RUF fighters rape women and children in Makeni and other towns
(Freetown) — Human Rights Watch today accused rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone of committing numerous rapes against women and girls in the RUF controlled town of Makeni and at least three other towns briefly under RUF control during military operations in May. The rights group has interviewed women from Makeni, Port Loko, Lunsar, and the Yelibuya Peninsula who gave detailed accounts of rape, including a significant number of cases of gang rape and rape of young children as young as ten. In many cases victims were taken to rebel bases or command centers and raped there, suggesting that this is sanctioned behavior.
"Our research has uncovered a disturbing number of cases of rape by RUF fighters in the town of Makeni and other areas under their control," said Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Women in RUF-controlled areas are at constant risk of being abducted and raped. Once again this underlines the need for the protection of civilians to be the first priority of international and government troops in Sierra Leone."
In early May, the RUF took more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage and restarted offensive action against the Sierra Leone government. Eyewitnesses and survivors who have fled RUF-controlled areas have provided detailed accounts of widespread looting, rape, abduction, killings and mutilations by RUF forces in recent weeks (See HRW release, Fresh Reports of RUF Terror Tactics ). Human Rights Watch has interviewed more than one dozen women who were themselves raped by RUF fighters since early May.
Late in the night of Monday, May 22, a large group of RUF fighters came to the house of twenty-one-year-old "Myriam" (not her real name) in Makeni. The RUF fighters ordered Myriam and a second woman, "Asiatu," aged twenty-two, who had given birth just five days before into the living room of the compound. The rebels then ordered "Fatou," the second wife of Myriam's husband, to hold up a light and illuminate the room. A group of between ten and twelve rebels proceeded to gang-rape Myriam and Asiatu. "We were laid [on the floor] in the parlor and raped by one after the other," Myriam told Human Rights Watch, still in great pain from the gang rape. "It lasted a long time, one after the other. When one finished, the other one goes."
Her account was confirmed by her fellow wife, Fatou, who told Human Rights Watch: "They got hold of my mate [fellow wife] and another woman who had just given birth five days before. They raped them in the house. They undressed my mate and the new mother, then laid them in the parlor and twelve rebels raped them. They instructed me to take a lamp to light the parlor, saying ‘Let everyone come and witness.'"
"Malikah," aged twenty, was detained by RUF rebels in Makeni on May 20, while trying to flee fighting. She was taken to an RUF base known as "Arab compound," and raped by an RUF rebel going by the name of "Tongo Trouble."
"Madina," a seventeen-year-old student, told Human Rights Watch that RUF rebels came to her family home around May 9. Madina and her sister hid under the bed, but were found by RUF rebels who exclaimed, "Oh, these are young girls, they are good to go," and took them to an RUF house. The next morning, she was raped by an RUF fighter going by the name of "Blood." "I mentioned to him that I was on my period. He said he didn't want to know, that he wanted to rape me and if I refused him he would kill me. He forced me, he took off my skirts and raped me once." Later that afternoon, a second rebel came and raped Madina again. Her fifteen-year-old sister also was violently raped, according to Madina. Madina saw a very young girl whom she knew to be about ten years old brought to the compound and sexually abused: "There was no chance to talk to her. She was all bloody when they raped her, and she was crying. She was crying that they wounded her. She was so small that she was crawling along the ground from the pain, she could not even walk."
"Marie," a twenty-eight-year-old market trader, was detained by a group of six rebels who came to her Makeni home during fighting on the evening of May 18. She was taken to Hotel Gheboh, an RUF base, where two RUF rebels took her into a room and raped her: "They told me to lay down. I did not have the courage to talk back to them, I only obeyed them because I was fearful. Then the first one raped me, then the second one did it. I don't even know how many times I was raped [by these two men]." Marie managed to escape at about midnight, five hours after being brought to the hotel, when she told the men she had to use the toilet and ran away.
Fifty-year-old "Kariatu" told Human Rights Watch that she and her eighteen-year-old daughter were raped when RUF fighters attacked Yelibuya peninsula in early May and engaged in widespread looting. "The rebels raped me and my daughter. Four of them used [raped] me, and six others took my daughter just a few yards away and raped her too." The rebels took Kariatu's daughter with them, and she has been unable to find her daughter to date. "Asatu" aged twenty, was captured and kept by RUF rebels in Yelibuya peninsula for three days in early May. She was raped in her home by three rebels while other rebels looted her home: "I was raped, it was violent. The rebels told me to lay down. I told them I did not want to do this, but they ignored me. They were with guns so I could not stop it."
Human Rights Watch called upon the members of the U.N. Security Council to provide UNAMSIL, the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone, with the mandate and means to protect civilians in Sierra Leone from atrocities. The group also called on the Security Council to instruct UNAMSIL to begin investigating current and past abuses against civilians by the RUF and other forces, for the specific purpose of using this material for prosecutions of those alleged to be responsible for gross violations of human rights and the laws of war, and to move rapidly to establish a criminal tribunal to try war criminals in Sierra Leone.