Standing for what is right: consequences of conflict on disability

We must treat every disabled person with equal respect and dignity, without discrimination. Disability doesn’t in any way mean inability.

My experience when I became blind was a dramatic one, as I was not born blind. I developed blindness at a very young age but luckily had support from my loving and caring parents, especially my mother who applied every effort for me to regain my sight.

Life was different after I lost my sight.   

While my mother was struggling between one eye clinic to another because she did not want me to lose my sight, Liberia was experiencing a serious arm insurrection involving several warring factions and the government. All the eye doctors that she previously visited advised her that she should take me outside of Liberia for advanced medical treatment to correct the problem with my eyes, but there was no way to exit the country because of the war. Consequently, I unfortunately lost my sight, and it was devastating for my family.

A few years later, after so many attempts to restore my sight, my mother passed away, may her soul rest in perfect peace. It hit me so hard that I went into depression and dejection. I lost all hope in life and felt that my world had come to an end at a young age.

My parents never had any idea that schools for the blind existed, so I was just left at home with no hope for the future, while the rebels were advancing on the city of Monrovia in order to overthrow the government. The sounds of guns and the falling of bombs could be heard everywhere and there was no way for me to leave our home.

It is a war crime and a crime against humanity when a person or groups prevent or deny another person or groups of people the right to seek medical care knowingly or unknowingly, as happened to me. Their actions and activities have direct or indirect consequences, long term or short term, that will cause a disabled person or a group of people serious health problems.

After the end of the war and following several searches for institutions exclusively for the blind, I finally enrolled in a school where I learned how to type, read and write braille, and graduated. Upon my graduation, I again enrolled in a regular mainstream school for all, both disabled and non-disabled, where I excelled and was given a scholarship. However, at first, I was denied enrolment at the school because of my disability. The principal told me that they could not enrol me in their institution because the school did not have the right facility and learning materials for persons with disabilities, especially the visually impaired. Again, I was feeling depressed and exasperated, but with my constant persistence and never-giving-up attitude I was finally accepted at the institution and graduated from secondary school. I also trained in computer science at the Lion Club Computer Institute for the Blind (LICCIB) and I got a certificate in computer science.

The challenge was then how to enroll at a tertiary institution with no money and no scholarship. I started to struggle again but soon realised that life is your own imagination and how you transform that imagination into reality. I had the burning desire to enter university and study Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement, so I applied for several scholarships and fortunately was accepted. Again, I was denied access to the first university that I applied for due to the fact that there were no facilities or materials for visually impaired students. Finally, I enrolled at the Cuttington University where I read Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement and International Relations. With the skills that I now have, I believe that I can make a difference by standing and defending what is right and acceptable to humanity.

My quest and interest in the study of Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement came about when I realised that many of our colleagues, including myself, have suffered many accidents while walking or crossing the streets, entering into buildings or their surroundings. The disappointing part is that the constitution of the Republic of Liberia does not cover, capture, promote or protect its citizens living with disabilities; including Chapter 3 of the Constitution, which talks about Fundamental Rights.   

The war left every sector of the country destroyed, including infrastructure, the justice system and more. Liberia developed in a way that it excluded people with disabilities. All buildings and their surroundings, the public and private environment, are inaccessible to people living with disabilities, including the streets, schools, college and university campuses, hospitals, super-markets, etc. In this modern era, the country is trailing behind, with no consideration for people living with disabilities while reconstructing the country streets, public and private buildings, recreation centers, etc.

The trial of a suspected warlord accused of atrocities during Liberia’s civil war, is the first such case with hearings held partly on Liberian soil. Gibril Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean living in Finland since 2008, is accused by Finish prosecutors of murder, war crimes and aggravated crimes against humanity during the Liberian brutal civil war a generation ago. The 51-year-old, who denies the charges, appeared in Finland before Pirkanmaa District Court in Tampere, the Finnish town where he was arrested. The court then moved to Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone to hear testimony from up to 80 witnesses and visited sites where the atrocities are alleged to have been carried out under Massaquoi’s orders. We, the victims of our country brutal past, are satisfied seeing that the trial of Gibril Massaquoi and other war criminals is taking place and are happy to be part of this historic day.

I am not sure my sight would have been saved if there was no civil war in Liberia. But I do know that I am now able to deal with the consequences of war and contribute to a better Liberia. Bringing the perpetrators who committed heinous crimes against humanity during the Liberians civil war to justice and to face their victims and pay for the crimes they have committed is part of a better Liberia.

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