Theology in Sierra Leone

Through our diversified curriculum … United Methodist University will help create opportunities for the present and future population by ushering in sustainable development, reduction of poverty and help create a democratic and peaceful society where respect for law and order is evidenced,” he said.Wenner, who had flown from Germany to Freetown, for the occasion was overwhelmed with emotion.

“Today, when I was honored to unveil the plaque, I saw it with my own eyes: Yes, this is the Bishop Wenner School of Theology. A very nice building at an extraordinary place with great people teaching and learning here — the first faculty of several to come — all this is a great achievement of the UMC in Sierra Leone and I compliment you for that,” she said.

She recalled that United Methodists in Germany and Sierra Leone have a long-standing relationship dating back to the 1960s. She said she was accepting the honor on behalf of The United Methodist Church in Germany.

“We Methodists value education and particularly theological education. We see no contradiction in knowledge and vital piety. In fact, we know: They are twins. Therefore, keep on with the good work. I urge you, the students who are already filling this place with life, make good use of the school,” Wenner said.

Roger and Melania Reiner of Minnesota also were honored at the ceremony. They have been in ministry with Sierra Leone for more than three decades and helped get all of the books for the School of Theology Library, which Yambasu described as fully equipped with the resource materials required for undergraduate studies in theology. He named the library after the Reiners.

Sierra Leone United Methodist Church Bishop John Yambasu
Sierra Leone United Methodist Church Bishop John Yambasu

Melania Reiner said the dedication was a great day for the church in Sierra Leone. She said pastors in the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church donated the books and that they were just the vehicle through which the books arrived.

Yambasu named professor George Carew as vice chancellor of United Methodist University. Carew has vast experience in university academia in the U.S., Liberia and Sierra Leone. Carew said he believes it is the mission of the church to build a university that addresses the moral and spiritual void in the society.

Keynote speaker, the Rev. Kim Cape, top executive with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, said it was a great day in the life of The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone and the world at large, but she cautioned against complacency.

“We are here because of the vision of Bishop Yambasu. He saw the need of his church and he had a vision for the school. But as we know, vision alone is not enough. (He) shared his vision with you and called you to action. He called you to dream with him, to work to build the school of theology and university for this generation and future generations.

“This work is not finished. There’s still work to be done. We must not sit back and say, ‘Oh, this is done. What a lovely ceremony.’ We must say we have a plan to do great work for God and must nurture it and make it grow.”

The United Methodist Church

Human Rights Watch Tells Liberia To Prosecute Past War Crimes

TRC Final Report

TRC Recommendations for Internationalized Domestic War Crimes Court

The international non-governmental organization dedicated to research and advocacy for human rights around the world Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the new Weah Administration in the West African nation Liberia “should take prompt steps to pave the way for fair investigation and prosecution of serious past crimes committed during Liberia’s brutal civil wars.”

President George M. Weah of Liberia
President George M. Weah of Liberia

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Associate Director of its International Justice Program Ms. Elise Keppler, “President Weah has a chance to make history by ensuring that Liberia’s victims at long last have a chance to see the people who committed crimes against them held to account.”

“Liberia,” she said, “has made important progress to advance post-conflict stability, but no one has faced justice in Liberia for the brutal crimes during that period.” The call to the new Weah Administration is an attempt by the international community and human rights advocates to pressure the authorities ib Liberia to hold accountable those who committed grievous atrocities during the Liberia civil crisis. An estimated 250,000 people died and nearly 1 million others were internally and externally dislocated due to the conflagration.

According to HRW, “…during two armed conflicts – 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003 – horrific abuses were committed against civilians in Liberia. These included summary executions and numerous large-scale massacres; widespread and systematic rape; mutilation and torture; and large-scale forced conscription and use of child combatants. The violence blighted the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, displaced almost half the population, and virtually destroyed the country’s infrastructure.”

Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier
Former TRC Head Counselor Jerome Verdier

In July, 2017, the former head of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Counselor Jereome Verdier recommended that any incoming Liberian Administration should address the following:

“(i)That the future government of Liberia considers domestic prosecutions of domestic crimes including murders, and diverse theft cases and graft;

(ii) That the future government of Liberia establishes a committee that will review the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with the mandate to prepare a timeline, modalities, strategies and how the full implementation of all the recommendations of the TRC can be accomplished in keeping with law as an advisory tool for government actions;

(iii)That the future Government of Liberia considers the establishment of a robust economic and financial crimes commission to pursue the long list of cases of economic crimes in Liberia and commence redress mechanisms ahead of the establishment of The War Crimes Court for Liberia;

(iv) That the future government of Liberia considers inculcating the values and culture of the rule of law into the socio-cultural and economic and commercial fabric of the Liberian society as a matter of high priority;

(v) That the future Government of Liberia also prioritizes national reconciliation efforts and initiatives to advance national healing and the transition agenda of restoring comprehensive peace, national unity and security to Liberia as a sine qua non for lasting peace, growth and development in Liberia…”

Counselor Verdier also recommended the following to the international community:

“i) That the international community considers continuing or expanding the sanctions regime on Liberian to include travel ban and financial sanctions on specific persons of interest and international arrests and deportations to ensure that there is no haven anywhere in the world for fugitives and alleged perpetrators of economic and war crimes in Liberia;

(ii) That the international community considers assisting Liberia with financial, technical and other forensic assistances in the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth from Liberia;

(iii) That the international community considers reviving and supporting efforts towards establishing a special ordinary war crimes tribunal for Liberia to deal with war time atrocities and crimes committed in Liberia, that closure to that chapter of Liberia’s history can be done with dignity and respect for international norms and standards of justice and;

(iv) That the international community facilitate the accentuating of greater accountability in Liberia by commissioning an audit of all donors and development partners grants, aid and loans to Liberia during the period January 16, 2006 to January 16, 2018…”

Former President Charles Taylor
Former President Charles Taylor

Some perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia have been booked and are facing prosecution in the United States, Switzerland, the UK and Belgium. Chief among them is former rebel leader turned former President Charles Taylor who is serving a 50 year jail term in the UK.

No one has been charged and prosecuted in Liberia for alleged war crimes. HRW, in its letter to President George Weah, said, “…while supportive of the general approach, Human Rights Watch recommended that several elements of the proposal should be revised to ensure prosecutions of past crimes in accordance with international standards…” 

Liberia’s TRC, established in 2003 following the Accra Peace Conference, was to identify the root causes of the Liberian civil war and determine those who were responsible for committing domestic and international crimes against the Liberian people.

Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf-MS
Former Liberian President Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf

The TRC, in its final report, recommended that Nobel Peace Laureate and former  President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and 51 others be blocked from holding public offices in Liberia for 30 years for helping to form and finance the country’s warring militias. That recommendation has not been implemented.

The international human rights advocacy group told the new Liberian government to,” As part of these efforts, the new government should revisit the TRC’s recommendations with a view to establishing a court with international assistance to fairly and effectively prosecute international crimes committed in Liberia.”

Ms. Keppler said, “…The countless victims of the unspeakable crimes committed in Liberia deserve justice for what they have suffered.The era of rampant impunity for international crimes should at last close.”

Map of Liberia
Map of Liberia

Some accused perpetrators and their supporters argue that enforcement of some recommendations of the country’s TRC contravenes the country’s Constitution.

A former rebel commander-turned-senator Prince Johnson from northeastern Nimba County, Liberia who is one of those named in the TRC Final Report as a “notorious perpetrator has accused the TRC of using his testimony to name him for war crimes saying. “… due process is what our Constitution requires.”

Senator Johnson has been named as a person of interest for the execution of several U.S. catholic nuns and one Linda Jury; an American citizen of the Hari Krishna faith in Liberia during the war.

Johnson and his rebel forces were also responsible for capturing, torturing and killing former President Samuel Doe in September, 1990.

Reports say international investigators are continuing to collect evidence against some of the major perpetrators for a possible indictment.

With the renewed focus on holding those accountable for their roles in horrific war crimes perpetrated in Liberia, The Weah Administration must now decide how it proceeds to avoid the risk of appearing weak and colluding in avoiding the prosecution of individuals who are some of its political allies and government appointees.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

Ex-Wife or Charles Taylor Briefly Appears In Court in UK

Agnes Reeves Taylor, the ex- wife of former Liberian President Taylor who is in custody in the UK has made a brief appearance in court via video link. from her prison cell.

Agnes-Reeves-Taylor
Agnes-Reeves-Taylor

The rather brief appearance was for an administrative hearing. Ms. Reeves Taylor who was arrested by Metropolitan Police in June this year was refused bail at the hearing. She is accused of inflicting severe pain or suffering “in the performance of her official duties” as First Lady between 1989 – 1991 in the small West African nation.

The ex-wife of Taylor had been living in the UK and was a lecturer at Coventry University since 2012..

Ms. Reeves Taylor is facing very serious charges of conspiracy to commit torture under UK Criminal Law Act of 1977 and additional charges of torture.

Charles Taylor himself is in jail in the UK serving a 50 year sentence following conviction by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for arming and supporting Sierra Leone rebels who killed thousands of people in that neighboring country.

Charles Taylor’s Timeline: 

Jan. 28, 1948: Charles Taylor is born in Arthington, Liberia to an Americo-Liberian family.

Charles G. Taylor
Charles G. Taylor

1970s: Taylor resides in Boston, Massachussetts US and graduates with an economics degree from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts.

1983: Taylor flees Liberia after he is accused by the Samuel Doe Administration for stealing about US$1 million. The US government detains Taylor on an arrest warrant from the Liberia government and jailed.

1985: Taylor mysteriously escapes jail in Boston and surfaces at a rebel training camp in Libya.

– On December 24, 1989: Taylor launches an armed rebellion by hise National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). His rebel war claims over 250,000 and 300,000 lives in Liberia and neighboring countries..

– In August, 1990, ECOWAS countries forcefully insert a peacekeeping force which secures Monrovia in October.

– March 23, 1991: The Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front, rebel allies of Taylor, cross into Sierra Leone from Liberia.

The civil war lasts until January 2002 and over 120,000 are killed dead and thousands of civilians mutilated.

– July 19, 1997: Following a Peace Accord signed by all Liberian warring factions at a Peace Conference in Ghana, Taylor contests and emerges as the winner of Presidential elections in Liberia and takes office as President on August 2, marking the culmination of a peace accord.

– August-September, 1999: Fierce fighting breaks out in Liberia between Taylor’s government forces and rebels in northern Liberia.

– January 25, 2001: The United Nations issues accusations that Taylor of responsible for supporting and arming rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone from which he is also profiting from the sale of “blood diamonds” from rebel controlled areas. Sanctions are placed on Taylor’s government.

In June, 2003, The Special Court for Sierra Leone backed by the UN unseals an indictment against Taylor for committing war crimes in neighboring to Sierra Leone’s civil war.

– August 11, 2003: Taylor is heavily pressured by the world community, resigns from office and goes into exile in Nigeria.

– March-July, 2004: In pursuit of Taylor, the UN and the United States freeze Taylor’s assets.

– March 29, 2006: Taylor is arrested in Nigeria and sent back to Liberia and promptly taken into custody in Sierra Leone by the Special Court to await prosecution.

On June 20, Taylor is flown by the Special Court for Sierra Lone to the Netherlands for prosecution.

Charles-Taylor
Charles-Taylor

– June 4, 2007: Taylor’s war crimes trial gets under way and later ends in March, 2011.

– April 26, 2012: Taylor is convicted of war crimes and on May 30, 2012 sentenced to 50 years in jail.

On January 9, 2009 Taylor’s son, Emmanuel “Chucky” Taylor, was convicted of torture by a US Court and sentenced to 97 years in prison.

Taylor’s ex-wife Agnes is scheduled to go on trial in the UK in October, 2018.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

NATO Supports Mauritania In Enhancing Its Crisis Management System

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) says its crisis management center implemented through the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS) can contribute to the fight against the challenges of trafficking and terrorism in Mauritania and the Sahel region of Africa.

NATO Flags
NATO Flags

According to a statement from NATO’s headquarters, it says the system could also serve as a model for the neighboring countries and regional organizations which have shown interest in this innovative center.

The national center will improve civil protection, operational watch, and early warning of the population against threats and risks, and enhance preparedness against crises affecting national security. It also supports emergency response by compiling and analyzing information from various sources, using modern technology and simulations.

It is based on a system which provides modern communication equipment for crisis monitoring, alert and management. Operators, technicians and other personnel in charge of the system have been trained, at technical and operational levels, so as to be able to implement their responsibilities and follow their missions.

This comprehensive system has been referred to as an example for the entire Sahel region.

“It is with great satisfaction that I see this project achieved,” said Inspector Mohamed Lemine Haidara of the Mauritanian General Directorate for Civil protection. “This project was developed for the Mauritanian Civil Protection in cooperation with the NATO SPS Programme and my French counterparts. I want to pay tribute to all those who were deeply committed to make this project advance and succeed. Its recognition went beyond Mauritania’s borders and it is considered as a model by the countries in the Sahel region,” he continued

General (Ret.) Denis Opplert of the French General Directorate for Civil protection and Crisis Management concluded, “For me, this project has represented an exceptional human and technological challenge. I was happy to see the progressive and complete takeover of the system by its users and managers. I want to thank them, as well as the French experts for their contribution”.

Mauritania-map
Mauritania

The four regional operational coordination centres across Mauritania located in Nouakchott, Nouadhibou, Rosso and Néma have also been supplied with portable kits for mobile crisis coordination.

The system facilitates situational awareness in the different provinces of Mauritania. The centres are receiving and processing emergency calls, track incidents, and share the information gathered at the national level and in other regions affected by a particular event.

The crisis management center financed within the framework of the NATO SPS Programme also received substantial national contributions from France and Canada, NATO said.

Charles Taylor Former Arms Supplier Van Kouwenhoven Arrested in South Africa

A former business associate of convicted Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor, the Dutch businessman, Guus van Kouwenhoven has been arrested in South Africa.

Taylor and Kouwenhoven
Charles Taylor and Guus Van Kouwenhoven

According to Reuters,  van Kouwenhoven was picked up by security in Cape Town based on an arrest warrant issued by the Dutch authorities.

A Dutch Appeals Court convicted the 74 year old Mr. Van Kouwenhoven in absentia and sentenced him to 19 years in prison in April of this year.

He lived in Liberia in Liberia during the Taylor Presidency and was convicted as an accessory to the commission of war crimes and , arms trafficking and selling weapons to Taylor’s rebel faction, the National Patriotic Front (NPFL) in contravention of UN sanctions.

Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor
Former Liberian Warlord Charles Taylor

Major atrocities were committed by forces loyal to Taylor for which he, Taylor, was arrested, tried and convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone which held proceedings in the Hague, the Netherlands. Over 250,000 people died in Liberia and neighboring countries and thousands others were maimed.

Van Kouwnhoven who has denied any involvement in the charges against him had been living in South Africa and avoiding return to the Netherlands, claiming that he is ill.

The timber trader and arms dealer is appearing before a South African judge on Friday for a hearing into the extradition request from the government of the Netherlands.

Timber TradeGlobal Witness investigated the business dealings of Van Kouwenhoven’s Oriental Timber Trading Company in Liberia. Information gathered from that investigation was used by Dutch prosecutors over a decade ago to convict Kouwenhoven. But the country’s High Court returned the case to the lower courts for a retrial.

It is widely known that Van Kouwenhoven used his lucrative timber company as a front to smuggle arms and ammunition to Taylor forces during the Liberian brutal civil war between 2000 – 2003.

Van Kouwenhoven was deported from the U.S. in the 1970s for this involvement in the fraudulent sale of stolen paintings.

Reporting by Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine

 

HRW Urgess Mauritania To Reject Draft Death Penalty Law

(Tunis) – Human Right Watch (HRW)j says Mauritanian deputies should reject a new draft law that would make the death penalty mandatory for the crime of “insulting” or “mocking” God, the Quran, or the Prophet Muhammad.

HRW-logo
Human Rights Watch (HRW) logo

In a press statement issued, Human Rights Watch said on November 16, 2017, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz’s cabinet approved the draft legislation, which would eliminate the possibility under the current law of substituting a prison term for the death penalty if the offender promptly repents.

The HRW statement quotes Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch as saying, “Instead of decriminalizing apostasy, as the international treaties they signed would warrant, Mauritanian authorities are hurtling in the opposite direction, closing off alternatives to execution.”

The cabinet’s move came a week after an appeals court sentenced Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, a blogger convicted of apostasy, to a prison term. The court accepted his repentance as a basis for voiding the death penalty that another court had imposed on him for posting an article denouncing the use of religion to justify discrimination in Mauritania. The case attracted international attention, with some leading Islamists figures and political parties in Mauritania calling for the blogger’s execution, HRW said.

Mauritania’s current penal code, in article 306, imposes the death penalty for apostasy but allows for a lighter penalty if the defendant repents.

According to HRW, if the National Assembly passes the draft law, the death penalty will be mandatory, without the possibility of reducing the punishment, for any Muslim who mocks or insults God, the Quran, Muhammad, the angels, or prophets. It would still allow people to escape the death penalty for renouncing the Islamic faith or professing belief in it while secretly disbelieving, provided that the offender repented under specified conditions.

The timing of the introduction of this draft law is clearly related to the verdict handed down in the blogger’s appeals hearing, Human Rights Watch said. A lower court sentenced Mkhaitir to death for apostasy in December 2014 for his article, in which he criticized fellow Mauritanians for citing incidents from the life of the Prophet Muhammad to legitimize caste discrimination in Mauritania. Mkhaitir belongs to the so-called “forgerons,” which is viewed as a lower caste. An appeals court upheld the death sentence.

Map of Mauritania
Map of Mauritania

But on January 31, 2017, the Supreme Court sent the case back for a new trial. On November 8, 2017, the Court of Appeals in Nouadhibou reduced Mkhaitir’s punishment to two years of prison and a fine. The prosecutor general immediately challenged the appeals court ruling before the Supreme Court.

The lowered sentence should have led to Mkhaitir’s release, since he had been in preventive detention for nearly four years. But in the days since the ruling, one of the defense lawyers, Fatimata M’Baye, has been unable to locate her client. A presidential adviser  reportedly stated that Mkhaitir had not been freed and would remain detained until the Supreme Court’s review. His whereabouts are unknown.

Mauritania’s new draft law on apostasy and the failure of authorities to immediately release and void charges against Mkhaitir for his peaceful expression violate international law guarantees protecting free speech, such as those enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Mauritania has been a party since 2004.

In its general comment number 34, the United Nations Human Rights Committee—the body of independent experts that monitors governments’ compliance with the ICCPR—makes clear that “prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant,” unless they constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence.

Flag of Mauritania
Flag of Mauritania

Both UN and African human rights standards on the right to life encourage countries to move toward abolition of the death penalty and in countries that retain it, make clear that it should be limited to the most serious crimes and may be imposed only after a fair trial. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has stated that: “In those States which have not yet abolished the death penalty it is vital that it is used for only the most serious crimes – understood to be crimes involving intentional killing.”

“Instead of introducing laws to toughen punishment for apostasy, Mauritania should be clarifying the legal status and whereabouts of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir, who should never have spent a single day in prison for his writings,” Whitson said.

HRW

Sierra Leone Parliament Ratifies Key Bumbuna II Project Documents

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 4, 2017/ — Following on from the Government of Sierra Leone’s signing of the 25-year Power Purchase and Implementation Agreements with Joule Africa in August 2017, these important project documents have now been ratified by the Sierra Leone Parliament. This marks another important milestone in the development of the Bumbuna II hydropower project which, when completed, will provide much-needed all-year round power to Sierra Leone.

Political Map of Sierra Leone
Political Map of Sierra Leone

A press statement issued in London on Tuesday, said, under the conditions of the agreement, local project company Seli Hydropower, jointly owned by Joule Africa and its local partner Energy Services Company (ESCO), will build an extension to the existing 50 MW hydro station, Bumbuna I, situated in the north east of the country, adding a further 143 MW of power capacity. Construction on the extension is anticipated to start in the second half of 2018 with operations forecast to start four years later. Seli Hydropower, will be responsible for building, owning and operating Bumbuna II and will also be responsible for operating Bumbuna I.

The release quoted Patrick Beckley, Chairman of Seli Hydropower as saying, “We would like to thank the Government of Sierra Leone for their ongoing support and in maintaining their commitment to the Bumbuna II project ahead of General Elections in early 2018. I am delighted that we received approval for ratification in Parliament with no exemptions –  a clear indication that there is unanimous cross-party support for this project.”

“The development of Bumbuna II has always been a key part of the country’s long-term energy strategy and we look forward to being able to deliver affordable, all-year round power for the consumers of Sierra Leone,” Beckley further added.

In comments, Andrew Cavaghan, Joule Africa’s Chairman and a Director of Seli Hydropower, added that, “I am pleased that we have reached another important milestone in the development of the Bumbuna II project. We are making good progress on all fronts and will look to build on this momentum in the coming weeks and months as we continue to consult with interested parties, appoint a contractor and finalise the relevant financing.”

West African Journal Magazine