Liberian women's war wounds fester
26 June 2013, 10:03
Monrovia - It is over a week since Ruth Flomo was last able
to walk, the bullet lodged in her leg an agonising reminder of the terror of
being shot in crossfire during Liberia's bloody civil war 10 years ago.
Flomo, then just a teenager, was caught in an exchange of
fire between the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and
troops loyal to ex-president Charles Taylor as the conflict was nearing an end
"I am living with a bullet in me," the 28-year-old
said, her voice gentle and supplicating, as she held the back of her scarred
thigh while resting in an armchair at her home in the Liberian capital,
"We were fleeing when a stray bullet penetrated my
right leg. I was rushed to the hospital where doctors conducted an x-ray and
said that the bullet that pierced my leg was still in my flesh and was just an
inch away from my bone."
The medics in the Monrovia hospital were ill-equipped to
deal with gunshot wounds and had to discharge Flomo in the hope that the bullet
would work its own way out. Ten years later, it regularly causes her serious
"After a week in the hospital I was discharged and sent
home. I was advised to keep taking antibiotics, ampicillin or penicillin, with the
hope that the [bullet] would have come out but to this date it is still in me.
"Every now and then I feel pain in my leg and my entire
body. I don't have the money to go to hospital to remove it. I do not have the
means of paying the bill," she said.
Psychological and physical wounds
Deep psychological and physical wounds remain in Liberia
after two back-to-back civil wars which ran from 1989 to 2003 and left a
quarter of a million people dead.
Numerous rebel factions raped, maimed and killed, some
making use of drugged-up child soldiers, and deep ethnic rivalries and
bitterness remain across the west African nation of four million people.
There is no official figure for people living with
poorly-treated gunshot and explosives wounds but charities estimate that Flomo
is among 5 000 women and children coping with the pain of shrapnel they cannot
afford to have removed.
Miatta Gayflor was just 12 when a bomb exploded near her as
she fled a gun battle between government troops and rebels in Monrovia, sending
white-hot shrapnel searing into her buttocks.
"It is sometimes difficult for me to sit. I feel rotten
pain in my buttocks for at least a week every two months. The only treatment I
can afford is a painkiller," the 23-year-old said, breaking into sobs.
"I was not armed, my mother did not have weapons and we
were only running for our lives and that is the crime we committed. I can still
remember my mother holding me in her arms crying for help while I was
bleeding," Gayflor said.
She and thousands like her have formed a Liberian branch of
the Association of Disabled Females International to demand compensation from
the government for their suffering.
"The association is about only women and children
because we did not pick up arms to fight. We were harmless but we suffered
most," the group's executive director, Meima Hoff said.
"We have been going from office to office to cry for
help but no one has come to our rescue."
A glance at the group's membership provides a gruesome
snapshot of the privations women suffered during the civil wars, with many of
the activists made blind, missing limbs or suffering mental or neurological
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up by
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to probe war crimes and rights abuses between
1979 and 2003, and particularly during the brutal conflicts that raged in
1989-96 and 1999-2003.
The commission said a compensation scheme should be set up
alongside a war crimes court to prosecute eight ex-warlords for alleged crimes
against humanity but the government is yet to implement the recommendations.
Ten years after the war, no money has been made available
and the only Liberian to face trial is Charles Taylor, and that was for his
role in neighbouring Sierra Leone's civil conflict, not that in his own
The former leader is appealing a 50-year prison sentence
handed down in April last year for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in
exchange for blood diamonds during a civil war that claimed 120 000 lives
between 1991 and 2001.
"It is time for all of us to fight for our rights...
especially women that were made disabled because of the war. We have lots of
women and children that are disabled as a result of the war in Liberia,"
"They did not pick up arms. They did not fight war. Out
of wickedness, they were made victims of the war. You see in Sierra Leone they
have got their reparation. This was part of their reconciliation process.
"But since the TRC process ended in Liberia, the
government has not opened that chapter. It is time for us to demand reparation
for war-made victims in the country."