Rights Group Urges Immediate Action to Stop ‘Mob Justice'
Human Rights Watch today expressed grave concern about credible reports that government-allied forces in Sierra Leone were torturing and executing suspected members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group responsible for brutal abuses against civilians in Sierra Leone. The rights organization urged the authorities of Sierra Leone and the international community to take immediate steps to prevent a descent into ‘mob justice' in Sierra Leone.
We are receiving credible reports that government-allied forces in Sierra Leone are torturing and executing suspected RUF fighters, including RUF fighters who have given up their arms and completed rehabilitation programs," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The military authorities must take immediate steps to rein in their fighters and prevent a descent into mob justice." Takirambudde urged the United Nations to use its large presence in Sierra Leone to stop such abuses.
A Sierra Leone paramilitary commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Human Rights Watch that suspected RUF members had been taken to a government-allied paramilitary base in Freetown on the 8th of May. According to the commander, the five men were severely tortured and beaten, and the commander personally saw that their ears had been cut off. When the commander returned later that day, he was informed that the five had been taken away and he believed they had been executed. The paramilitary commander also told Human Rights Watch that government-allied commanders were facing serious difficulties in keeping their men under control. Drugs are being sold and used openly within the base, making many soldiers threateningly volatile.
The five men are believed to have been part of a larger group of 55 RUF allegedly ex-combatants who were arrested by pro-government paramilitia groups at Calaba town that same day (May 8). Many of the detained ex-combatants were allegedly carrying identification cards showing they had completed a demobilization program. The fate of the other detained men is unknown. Human Rights Watch warned that government-condoned attacks on former RUF combatants who completed rehabilitation programs is not only a war crime but could also lead many former RUF fighters to return to active fighting.
"Tensions are running high in Sierra Leone, especially against the RUF which has been responsible for terrible abuses in the past," said Takirambudde. "It is at this crucial time that the authorities in Sierra Leone need to stand up for the rule of law, and prevent their soldiers from going on a witch-hunt against RUF suspects and demobilized fighters."
The laws of war specifically prohibit the mistreatment, torture, mutilation or execution of captured combatants. The laws of war also provide extensive protections to "all persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take part in hostilities," a category which includes former combatants who have been demobilized.