The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces’ ‘Other Ranks Canteen’ at the military headquarters at Cockril, Wilkinson Road in Freetown, which was once converted to a crime den is now a court martial centre.The structure, which lost its intended purpose and became a haven for illicit activities, is being renovated with funds from International Military Training Team (IMATT) and transformed to a court martial centre for soldiers to seek redress.The centre was officially opened by vice president Sam Sumana, and the centre is expected to swing into operation pretty soon. In his welcome address at the ceremony which attracted brigadiers, commanders, commanding officers, deputy chief of staff and adjutants, Lt Col. Ibrahim Koroma said the building stood symbolic “as a consequence of conflict and the commitment to move from the ashes of war to progress and the determination to succeed.”
Thus in this context, “conflict could be said to be positive as the Chinese do believe,” he sated. He also noted that the building symbolized the arduous effort of ten previous legal IMATT advisers to the RSLAF over the years. “This project is a culmination of all our desires in terms of the execution of military law within the RSLAF,” he concluded.
The judge advocate for the court martial centre, Justice Ademusu assured that he would ensure that the trials were free, fair and transparent. He stressed that, “justice would be transparent.” IMATT’s commander Jonathan Powe said, “it is superb to see it open [as] it has been a long process. It is an example of close cooperation between the UK and RSLAF. It is a symbol of progress and achievement and an effective military disciplinary system”. The IMMAT commander pointed out that, “the building is one thing, what is important is that we see the court martial is busy, active, dispensing transparent and effective justice.” Chief of defense staff, Sam Gboma, stated that “this is no kangaroo court,” adding that the establishment of the court was very important “to maintain discipline and the rule of law which are the fundamentals of every armed force all over the world.”The minister of Defence, Alfred Paolo Conteh, accentuated that, “traditionally court martial in Sierra Leone has been regarded as a tunnel leading to the firing squad and it was used specifically to try military personnel accused of treason.” He explained that the establishment of the court martial within the RSLAF would not only see the military operating its own justice system but also serve as a deterrent to indiscipline and impunity that was sometime common practice in the country. The Defence minister thanked stakeholders who made what he described as a “laudable effort” to become a reality.In his statement, Justice Tolla-Thompson explained that the judiciary would continue to provide legal the expertise for the military until the military was in position to harness that position. In his keynote address, vice president Sam Sumana said the court martial provided a big boost to the RSLAF. He expressed profound gratitude to IMATT for the refurbishment of the structure which used to be an “Other Ranks Canteen”.The Veep noted that, “military men and women carry arms and they have a responsibility to maintain the peace.”