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Human Rights Abuses Committed by Members of the AFRC/RUF

A War of Terror against Civilians

Ten of them [AFRC/RUF soldiers] in a van with weapons—RPGs, AK47s—stopped us and told us to put down our bags. They searched us from shirt to pants. They told us to make two piles and put all the best of what we had—money, rice—into one pile, and the rest in another. They took all the best and gave us the one that wasn’t good. That’s “Operation Pay Yourself!”4

These operations were apparently designed to force the local populations to provide them with economic support and to assert their position as political and military players in Sierra Leone.

International Law Governing the Crisis

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:

(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;

(d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

(1) All persons who do not take a direct part or who have ceased to take direct part in hostilities, whether or not their liberty has been restricted, are entitled to respect for their person, honor and convictions and religious practices. They shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction. It is prohibited to order that there shall be no survivors.

(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the following acts against the persons referred to in paragraph 1 are and shall remain prohibited at any time and whatsoever:

(a) violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal punishment;

(b) collective punishments;

(c) taking of hostages;

(d) acts of terrorism;

(e) outrages on personal dignity, in particular humiliating or degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault;

(f) slavery and the slave trade in all their forms;

(g) pillage;

(h) threats to commit any of the foregoing acts.

Killings, Mutilations, Sexual Abuse, and Enslavement by the AFRC/RUF

I saw them kill two people right before my face at Tomboudou, in front of the residence of the Paramount Chief of Tomboudou.9 One man they arrested at a village called Nemessedu. They brought him to Tomboudou along with his wife. He was killed before his wife. They tied him up and shot at him in his chest three times. Then they took his wife as their own.

The second executed was a youth. He was tall, and before killing him, they told him, “You’re too tall.” So, they chopped off his foot, and he fell to the ground. Later, they shot him three times in the chest, too, and he died. After that, they agreed to set Tomboudou on fire as a part of Operation Non-Living Thing.10

They captured me and said lie on the floor. I was reluctant; they cut me on the neck with a machete. I was cut by a small boy. Then they put my hand on a stone and cut me. They told me to go to Kabbah and tell him what happened.

They left me there. They said they would go to the bush and kill anyone they found there. I walked eleven days to Forekonia [the border with Guinea]. I left my belongings with my hand. I had to bury my own hand.11

I saw people with cutlasses and guns. So I started to run; they caught me and cut off both of my hands. Then they left me. Some of them wore uniforms, some were in plainclothes. They said I was a supporter of Tejan Kabbah.12

Human Rights Watch interviewed Franklin M. in Faranah Hospital, Guinea where he sought refuge and health care. He further described his dilemma as a refugee and victim of a double arm amputation.

My family is here. How can I hope to feed my family? My mother is here. My wife is here. My children are here. I have no hands.13

They accused me of being a Kamajor. When they want to kill you, they accuse you of anything. There is no reason. I am a farmer. I don’t vote. I have no money. They burnt my house.18

At about 4:00 a.m., I heard bombs and gunshots outside my house. The rebels came and banged on the door. They said they would kill us all outside. My wife took five of the children outside. I stayed inside with one. My wife threw herself on top of two of the children to protect them. They shot my wife, killed two of the children, shot my seven-year-old through the stomach, and cut another one on the buttocks. Two got away.19

Gender-based Violence

They took three of my children and killed my husband. The rest of us ran away. But we were captured by the junta,25 and they took the women away to carry their loads. I was with them one month. They held us in a house. One day while we were there and they were away, another group came from Gongo and asked us what our mission was. We told them we were from Gandorhun, and they beat us. They beat us severely. They stomped on my stomach, and the next day, I was bleeding from my vagina as if I had had an operation. Now, I have a serious backache.

Later the two groups came together, and the second group told the first group that we were family members of the Kamajors. They used me for sex, and they cut my heels with their bayonets so I wouldn’t run or walk off. But I escaped into the bush even though I was wounded....

I didn’t know who captured me. They were older and younger—adults and children. Some had uniforms and machetes, and some wore ordinary clothes, like jeans, and had guns. There were lots of nicknames; one of them was called “Blood.” They said they didn’t like Kabbah and said, “If he’s there, we will continue to fight.” They were both Liberian and Sierra Leonean. I could tell from their language.26

The rebels caught us in the bush after my family and I had fled one Saturday in February. They killed my brother immediately, and they took my two children. One of them raped me. He used me as his wife, and another one beat me with a gun. They made me and others carry their loads. They told us to take their bags of rice back to Koidu town. They seriously used us. In Koidu, they took our clothes and freed us. I lived in the bush for two months using leaves to cover myself. Eventually, I found some people who showed me the way to Guinea. A child gave me her clothes, and I have only one dress now.27

In some villages, after the people were rounded up, they were stripped naked and ordered to “use their women;” men were ordered to “use” their sister. When men refused to do so, their arm was amputated, and the women were raped by the attackers.28

Commander Steven Gbenya and Sergeant Moussa captured me. They had also captured other police officers, whom they killed. The commander said he wasn’t going to kill me, and instead, he raped me all night. I cried and cried and prayed. I don’t know why, but early in the morning, about 6:00 a.m., he let me go. I think he felt sorry for me. He and Moussa escorted me out without telling anyone else and took me to a place in the bush. They deliberately raped many women. To save your life, you have to agree, or they will kill you. They are beastly.29


A group of about eleven junta soldiers captured me, my parents and others. They killed one person in our group in front of us. The group split, and I lost my parents. They took us back to Koidu and released us but arrested us again and used us to carry their loads. We were adults and children. They didn’t tell us anything about why they were making us do this. Eventually they let us go....31

We were hiding in the bush, not too far from where some of the junta stayed. They knew where people were. They would go into the bush and get some of them, take them to town, make them work and let them go. Then they’d go back and get more. They made me pound rice. We were afraid. They said they weren’t going to do anything, but we were working at gunpoint. They were as young as the boys here. [She gestures at three young boys, approximately five to seven years old, sitting nearby the interview setting]. The small ones had guns, too. They even fought between themselves over whose girls were whose.32

Sexual Slavery

It was on a Monday mid-day, that the junta stormed where we hid. They arrested eighteen of us, and we were taken to Koidu town again. We spent sixteen days with them in the township. While in Koidu town, I saw dead bodies littered all over the place. I also saw some of the soldiers’ captives, regardless of age, carrying looted items from the surrounding villages; they took them to Kailahun. We were eighteen in number, all females. It was this same day that the soldiers shared us amongst themselves as wives. Each of us got a man as a husband. It was indeed horrible as one soldier that I was assigned to sexually abused me. He had sex with me any time he wished—at night, mid-day and anywhere. I can still remember his name, Alie, Mende tribe.33

There was rampant raping. I saw a fifteen-year-old girl raped right before me. They left her, but they captured others, and among them was a seven-year-old girl. I also saw many girls held in vehicles, ready to be transported. They force them to carry loads, use them as “wives” and encourage them, saying, “I will give you everything, stay with me.” But they have no alternative but to stay.34

Forced Recruitment

Commander Steven Gbenya and Sgt. Moussa were also holding a ten-year-old boy in the room I was held in. They didn’t release him. The house we were in was full of rebels. The room next to mine was the Liberian commando room.37 The commander said that they no longer planned to kill children below fifteen, pregnant women, or old men and women. They said they were going to train-up those children because they knew they were going to die themselves. They encouraged the boy not to be afraid. They cooked for us, but I couldn’t eat. The boy didn’t say much, but he was hungry, and he ate.38

I was captured by Gittaboi, who said he’d execute me because I am a press man. There were little kids, boys, around seven, nine, twelve years old who were among the soldiers. They had guns and felt they had power.... I saw girls held in vehicles ready to be transported. The last group of kids I saw were held at the Branch Energy mining group office in Koidu town. They had 1,500-2,000 of them there. I saw them. In Koidu, the junta forces shouted for kids and gathered them. A soldier told me they are holding those kids as a shield in the event of an ECOMOG attack. They also use them as soldiers, for labor, and for sexual purposes.39

Other Violations of International Humanitarian Law

The AFRC/RUF soldiers came to Magbesemi Hospital, fleeing the ECOMOG advance. They took the doctors away. There were many rebels—in several trucks with arms and heavy weapons. They took all the drugs. We were about twenty-five patients. They said, “this is Operation Pay Yourself.”42

Abuses Committed by Members of Civilian Defense Forces (CDFs)

Killings and Mutilation

On February 7th, they [the AFRC/RUF] started “Operation Pay Yourself.” On Friday the 13th, I went back to the mission. The youths had called the Kamajors who started arriving on the 11th, 12th, a day or two after “Operation Pay Yourself” had ended. They came from Sewafe, Punduru, Gondama... When they found AFRC, they would kill them immediately. The Kamajors and youths started burning [AFRC/RUF] soldiers and collaborators. On about February 11th, they [Kamajors] called a meeting at the town counsel. They said it was to restore law and order—they said if anyone knows where they are, they should tell us. They decapitated one surrendered soldier and I saw them eat his raw liver and heart.44

Another witness from Koidu remembered:

After the first night of “Operation Pay Yourself,” the youths and the Lebanese businessmen called the Kamajors. The Kamajors came, and if they and the youths caught soldiers, they burned them alive with tires and petrol.45

Recruitment of Child Soldiers

1 The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was formed in 1991 and entered eastern Sierra Leone from Liberia. Originally, the RUF was a mix of members of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), NPFL-trained Sierra Leoneans and others. Since its inception, the RUF has failed to publicly and clearly articulate a political agenda other than ousting successive governments and has committed atrocities from the beginning. Abdul Koroma in “Sierra Leone: The Agony of a Nation,” (Andromeda Publications, 1996) reports that during one of their first attacks in 1991 in eastern Kailahun district, the RUF decapitated civilian leaders and placed their heads on sticks. Over the next seven years, the RUF attempted to gain power through guerrilla warfare and attacks against civilians. RUF leader Foday Sankoh is a former colonel in the Sierra Leonean military. He was imprisoned in 1971 for his alleged involvement in a coup attempt, released seven years later and dishonorably dismissed from the army. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) was formed by a group of military officers who took power in a coup on May 25, 1997 ousting President Kabbah. Its chairman, Major Johnny Paul Koroma, had been in detention in Freetown awaiting trial for alleged involvement in a prior attempted coup in September 1996. The AFRC invited RUF forces to join them in the new government. The AFRC cited the government’s failure to implement a peace agreement with the RUF and the practice of ethnic favoritism as reasons for assuming power. They also called for the release of Foday Sankoh, who had been detained in Nigeria on March 2, 1997, charged with possession of arms and ammunition. Upon taking power, the AFRC suspended the constitution, banned political parties, public meetings, and demonstrations and announced rule by military decree. Many judges, attorneys and police were among those who fled the country, causing a total collapse of the judiciary. The AFRC established the People’s Revolutionary Courts, whose staff had little or no legal training. The government arbitrarily arrested and detained its suspected opponents and critics. In indiscriminate attacks on villages, AFRC/RUF forces amputated, raped, killed and abducted civilians to use as laborers and fighters.

2 Also referred to as “cutlasses” by the survivors.

3 "Kamajors,” meaning traditional hunter in Mende, are among the Civilian Defense Forces (CDFs) which fight on behalf of Kabbah’s government. CDFs evolved as local protection responses to insecurity and violence throughout Sierra Leone. The Kamajors are the largest and most powerful of these groups, and most Kamajors are from the Mende ethnic group. They dress in traditional clothing, often wearing charms and mirrors. Other ethnic groups, including the Temne, Mandingo and Kuranko have also formed CDFs known as “traditional hunters” in their respective languages. The Kamajors became an important fighting force under the previous government of Captain Valentine E.M. Strasser, helping to combat the RUF, but also committing human rights violations. The Kamajors were armed by and grew in number under the first Kabbah government, allegedly fueling resentment among the Sierra Leonean military and leading to the subsequent AFRC coup.

4 Human Rights Watch interview, Fandouyema II Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 12, 1998.

5 Human Rights Watch interview, Koundou Lengo Bengo Refugee Camp, Republic of Guinea, June 6, 1998.

6 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 9, 1998.

7 The commitment of a state to these provisions applies also to private individuals in that state’s territory who are thereby bound by the same rights and obligations. International Committee of the Red Cross, Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 1977 (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 1987) p. 1344-45. The government’s application of these provisions does not confer on the insurgents any international recognition on the insurgent party. Nor do Common Article 3 and Protocol II provide any special status for insurgents in internal armed conflict such as the combatants privilege to kill or capture enemy troops, or prisoner-of-war status when captured. Ibid. at 1344.

8 The names of all the refugees interviewed have been changed in order to protect their safety and privacy.

9 Ike C. provided this information for purposes of describing the location of the killings only, not to imply involvement of the Paramount Chief in the killings of these two individuals.

10 Human Rights Watch interview, Boodou Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 23, 1998. Survivors referred to this military offensive both as “ Operation No Living Thing” and “Operation Non-Living Thing.”

11 Human Rights Watch interview, Faranah Hospital, Guinea, June 3, 1998.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, Faranah Hospital, Guinea, June 4, 1998.

13 Ibid.

14 Human Rights Watch interview, Connaught Hospital, June 24, 1998.

15 Human Rights Watch interview, Kolahun refugee camp, Lofa county, Liberia, June 12, 1998.

16 Children are considered persons below the age of eighteen, as defined in Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, September 2, 1990.

17 All states are party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child except for the United States of America and Somalia.

18 Human Rights Watch interview, Faranah Hospital, Guinea, June 3, 1998.

19 Human Rights Watch interview, Connaught Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 24, 1996.

20 Internal survey conducted in Bo, Sierra Leone, by humanitarian organizations, March 19-21, 1998.

21 Human Rights Watch also received an account of boys having been sexually abused alongside women and girls; while sexual abuse of males has occurred, it has not occurred to the extent of the abuse of women and girls.

22 Rape in internal armed conflict is prohibited under Article 3, subparagraphs (a) and (c), common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and by Article 2(e) of Protocol II. For international armed conflict, this is established in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, 1949 [Fourth Geneva Convention], Arts. 27 and 147, 75 U.N.T.S. 287.

23 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 34.

24 The majority of women Human Rights Watch interviewed fled villages in the diamond-rich Kono district of Sierra Leone and became refugees across the border in the Guéckedou area of Guinea, which is now home to over 200,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. The names of all the rape survivors interviewed have been changed in order to protect their safety and privacy.

25 Witnesses often referred to their attackers as “rebels” or “juntas,” common terminology for the RUF and the AFRC respectively. Human Rights Watch interviews revealed that attackers were in most cases a mix of plainclothes “rebels” and uniformed AFRC/RUF soldiers. They also sometimes disguised themselves as Kamajor or ECOMOG forces. For these reasons and a lack of a reliable method of distinguishing former government soldiers from rebels in Sierra Leone, this report refers to them collectively as AFRC/RUF.

26 Human Rights Watch interview, Mangay Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 15, 1998. Many refugees interviewed described their captors as having spoken with Liberian accents. They were not able to say whether or not they were Liberian fighters or Sierra Leonean fighters from the Kailahun region of Sierra Leone, closest to Liberia, whowould have spoken with the same accent. Nonetheless, many believed them to be Liberians.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, Sowadou Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 14, 1998.

28 “Atrocities against Civilians in Sierra Leone,” Médecins Sans Frontières, May 1998, p. 4.

29 Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 14, 1998.

30 Other civilians were forced to labor for the AFRC/RUF, but weren’t abducted per se. Survivors testified that often the soldiers would know where their hide-outs were in the forest and would regularly call upon them to perform tasks or subjectthem to other forms of abuse, under threat of additional physical harm. Although these civilians were not held inside AFRC/RUF installations, it was difficult for them to flee.

31 Human Rights Watch interview, Boodou Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 23, 1998.

32 Human Rights Watch interview, Fandouyema II Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 12, 1998.

33 Center for Rural Adult Education (CREA) interview, conducted the week of June 15, 1998, Kissidougou, Republic of Guinea. Also, Human Rights Watch interview, Kissidougou, Republic of Guinea, June 17, 1998.

34 Human Rights Watch interview, Boodou Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 23, 1998.

35 Although prevailing international law sets fifteen as the minimum age for military recruitment and participation in armed conflict, Human Rights Watch shares a growing consensus among independent, nongovernmental sources which believe that this age is too low and must be raised to eighteen. Not only does the Convention on the Rights of the Child define a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier, but eighteen is the voting age in the vast majority of countries. Establishing eighteen as the minimum age for participation inhostilities would be consistent with existing international norms and offer greater protection for children in situations of particularly grave risk. In Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch also noted the problem of birth registration; individuals often did not know their own age or the age of their children. The lack of records makes it easier for those who forcibly recruit children to do so by claiming the recruits were older than they actually were.

36 The Child Protection Committee, a United Nations-Nongovernmental Organization group established to address child protection issues in Sierra Leone, estimated the number of children in armed groups in Sierra Leone in September 1997 at approximately 3,000. (Inter-agency strategy paper for Child Protection Activities in Sierra Leone, Child Protection Committee, Camp Conakry, September 1997.) The actual number is not known, but has increased significantly since the renewal of fighting in February.

37 The interviewee claimed that there were Liberian fighters among the AFRC/RUF.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, Fangamadou, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 14, 1998.

39 Human Rights Watch interview, Boodou Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 23, 1998.

40 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), of 8 June 1977, Article 52, and Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), of 8 June 1977, Articles 9, 10, 11, and 16.

41 Protocol II, Article 4 (2) (g).

42 Human Rights Watch interview, Faranah Hospital, Faranah, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 3, 1998.

43 Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian agency whose staff had been detained by Kamajors to “make a point,” Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 23, 1998.

44 Human Rights Watch interview, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 9, 1998.

45 Human Rights Watch interview, Fandouyema II Refugee Camp, Guéckedou, Republic of Guinea, June 12, 1998.

46 Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 23, 1998.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with deputy defense minister, June 25, 1998.

48 According to Kamajor rules of conduct, combatants must refrain from drugs, sex, looting, and other illicit acts in order to maintain their magical powers, including being bulletproof, on the battlefield.

49 Lansana Fofana, "Militia Admits Recruiting Child Soldiers,” IPS, Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 29, 1998.

50 Press release, “Mr. Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict urges the international community make Sierra Leone a pilot project for a more concerted and effective response to the needs of children effected by war,” New York, New York, June 2, 1998.

51 Human Rights Watch interview with Deputy Minister of Defense, Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 25, 1998.

52 Ibid, and phone conversations with aid agencies in Sierra Leone, July 27, 1998.

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