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"How are We in this World Now?"
Examining the Experiences of Persons Disabled by War in the Peace

Processes of Sierra Leone


Pearl Praise Gottschalk
B.A., University of Winnipeg, 2002

Masters of Art, Dispute Resolution, University of Victoria, 2007

©Pearl Gottschalk, 2007
University of Victoria

All rights reserved. This dissertation may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by
photocopying or other means, without the permission of the author.

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This study provides an analysis of the experience of persons disabled by war in the peace

processes of Sierra Leone such as the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration

Program, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Special Court and the electoral

process. The research findings are a result of participant observation and qualitative

interviewing methodologies carried out over two months of intensive in-country field

research. The main themes that resulted from the research are: Inclusion and Participation

in Decision Making, Utilizing Unique Initiatives, Dissension among the Disabled, Justice

Unfulfilled, Recognizing the Unintended Consequences of Peace Building, and

Experiences with Policy Makers. The results of these findings are discussed in relation to

current notions of peace, reconciliation, justice and retribution. Particular attention is paid

to the current relationship between the international community and persons disabled by

war in Sierra Leone, and recommendations are made by participants regarding ways to

strengthen and build on that relationship.

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He stated that in all of the youth funded initiatives for peace in Sierra

Leone, there was no mention of equal participation of youth with disabilities. In the

youth-led peace processes (such as the National Youth Council and Children's Forum

Network, both funded by international donors) youth without disabilities would not sit at

the same table as youth with disabilities. He said this made working together on peace

issues very difficult and was very discouraging for youth with disabilities.

The participants comments reveal the importance of consulting persons disabled

by war in the decision making process of peace initiatives that intimately affect their

lives. Participants revealed that certain issues were not considered in the decision making

process, such as safety, inclusion in project design and representation in decision making

councils, and equal opportunity to participate in peace conferences.

Utilizing Unique Initiatives

Another important theme to participants was how the peace processes could have

drawn on their unique abilities and initiatives for peace. This recommendation is a direct

result of the question posed by one participant, who stated, "Why did no one ask the

victims what they needed for peace to come and why didn�t they build upon our ideas

instead of bringing in outside pre-conceived ideas of what we needed and wanted. We,

the amputees, should bring the peace."

Under this theme, three issues arose. Firstly, participants with disabilities

continually restated during interviews and field visits that their initiatives or ideas for

building a peaceful country were never "valued" or "recognized as viable options for

peace." Secondly, the participants felt that it was their unique responsibility to "work

together for peace" and to build reconciliation through their own initiatives. Thirdly, I

examine the difficulties in achieving funding for these unique initiatives.

Value and Recognition

Certain participants commented on the fact that the international community and

the national government refused to "value" their ideas for peace and to officially

"recognize" their ability to come up with their own methods of conflict resolution. One

participant stated, "Maybe they think that because we are now disabled, then we must be

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stupid and no longer worth listening to." This comment reflects the overwhelmingly

prevalent attitude towards persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone who are treated as

second-class citizens who are uneducated and worthless to society.15

Another participant commented on a massive peace radio project that was

externally funded and carried out in Sierra Leone and stated, "We already have a voice

for disability and peace issues on the radio and instead of building on that they brought in

something from outside and we had to shut down. Why didn't they just come to us and try

to work together?" Overall, many participants spoke of the importance of achieving value

and recognition for their unique initiatives for peace.

Working Together for Peace

Secondly, other participants were concerned mainly with the issue of finding their

own ways to work together for peace and reconciliation. One participant stated, �Peace

must begin with the victims so they can provide unique ways to forgive." A general

feeling among participants was that the peace processes are in the past and now and "we

must work together for peace." In order to achieve this, a host of different persons

disabled by war formed a coalition, which includes the perpetrators of crimes, the

military disabled from all sides, war wounded, amputees and an organization for the

blind. The members believe that by working together the coalition can be much stronger

than disparate groups in attaining justice and reparations. Thus far, the coalition has

worked together to achieve reconciliation and forgiveness among its members and to

show Sierra Leonean society that "reconciliation between victims and perpetrators is

possible." However, despite their constant searching for assistance no donor has come

forward to grant them funds for any of their activities.16 Participants also spoke of the

importance of apology, and how the sincere apologies of ex-combatants was the first step

to reconciliation and healing in society. He stated, "What the big donors missed in the

peace processes was the importance of apology.�

Overall, the participants had genuine desires for a peace process that was

culturally and socially relevant for them. Not all participants were educated or politically

15 Beatings, human sacrifice and cruel punishments are only a few of the tortures inflicted on persons with
disabilities in Sierra Leone due to cultural and social issues that are still prevalent. For more information
see Vision for the Blind Annual Report 2007.
16 For further information see Juliet Ansunama, "War Disables Sensitize members on Reparation in Sierra
Leone". April 18, 2007.

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Peace Processes

For the purposes of this paper, the term "peace process" will refer solely to the

Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Special Court, the Disarmament

Demobilization and Reintegration process, the Electoral process and other large scale

international or national peace building efforts that are mentioned herein. It cannot

critique the vast array of smaller initiatives by civil society or non-governmental

organizations that have brought peace to Sierra Leone in their various ways.

Persons Disabled By War

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone defines persons

disabled by war as, �victims who have become temporarily or permanently physically

disabled, either totally or partially, as a consequence of the conflict� (5:92). Amputees

are defined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as "war-wounded victims who

lost their upper or lower limbs as a result of the conflict" (10:90). However, other body

parts such as the nose, ears, lips, genitalia and the toes were also amputated by rebels. In

this study all people that suffer from a disability (amputees and other disabilities) that are

a direct result of the war are termed here as "persons disabled by war" in order to clarify

the distinction between these persons and those who suffer disabilities from other causes

(natural causes, accidents and so on). Although I acknowledge that these are imperfect

terms they are the actual terms that are being used by disabled people in Sierra Leone to

refer to each other and these terms are not my own creation. They also call each other

"disables" and "war disables" and these terms will often appear in direct quotes. I

received permission from the various participants to use these various terms in my study

in order not to offend anyone.

War Survivors

I also use the term "war survivors" which refers to anyone who was affected

negatively by the war and thus can refer to a wide range of people. I use this term instead

of "victims" because this is the common phrase used by people in Sierra Leone in order

to break the cycle of feeling victimized and disempowered. When the word "victim" is

used in this paper it is in a quote by a participant as it their right to use it as they see fit.

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