Rebel Leaders Urged to Punish Perpetrators
Human Rights Watch called on Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma, the two Sierra Leonean rebel leaders, to initiate criminal investigations against rebel soldiers who have perpetrated crimes against the civilian population.
Over the last two months Human Rights Watch has documented numerous rebel violations of the July 7 peace agreement between the rebels and the Sierra Leone government. These violations include rape, torture, attempted amputation, shooting, abduction, vehicle ambush, and extensive looting of property in the central and western parts of the country.
"These atrocities are not covered by the blanket amnesty, and the perpetrators must be held accountable," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa division. "The Sierra Leonean people have suffered enough. It is now time to break the cycle of impunity. Koroma and Sankoh must use their new government positions to end the terror."
Sankoh and Koroma recently returned to Freetown to take up positions within the government. Under the Lome Peace Accord, Sankoh was given a governmental appointment with the status of vice-president, and Koroma was recently appointed to head the governmental Commission for the Consolidation of Peace.
In a October 26 letter to the two rebel leaders, Human Rights Watch said the atrocities violate both international human rights law and the provisions of the July 7, 1999 Lome Peace Accord. The Lome Accord calls for a total cessation of hostilities, commits the Revolutionary United Front to lay down its arms in exchange for representation in a new government, and includes a controversial general amnesty for all crimes committed during the civil war.
The violations documented by Human Rights Watch include those perpetrated during an October 15 attack on Makeni, an ambush against a government bus on October 4 near Magbondo Village, and numerous raids on villages around the Masiaka and Port Loko areas.
Human Rights Watch reminded Chairman Sankoh that the Lome Peace Accord included provisions guaranteeing the security of humanitarian operations. The rebels have targetted humanitarian operations in and around Makeni. The vital work of these aid agencies, working to alleviate acute shortages of food and medicine affecting tens of thousands of civilians, has now effectively ground to a halt.
There are also continued reports of rape committed by rebel soldiers during the Makeni attack and after the October 4 hijacking of a government bus near Magbondo village.
Human Rights Watch also called on the U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to publicly denouce the rebel actions and bring all possible pressure to bear on Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma to halt rebel atrocities. Secretary Albright visited Sierra Leone on October 17 and met with rebel and government leaders.