August 31, 1999

Corporal Foday Saybana Sankoh
Leader of the Revolutionary United Front
Lome, Togo

Dear Corporal Sankoh:

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the RUF's lack of compliance with the agreement to release prisoners of war and non-combatants as stipulated in the May l8 Ceasefire Agreement, and again in the July 7 Peace Agreement, both signed by you and the Government of Sierra Leone in Lome, Togo. Despite these agreements, only 482 civilians, 345 of whom are children, have been officially released by your forces to date. Of the one hundred ECOMOG prisoners thought to be in your custody, only eighteen have been officially released.

We wish to draw your attention to Article XXI of the Lome Peace Agreement which states as follows: "All political prisoners of war as well as all non-combatants shall be released immediately and unconditionally by both parties, in accordance with the Statement of June 2, l999, which is contained in Annex 3 and constitutes an integral part of the present Agreement."

We also wish to remind you about the July 28, 1999 directive issued by you to all of your commanders in which you stated that "... all commanders are hereby instructed to release immediately all remaining Prisoners of War and non-combatants by this instruction."

We also note that nearly all of the official and unofficial releases of abductees have come from the Western and Northern areas of rebel control; particularly from the Occra Hills, Lunsar and Makeni. We question why, if following an order to all of your commanders country wide, there have been no releases from the Eastern rebel strongholds of Kono, Magburaka and Kailahun.

The 345 children officially released, and some 650 who have either been unofficially released or who managed to escape, represent only a fraction of the many thousands of adults and children abducted by your rebel group during the country's eight year civil war. More than 3,000 children were reported missing during a January 1999 offensive on Freetown alone. UNICEF has described the condition of the released children as being "malnourished, haggard and in tattered clothing," and many were observed to have scabies and related skin diseases, sores and cuts. Many of the young girls were pregnant. Human Rights Watch believes the physical and physiological suffering endured by these children and adults has been profound. Particularly the children, who, according to recent testimonies taken by us in Freetown, have been forced to endure tremendous hardship, have been subjected to forced labor and sexual abuse, and have witnessed unspeakable atrocities committed by your troops. We believe their prompt release should be given the highest priority by your organization.

We therefore call on you to demonstrate your commitment to these agreements and to use your leadership to ensure the prompt release of all abductees and prisoners of war whose freedom has been mandated by the Lome Peace Agreement.

We greatly appreciate your immediate attention in this matter.

Sincerely,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director, Africa Division