Liberia:
Disarmament
and the river that the filtration system was
set up to overflowed into the latrines.  It was
a total mess.  Because my staff were on
top of there jobs I spent most of my time on
the back of the the camp managers to
make sure things were brought up to
standard.   


While the UN buracracy was slow and
inept.  PAKBATT did a great job.  Their
purpose was to provide overall security for
the county.  there was a fear factor about
Lofa County.  Liberians and the
humanitarian aid community always
perceived it to be the most dangerous area
in the country since it was the battle ground
for the last 3 years of the war.  However,
while I was there security incidents
happened in other parts of Liberia but
never in Lofa.  A lot of that is due to the
efforts of PAKBATT especially during the
disarmament process.  In addition, they
made the roads passable and when we
got stuck in the goop they pulled us out.  
When the disarmament camp had no water
they trucked water over from their
compound.  In essence nothing would
have worked without PAKBATT.



Shockingly, ex-combatants in the camps
were punks.  They were rude in your face.  It
was like being harrassed in a prison.  It
was all pretty silly since they were out in 4
days and were relatively civil in town.  
Occasionally they could get in your face but
it was compared to walking down the halls
in junior high.  Who ever knew the life
experience you could pull from junior high.?
 All my bullies would be proud.   


Most Liberians who had lived in Lofa before
the war hadn't returned during the DD
process.  So.... literally Voinjama town was
packed with young men who loved to get in
each others face.  There was always some
type of drama happening.  


While all this was happening my project
began to mobilize the women who had
been associated with the fighting forces to
form a support group.   This group was
formed by them to allow them to vent their
unique experience as the times were
changing.  Some of the women had been
abducted and forced to marry
ex-combatants.  Other women married
commanders for security because it was
the best choice available to them.  There
were also women who volunteered to fight,
although not many.  



At one point we did a focus group with them
to see how the protected themselves
against sexual assault and domestic
violence during the war to see if any of their
security measures could be useful for
protecting women post-conflict.    Individual
women explained how they were preyed
upon by the enemy, men within their
fighting force as well as men in their unit
(men they fought side by side with).  
Ususally they made sure they found a
"man"  so no one else would toy with them.  
If that man died theyquickly found another.  
One group said that when one of their
colleagues was raped they found the man
accused of it.  They told dig his grave and
the shot him in the head.  No one bothered
their posse again.  Obviously this was not
the type of action that we wanted to
promote post conflict, but we took the
opportunity to praise them for banding
together to stop sexual assault from
happening to them.  
ex-combatants waiting for their payment for disarming, Voinjama, Liberia
mural in elementary school
depicting parts of a rifle
Voinjama, Liberia
waiting to hand in hand grenades
Voinjama, Liberia
Grafitti in school
Voinjama, Liberia
waiting to hand in RPGs
Voinjama, Liberia
girls waiting to disarm - Voinjama, Liberia
waiting to disarm - Voinjama, Liberia
child soldier - Voinjama, Liberia
Parents waiting with children for disarmament payment  -
Voinjama, Liberia
sitting in front of poster of children looking for their families  - Voinjama, Liberia
* girls handing in RPGs - Liberia
* handmade gun - Liberia
* boy handing in RPGs - Liberia
* boy handing in RPGs - Liberia
* handmade gun - Liberia
* handmade gun - Liberia
* handmade gun - Liberia
* handmade gun - Liberia
* Photos Courtesy of PAKBATT
When the warring parties signed the Accra Accords in
2003, they were obliged to hand in their arms to the
United Nations.  In the past during disarmament /
demobilization (DD) programs, women and children
who had fought in or supported the military efforts
largely lost out of the DD programs which included
schooling and training in non- violent fields.  Therefore
to address this issue the UN included all individuals
into the DD process as long as they could prove that
they were associated with a fighting forces i.e. they
didn't necessarily have to fire a gun but they could
have been a porter, a cook, sex slave, etc.  Because
there were no records verifying individuals with any of
the fighting forces, the UN relied heavily on the word of
the ex-commanders to determine who was actually
associated with their fighting force.


It was a total racket.  Ex-commanders handed
out  guns  to anyone.  Of course, individual had to give the ex-commander a cut of
the $300 dollar payment they received from the UN for disarming, but the
individual got the ID card for future trainings.  The problem was that the UN only
estimated 50,000 ex-combatants would disarm.  The actual number of individuals
passing through the system was twice the amount they figured.  There was a
point when we couldn't reunify children passing through the system because their
mother and father were still in the camp collecting their cash.  This created a huge
backlog as we couldn't take in new kids until space opened up.


Because money that was allocated to the rehabilitation of ex-combatants
disappeared to pay the DD stipends.  This meant that little money was left over to
help train ex-combatants in new skills.  Nothing better than to have bitter kids who
know how to launch an RPG.  


My organization, IRC, was asked to provide services to women and children as
they passed through the disarmament camp.  The process took about four days in
which people were asked to live in a camp.  My specific project was to look at the
reproductive health needs of women and men and to document cases of gender
violence that occurred during the war  Unfortunately because process was only 4
days before the excombatants went back to the home villages and counties, we
were unable to provide adequate counseling to those
those individuals who may have needed
additional support.  IRC, also, helped
reunite children who were abducted and/or
separated from their parents.  


The process was the biggest boondoggle I
have ever participated in.  The UN system
was a mess.  There were a variety of
different arms of the UN in charge of  
different elements of the process.  Even
though they had marathon planning
meetings and consistent debriefing
sessions, they still couldn't communicate
with each other.


Everything went wrong.  For Lofa County the
biggest mistake was the decision to start
the DD process in the middle of the rainy
season.....or should I say the mud season.  
The contractors never completed the camp
before it started.  Much of the materials
needed to finish the construction, as well
as manage 800 individuals passing
through the camp
in a day, were stuck on trucks in the mud.  The initial food, medicine, water
filtration system and tarp sat 4 - 20 km away from the camp for 2 weeks as the
Pakistani Peace keepers (PAKBATT) worked 24/7 with there bulldozers and
tanks trying to haul them out.  


The camp was completely under standards.  There was no potable water for
two weeks.  When asked how they justify the absence of potable water, the UN
water and sanitation engineer stated that the standards set out in the
universally followed Sphere Project were overrated.  It was weeks before the
generators that powered the water filtration system and the night security lights.
 It took another few weeks for them to protect the live wires and dig them
underground so that the ex-combatants wouldn't trip over them.  During rain
storms water would flow through the tents and the