Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Domestic violence is biggest threat to west Africa's women, IRC says

(A 15-year-old girl seeking medical treatment waits at the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Monrovia after being raped. MSF in Liberia is encouraging get victims to come forward for treatment. Photograph: Glenna Gordon/AFP/Getty Images)

Husbands, not strangers or men with guns, are now the biggest threat to women in post-conflict west Africa, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) released on Tuesday.

The IRC report, Let Me Not Die Before My Time: Domestic Violence in West Africa, based on data collected over 10 years by the IRC in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, said domestic violence is the "most urgent, pervasive and significant protection issue for women in west Africa".

It calls on the international community to recognise domestic violence as a humanitarian issue and to increase funding significantly to address the problem, saying: "If the humanitarian community ignores what has been considered a 'private matter', it will fail to confront one of the most significant public health crises and primary obstacles to women's empowerment in post-war societies."

Sierra Leone passed a domestic violence act in 2007, establishing basic rights for women in the home and entitlements for survivors such as free medical care. Domestic violence is now punishable by a fine of up to 5m leones (£720) and up to two years in prison. But by the end of 2010, only one person had been prosecuted. Amnesty International's report on Sierra Leone last year said: "Women's lack of access to the police, exorbitant fees charged by medical officers and pressure to make out-of-court settlements all contributed to impunity and state inaction."

In Ivory Coast and Liberia, no such laws exist. In Liberia, Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, amended the penal code to make rape illegal – previously only gang rape was a crime. In 2008, the government established a special court to try cases of sexual violence. But since it opened in 2009, only 18 cases of rape, resulting in 10 convictions, have been tried there.

In a small church on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, an elderly lady from a women's group jumped to her feet. With a smile on her face, she cried out: "Women, O women!" – the start of the chant Liberian women use to unite each other. "Don't just sit down. Do something positive," the group replied with force.

To read the full article, please go to the Guardian's website

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Taylor verdict absorbed by a region that can forget, but not forgive

Twenty-odd miles from Sierra Leone's seaside capital of Freetown, the tiny hamlet of Grafton lies off a rutted dirt track. In a clearing surrounded by a cluster of low, sand-coloured buildings, three old men idle their time away under the shade of a mango tree, watching goats and chickens wandering past. It's a sleepy rural scene – marred only by the fact all three are missing an arm or leg.

The men are a lingering reminder of the war that gripped this tiny nation of 5 million for over a decade, ending only in 2002. Sorie Sawanah, a former taxi driver, rarely speaks about the day he became one of the statistics of the brutal "Operation No Living Thing", when drug-crazed child soldiers rampaged through Freetown in 1999.

On the eve of Charles Taylor's conviction for "aiding and abetting" such attacks as he and his allies sought control of lucrative diamond fields, Sorie maintained his silence. "I don't want to recall them days," Sorie said, covering his face with a shaking hand.

Sorie's son Ibrahim had nightmares for years about the scene he witnessed cowering behind a bush. "A child soldier give my father 'short sleeves'. A boy 10 years of age carrying a long military knife. He say, I dey chop your arm, your arm go fly! Then he mark," Ibrahim mimes a machete tapping at his elbow, "one, two, three – cut arm final! But the arm no cut right, so he cut again."

"Today it is like we are free. I will sleep well, well today. All these years Taylor lived well, but I can never go to school because my father cannot earn money. Today we can forget, even if we never forgive," Ibrahim said.

Like many in the country ravaged by 10 years of war, money was too scarce to make the short trip to the Freetown-based Sierra Leone special court where several hundred had quietly cheered the downfall of Taylor. Instead, Ibrahim received the news from a friend in the capital, and in turn set about passing the news by text message.

To read the full article, please go to the Guardian website.

In his own country, Charles Taylor still has support

The guilty verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes in Sierra Leone this week, is sinking in across West Africa. The historic judgment of the first African president to be prosecuted in an international court leaves Taylor facing a lengthy sentence in a British prison.

More than 50,000 people were killed during the 11-year conflict, and thousands more were left with brutal amputations — the macabre signature of the Revolutionary United Front rebel group. There were scenes of jubilation in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, but the reaction was very different in neighboring Liberia.

Before the verdict was announced, crowds bustled and debated on the streets in downtown Monrovia, Liberia's capital. There was a strong — maybe somewhat naïve — expectation Taylor would be coming back to his homeland.

People cheered and clapped as they saw him appear on television. The man who was president from 1997 to 2003 still commands a lot of support and even adoration here. But as the verdict finally came down, the mood shifted.  To listen to Tamasin Ford's radio report on NPR, please click on this link.

Charles Taylor verdict spurs anger from Liberians

In an historic judgment, the UN-backed court at The Hague found Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, guilty of war crimes. He was convicted of abetting murder, rape, and the forced enlistment of child soldiers during Sierra Leone's civil war. To hear Tell Me More's Michel Martin talk about reactions in Liberia and Sierra Leone with journalist Tamasin Ford, please click on this link.

Charles Taylor's ex-wife: 'He's not responsible for Sierra Leone war crimes' - video

After a five-year prosecution, the international criminal court reaches a verdict this week in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of war crimes in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Jewel Taylor, his former wife, now a Liberian state senator, says the peoples of Sierra Leone and Liberia need to move on from their pasts.  To watch this video, please go to the Guardian website.

Charles Taylor verdict: 'He should taste the bitterness of the law'

The start of the rainy season in Freetown doesn't dampen the vibrancy of the city. Blue, pink and green houses line its narrow winding roads. Street sellers wrapped in brightly printed cloth swarm through the neverending traffic. People are trying to move on from the horrors of Sierra Leone's civil war. Some can even forgive, but very few can forget, the death and devastation of one of the most brutal conflicts in Africa.

"I wasn't a beggar before. Now I have come to be a beggar. Just to get food for my children, to send them to school," says Kadiatu Fofana, who lives with a constant reminder of the atrocities committed in the war. She sits outside her concrete shack in a wheelchair, having lost both her legs after an attack by the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

They came to her village in 1999. As she ran, they started hacking at her legs with machetes. Both legs had to be amputated in hospital.

Between 1991 and 2002, at least 50,000 people were killed across the country, thousands more were mutilated and 2 million displaced from their homes – close to half the population.

For many, there is one man they hold responsible – Charles Taylor, former president of neighbouring Liberia. The first African head of state to be tried in an international court, Taylor will on Thursday hear the verdict of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in his five-year trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

Edward Conteh, another of Sierra Leone's amputees who lost his left arm just below the elbow to an RUF axe, wants Taylor punished. "He should never be free to breathe the free air that we breathe again. He once told Sierra Leoneans that we are going to taste the bitterness of war, so Charles Taylor should taste the bitterness of the law."

To read more, please visit the Guardian website

Charles Taylor faces verdict from brutal African war

A court in the Netherlands is set to deliver a verdict Thursday in a case involving a former head of state charged with international war crimes.

Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, is on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands. He is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity — including murder, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers — in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Tens of thousands died during Sierra Leone's vicious civil war, one that was infamous for the brutal hacking off of limbs.
Today, survivors of these atrocities make up the members of a soccer team in Makeni, a city in central Sierra Leone.  To listen to Tamasin Ford's radio report on All Things Considered, please go to the NPR wesbite.

After decades away, tourists return to Liberia

Liberia has been better known for conflict than tourism over the past couple of decades.  But in April 2012, 150 passengers aboard the National Geographic Explorer cruise ship arrived in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. It was the largest group of tourists to visit the country since the 1970s.

To listen to Tamasin Ford's radio report on All Things Consirered, go to the NPR website

Liberian LGBT rights under spotlight

Anti-gay sentiment in Liberia has been growing since the U.S. announced plans, last year, to promote LGBT rights overseas. New legislation in Liberia calls for punishing homosexuality with longer jail time, and one group has been handing out fliers targeting gay-rights supporters. To listen to host Michel Martin talking with freelance journalist Tamasin Ford, please click on this link.

How do you put a price on nature?

That's exactly what the British government has just decided to do: they've set up a Natural Capital Committee to assess the economic value of every tree and butterfly in the land.

This week, One Planet speaks to the chair of the Committee, economist Dieter Helm. We ask him what natural capital is, why he wants to put a value on it - and Mike puts some of London's trees at risk by asking the public how much they'd pay him not to cut them down.

Also on the show, an investigation from award-winning photographer Toby Smith - are journalists reporting on environmental issues increasingly vulnerable to attacks and intimidation?

And we hear from Liberia, where foreign investment is finally starting to flood in after years of civil war. Big international companies are arriving and taking over vast areas of the country - in a move some local farmers and activists describe as a land grab

To listen to this programme, please click on this link