Human Rights Abuses Committed by Members of the AFRC/RUF

A War of Terror against Civilians

Human Rights Watch took testimony from dozens of survivors and witnesses of gross violations of human rights committed by the AFRC/RUF,1 involving the physical mutilation, torture and murder of Sierra Leonean civilians. They included: amputations by machete2 of one or both hands, arms, feet, legs, ears and buttocks and one or more fingers; lacerations to the head, neck, arms, legs, feet and torso; the gouging out of one or both eyes; rape; gunshot wounds to the head, torso and limbs; burns from explosives and other devices; injections with acid; and beatings. Human Rights Watch also received unconfirmed reports of sexual mutilation such as the cutting off of breasts and genitalia, among other atrocities.

This is a war being waged through attacks on the civilian population. AFRC/RUF soldiers typically capture civilians, round them up from their hiding places in the forest or in villages and commit atrocities against them in an effort to instill terror. The AFRC/RUF appears to use this campaign of fear as a means of exerting political andmilitary control. They often summarily execute civilians, accusing them of being Kabbah or Kamajor3 supporters, or Kamajor relatives. The soldiers further terrorize their victims by forcing them to participate in their own mutilation, asking them to make choices about which finger, hand or arm, for example, to have amputated. They also use mutilation and other forms of physical abuse as punishment for refusing to follow their instructions.

The AFRC/RUF uses the civilians it abuses to "send messages" to its opponents. Victims of amputations or other mutilations are frequently told that they should take their amputated limb and a verbal or written message to ECOMOG or the Kabbah government. The messages are typically demands that ECOMOG should "leave the country to Sierra Leoneans" or that Kabbah should replace the limbs of amputees. The AFRC/RUF also state that they will keep fighting until Kabbah is gone and their leaders are restored to power. They call for the release of RUF leader Fodey Sankoh, imprisoned in Nigeria. According to testimony from other victims and witnesses, many victims die from complications related to their wounds before their messages of horror can be heard.

Since February 1998, attacks on civilians have occurred in almost all regions of the country but with a particularly high concentration in the Koidu diamond-mining area in the east, where the AFRC/RUF maintain a strong presence. The vast majority of victims are males between the ages of sixteen and forty-five, but women, children, and the elderly are not spared. For example, testimonies collected by Human Rights Watch included male and female amputees over the age of sixty, as well as from a three-year-old boy with a gunshot wound. Attacks on villages or civilians hiding in the forest are seemingly carried out without regard for ethnic or religious affiliation. Perpetrators and victims come from diverse ethnic and religious groups, and ethnicity is seldom evoked as a motivating factor in killings or abuse.

Men of voting and fighting age are particularly targeted in order to discourage them from giving political or military support to President Kabbah or the Kamajors. When the RUF committed atrocities prior to elections in 1996, they told victims that their hands were being amputated so that they could not vote. Women and girls are also frequently subject to rape and other forms of gender-based violence, including sexual slavery. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are also targets of the AFRC/RUF.

The AFRC/RUF led at least two loosely organized campaigns of terror, "Operation No Living Thing" and "Operation Pay Yourself." These campaigns, both of which originated in the Koidu area in February 1998 and then spread throughout the country, were designed to loot, destroy, or kill anything in the path of the combatants. Operation Pay Yourself included AFRC/RUF roadblocks where civilians were forced to place their belongings into two piles, one for civilians to keep, to "pay themselves," and one to be handed over to the soldiers. One witness who fled Koidu described what happens at the road blocks:

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.

Although the attackers claim to be seeking out supporters of President Kabbah or the Kamajors, which have fought on behalf of Kabbah, there is often no distinction being made by AFRC/RUF forces. A small minority of victims are, in fact, Kabbah supporters or Kamajors; most are subsistence farmers, miners or small merchants with no history of political activity. One witness to atrocities near Koidu said, "They don't ask you if you're a Kabbah supporter; they just kill randomly... they just kill anyone. But if they know you are a Kabbah supporter, they will kill you faster."5

Actual supporters of President Kabbah and those who served under his first administration, in particular civilian administrators, paramount chiefs, traditional section chiefs, Catholic priests, other religious figures and other community leaders, are actively sought out by AFRC/RUF for intimidation, extortion, or abuse. Several traditional chiefs and Catholic priests interviewed by Human Rights Watch explained that the AFRC/RUF perceives them as supporters of the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah. Many traditional chiefs, often with ethnic ties to Civilian Defense Forces (CDFs), fled after learning that the AFRC/RUF was looking for them. One Catholic priest who was captured by the AFRC/RUF and later escaped stated that his captors planned to execute him. They told him, "Look here's one Kamajor to take care of. You priests are supporting the SLPP government and the Kamajors. Stand here because we are going to kill you."6 The AFRC/RUF takes whatever money and property these individuals have and brutalizes them to show the population how they will treat their opponents.

International Law Governing the Crisis

The hostilities in Sierra Leone constitute an internal armed conflict under the laws of war, also known as humanitarian law. Sierra Leone is a party to the Geneva Conventions and both optional protocols. Common Article 3 to all four Geneva Conventions sets out fundamental rules applicable to internal armed conflicts that are not subject to suspension under any circumstances, and that are widely accepted as constituting customary international law. Virtually a convention within a convention, Common Article 3 provides in relevant part:

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.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

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

(b) taking of hostages;
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;

(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.

The 1977 Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions is also directed at internal armed conflicts, and elaborates these fundamental guarantees of humane conduct and protection of civilians. In particular, Article 4 of this protocol provides in relevant part:

(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.

The principle of protection of civilians is at the core of both provisions, and indeed, is fundamental to all humanitarian law. For the purposes of the conflict in Sierra Leone, a civilian is anyone who is not a member of the armed forces or of an organized armed group of a party to the conflict. Included as protected persons are also members of government or insurgent forces who are wounded, sick, unarmed or in captivity. Both Common Article 3 and Protocol II bind all parties to the internal armed conflict, including the insurgent party.7

The government of Sierra Leone is also bound by the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the state is a party. That treaty, at Article 4(1), provides that states parties may take measures derogating from certain rights "in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed". On March 10, 1998, President Kabbah declared a state of emergency which was communicated to the office of the Secretary-General to the United Nations. Even for rights the derogation of which is permitted, however, any derogation may be only "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation" and must not "involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour sex, language, religion or social origin." Some of the rights that may not be derogated even during a state of emergency include the right to life (Article 6), the prohibition of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7), the ban on slavery in all its forms (Article 8) and freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 18).

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

As mentioned above, it is impossible to determine the precise number of victims of these types of abuse due to a lack of access to much of Sierra Leone and the fact that most deaths occurred without record. Human RightsWatch collected testimonies from hundreds of Sierra Leoneans who survived or witnessed these types of atrocities.8 A few of the countless examples follow:

Ike C. was a reporter for the Herald Guardian newspaper in Koidu town, Kono. He is thirty-two years old and fled the AFRC/RUF's attack on Koidu on February 21 but was captured, held by the AFRC/RUF, and threatened with death. He ultimately escaped. Among other atrocities he witnessed, he described the following:

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

Helen C. was a fish seller in Koidu. She claims that she lost her two children in chaos related to an attack by the AFRC/RUF near Koidu in May 1998. Later that month, she was caught by the AFRC/RUF in Tumbodu, Kono district, where she saw them kill approximately fifty people. The AFRC/RUF caught her and cut off her hand and forearm.

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

Franklin M., a farmer from Sinekoro town, Kabalah district, was returning from his fields around May 21, 1998 when he saw members of the AFRC/RUF coming toward him.

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

Timothy C., a history teacher from Koidu, was one of two survivors of a group of ten civilians captured near his home by the AFRC/RUF on June 10, 1998. The other eight were killed with machetes. He was cut so deeply on his forearms that it is likely that both will have to be amputated.14

In March 1998, Catherine M., an administrator from Segbwema, was shot in the back by the AFRC/RUF as they fled from ECOMOG. Her husband and son were shot dead in front of her. She was stripped and forced to flee with the AFRC/RUF. She witnessed the killing of many children and a nursing mother as she fled.15

Atrocities Against Children
Children are the frequent targets of brutal, indiscriminate acts of violence by the AFRC/RUF.16 Children are murdered, mutilated, tortured, beaten, raped, enslaved for sexual purposes, forced to work, and forced to become soldiers by the AFRC/RUF.

In addition to violating the instruments of international humanitarian law cited above, these crimes violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which makes explicit children's right to life and freedom from sexual abuse, abduction and forced recruitment, among other rights.17

Examples of these types of violations were frequent. Sam R., a farmer in the Koidu area, saw six of his children and his wife attacked in front of his house on June 12. He recalled,

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

Human Rights Watch received documentation on dozens of similar cases. According to medical records, out of 265 war wounded patients admitted to Connaught hospital from April 1 though June 20, approximately one-quarter were children. According to reports from humanitarian agencies, 111 children died between February 15 and 24, 1998 during AFRC/RUF attacks in the Bo area.20

Gender-based Violence

Women and girls are the primary targets of widespread rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of sexual violence.21 Although the exact number of those raped will never be known, testimonies from survivors confirm that sexual violence has been widespread, against thousands of women and girls. Furthermore, no comprehensive medical statistics have been compiled on rape-related injuries or on pregnancies as a result of rape. Those who have witnessed, or endured and survived these and other atrocities are suffering enormous psychological trauma.

Women and girls are brutally raped and gang-raped at gunpoint and knife point by AFRC/RUF soldiers or raped with objects, such as sticks. Often, the rapes occur in front of family members and others, and in some cases relatives are forced to rape their sisters, mothers or daughters. Women and girls are frequently abducted individually or collectively and kept as so-called "wives" for members of the AFRC/RUF. Some suffer rape or gang rape multiple times as they escape one AFRC/RUF group, only to be caught by another. Rape is also used as an immediate punishment for refusing to follow instructions or in retaliation for the acts of others held in captivity.

These crimes, and other forms of sexual violence, are explicitly and implicitly condemned under international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions prohibit rape in both international and internal conflicts.22 Likewise, rape, when committed on a mass scale against a civilian population, constitutes a crime against humanity. The Convention on the Rights of the Child further protects children from "all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse."23

The crimes of sexual violence committed by the AFRC/RUF against women and girls are often accompanied by other forms of violence. Murder or mutilation frequently follows these rapes. Many are forced to work as porters for the AFRC/RUF and witness their children being abducted, abused, or killed. Some women and young girls are abducted to care for the many young children captured by the AFRC/RUF.

Pregnant women are not spared from attacks by the AFRC/RUF. In light of the gruesome nature of the atrocities committed against them, these women seem to be targeted because of their status as pregnant women. Witnesses report having seen the mutilated bodies of pregnant women whose fetuses had been cut out of their wombs or who died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen. Some pregnant women are also forced into labor due to the extreme physical hardship of having to flee their homes, and at times die in flight due to complications in childbirth.

The AFRC/RUF's rape and enslavement of women and girls for sex is not only a vicious expression of power over the individual, but also a means of expressing dominance over the community. Throughout the world, sexual violence is routinely directed against women and girls during situations of armed conflict as a weapon to terrorize a community and to achieve a political end. The humiliation, terror and pain inflicted by the rapist is meant to harm not only the individual but also to strip the humanity from the larger group of which she is a part. The rape of one person can be translated into an assault upon the community through the emphasis placed in every culture on women's sexual virtue; the shame of the rape humiliates the family and all those associated with the survivor.

The following are some of the testimonies of Sierra Leonean women who survived or witnessed sexual violence, and of some of the service providers and others who witnessed the abuse or assisted them once they reached refugee camps in Guinea and hospitals in Sierra Leone.24

Ruth B. is a thirty-six-year-old farmer from Gandorhun, in Kono District. She fled her village when it was attacked by the AFRC/RUF, but was captured, beaten, raped, and forced to work. She ultimately escaped and made her way to Guinea. When Ruth described her one-month ordeal in captivity, she was visibly traumatized, in poor health and still bore scars on her back and legs. The back of her ankles had been sliced just below the Achilles tendon to prevent her from escaping:

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

Finda T. is a forty-five-year-old woman from Koidu town, Kono who fled with her family when the AFRC/RUF attacked at the end of February. She told Human Rights Watch how her family had been killed and how she had been raped by rebel soldiers:

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 April, medical staff in Connaught Hospital, Freetown reported that they were witnessing an alarming number of patients suffering mutilations. A number of the female patients they interviewed were raped and had foreign objects inserted in their vaginas. They had been attacked by AFRC/RUF between April 15-25 in villages between Njaiama Sewafe and Koidu. The patients said the AFRC/RUF rounded up civilians in groups or lines, sent them to a cutting block and commenced limb amputations with a cutlass. Doctors reported:

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

Alice M. is a forty-one-year-old former police officer from Jabwema Fiama, Kono, Sierra Leone, who is now a refugee in Guinea. On March 10, 1998, she and her family fled their home into the forest two days after the AFRC/RUF began to attack and loot her town. The AFRC/RUF captured her with her husband in the forest, but didn't catch her children. They let her husband go, but seeing her police identification, they kept her. She remembered:

Commander Steven Gbenya and Sgt. 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


The abduction of civilians by the AFRC/RUF is commonplace. People of all ages are abducted, but witnesses point to young men, women, and girls and boys as preferred targets. The soldiers capture individuals and groups to labor for them and in general perform tasks necessary for their subsistence and advancement.30 Womenand girls are taken as "wives," or sexual slaves, to cook and perform other domestic tasks. Young men and boys are also abducted for forced recruitment as soldiers. It is unclear whether or not they have designated large-scale holding centers, although at least one witness testified to this effect.

Human Rights Watch received reports that the AFRC/RUF abducts these groups for use as human shields against attacking ECOMOG forces, in the belief that ECOMOG would hesitate to target civilians, particularly women and children, or that in the event of an attack, the "shield" would be hit first.

As described below, many witnesses are under the impression that abductions number in the thousands. The AFRC/RUF captures many civilians apparently with the intention of holding them permanently to reinforce their numbers and ensure their future existence. Others abducted are executed or ultimately allowed to go free after having suffered a number of abuses.

Forced Labor
Many who had been captured by the AFRC/RUF and either escaped or were released testified to Human Rights Watch that they were forced to "carry loads" and perform other tasks for them. The civilians were collected or called upon individually to transport items that the fighters looted from town to town and from one point to another within villages. They prepared food for the soldiers and performed any task required of them to contribute to meeting the daily needs of the soldiers.

Mary F., a nine-year-old girl who fled Koidu town, Kono, was captured by AFRC/RUF soldiers and forced to work. She was freed by the soldiers but was separated from her parents and is now an unaccompanied minor in a refugee camp in Guinea. Upon finishing her story, her steady, serious mood changed, and she burst into tears.

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

Sia T., who is eighteen and the mother of one, fled the fighting in Koidu town and hid in the forest for three months before making her way to Guinea. She witnessed the murder, rape and abduction of civilians and was herself captured and forced to work for the AFRC/RUF. Some of her captors were children. She remembered:

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

Human Rights Watch documented repeated accounts of women and girls being abducted by the AFRC/RUF in large numbers for sexual and other purposes. The AFRC/RUF holds these women and girls indefinitely and requires them to perform a variety of tasks, such as preparing food. Women and girls may also have been abducted to care for the many young children captured by the AFRC/RUF. Some who have escaped report that the soldiers divide them up amongst themselves and refer to them as their "wives." They have sex with them at will and at times brutalize them with other forms of physical violence. The AFRC/RUF move these women and girls with them from one location to another. Targeting women and girls in these ways serves the AFRC/RUF practically, in terms of meeting their own daily needs, and strategically, as they coopt their labor and destroy local family and economic structures.

Grace M. is from Gbense Chiefdom, Kono District. She is twenty-one years old. When the AFRC/RUF attacked Koidu in February and launched Operation Pay Yourself, Grace fled to Kombayendeh (thirty-two miles from Koidu) to find rice. She stayed there for a while but was forced to flee again, first to Bovoma and finally into the forest. AFRC/RUF soldiers captured her along with seventeen other women and kept them as so-called "wives." She ultimately escaped and made her way to Guinea. She believes the other women who did not escape are probably still with the AFRC/RUF, perhaps in Kailahun. She said:

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

Ike C., the newspaper reporter from Koidu town, fled the AFRC/RUF's attack on Koidu and was caught. He was able to escape, however, and among many atrocities he witnessed, he said this about sexual violence:

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

The AFRC/RUF is using and forcibly recruiting children and young men to engage in armed attacks against Sierra Leone civilians, Civilian Defense Forces, and ECOMOG soldiers.35 Many witnesses told Human RightsWatch that they had seen AFRC/RUF soldiers abducting and holding young men and boys to use as child soldiers and that child soldiers had been among their AFRC/RUF attackers.

The forced recruitment of boys as child soldiers by the AFRC/RUF in Sierra Leone is not new. As armed conflict in Sierra Leone has intensified in recent years, the social fabric of the country has unraveled, and children have increasingly seen their rights erode. Many children have lost or been separated from their parents in the fighting, do not have enough to eat and do not have schools and other basic structures in place to meet their needs. They are particularly vulnerable to forced recruitment and have clearly been targeted by the AFRC/RUF as it seeks to reinforce its ranks.36

Young boys are targeted in part because their captors consider them to be less afraid to fight; they likely do not have children or wives to consider in risking their lives. They are readily manipulated because they are vulnerable and without protection. Child soldiers are often placed at the front line and forced to commit atrocities against their own communities. This establishes a sense of culpability in them, as well as traumatization, and makes it less possible for them to be accepted back into society or to be psychologically prepared to return.

Little is known about the condition of the young men and children abducted since February by the AFRC/RUF for use as soldiers; few have escaped to tell the story. Over the past few years, however, child recruits were typically provided with food, mind-altering drugs and firearms and were forced to fight and commit atrocities alongside the AFRC/RUF soldiers. The demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration of these children will ultimately present an enormous challenge to all those involved in healing the wounds of war and building a future for Sierra Leone.

Alice M. is a forty-one-year-old former police officer in Jabwema Fiama, Kono. While she was held captive by two members of the AFRC/RUF, she was confined to a room with a ten-year-old boy. She said:

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

Ike C., the reporter for the Herald Guardian in Koidu town who was captured by the AFRC/RUF, also testified to the role of child soldiers. Some of his captors were under ten years old and wielded guns. He said:

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

In addition to the abuses described above, members of the AFRC/RUF flagrantly violated other provisions of international humanitarian law. The AFRC/RUF regularly showed a gross disrespect for principles granting protection to hospitals, places of worship, and other non-military structures providing public services.40

The private property of civilians was frequently looted and their homes intentionally burned.41 Witnesses spoke regularly of theft and mass destruction by the AFRC/RUF as they retreated from ECOMOG forces. Members of the AFRC/RUF completely stripped civilians of their belongings on a regular basis. Many of those fleeing Sierra Leone arrived in refugee camps with little more than their clothing; and several witnesses explained how they had been left naked by the AFRC/RUF and spent days in flight without clothing.

In February 1998, in Lunsar town of Porto Loko district, as a part of their "Operation Pay Yourself," members of the AFRC/RUF raided the Magbesemi hospital. Medicines and equipment were taken, patients were forced to flee, and some medical personnel reportedly abducted by the AFRC/RUF. One patient being treated for a gunshot wound described their actions:

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)

Human Rights Watch documented numerous abuses, including killings and torture, by members of the Civilian Defense Forces, frequently referred to in local dialects as "traditional hunters." Civilian Defense Forces were developed primarily in the early 1990s as local protection responses to insecurity and violence throughout Sierra Leone. The largest and most powerful of these groups, the Kamajors, were responsible for the majority of the most serious abuses committed by those fighting on behalf of the Kabbah government since February 1998. In recentmonths, Kamajors have also been responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance and demanding money or compensation at roadblocks.

Humanitarian and United Nations organizations complain that Kamajors frequently obstruct the delivery of aid to IDPs and civilian groups in need. Humanitarian agency vehicles were frequently commandeered by Kamajors and aid workers were occasionally detained by Kamajors, two as recently as June 1998.43 Groups providing assistance to the interior of Sierra Leone reported in June that the Kamajors had become increasingly demanding at checkpoints, often insisting that they be compensated for having "liberated" the country from the AFRC/RUF.

Killings and Mutilation

The scale and nature of abuses committed by Kamajors and other members of CDFs differ significantly from atrocities carried out by the AFRC/RUF, but are often no less horrific. Many witnesses of abuses committed by Kamajors spoke of the grotesque nature of killings, at times including disembowelment and followed by consumption of vital organs, such as the heart. Acts such as these were intended to transfer the strength of the enemy to the to those involved in the consumption. Killings by Kamajors usually targeted people they believed to be members of the AFRC/RUF and their civilian supporters.

A Sierra Leonean Catholic priest described how the Kamajors reacted to the presence of the AFRC/RUF in Koidu in early February, just following ECOMOG's takeover of Freetown:

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 youth caught soldiers, they burned them alive with tires and petrol.45

Several foreign residents of Sierra Leone that had worked with or observed Kamajors in the field concurred that this "take no prisoners" policy was widespread. One foreign trainer of the Kamajors claimed that the fighters were as "malicious as the AFRC/RUF,"46 but committed fewer abuses due to their supervision, even though this was limited. The Kamajors have been led by Captain Samuel Hinga Norman, deputy defense minister, who in recentmonths repeatedly stated that all CDFs were now under the control of ECOMOG.47 With their knowledge of the local terrain, Kamajors are frequently relied upon by ECOMOG as combatants and guides in unfamiliar rural areas.

Recruitment of Child Soldiers

CDFs, especially the Kamajors, have contributed to one of the most urgent human rights problems involving children in Sierra Leone: the recruitment of child soldiers. Children have been recruited by the CDFs for many of the same reasons that the AFRC/RUF abduct them into their ranks: children are often easily indoctrinated, fearless, have little sense of what is morally right or wrong, and, according to Kamajor leaders, are more likely to be "unadulterated."48 While no one knows the number of children fighting among the CDF forces, one field commander estimated that their forces in the eastern Kailahun district alone numbered 3,000.49

The situation for child combatants provoked a mission to Sierra Leone from Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu. Otunnu urged that, "the international community make Sierra Leone a pilot project for a more concerted and effective response to the needs of children effected by war."50 During his visit, Otunnu obtained commitments from the government to assure that the CDFs would cease recruitment of children under the age of eighteen, begin demobilization of child soldiers, provide special protection to child combatants, and create a Joint Task Force comprising representatives from the government, ECOMOG, U.N. agencies, and relevant NGOs. On June 25, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, the Deputy Minister of Defense, Hinga Norman, also declared that the government was committed to demobilizing CDF child combatants.51 In mid-July, however, aid agencies and press reports concurred that the CDFs were still recruiting children in northern Sierra Leone.52

National and international human rights and humanitarian workers in Sierra Leone expressed their concern to Human Rights Watch that Civilian Defense Forces, such as the Kamajors and loosely organized bands of youths, represent a serious and growing human rights issue in Sierra Leone today. Like the AFRC/RUF, these groups are able to act largely with impunity. This trend, when considered in the context of past practices of armed groups in Sierra Leone, underscores the need to develop a comprehensive program to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate all combatants into the new national army or Sierra Leonean society.

Many former combatants, mostly from the AFRC/RUF, are presently being retrained by ECOMOG and integrated into the new national army. This training should be carried out by qualified ECOMOG personnel and monitored by UNOMSIL observers. Diplomats and aid workers in Sierra Leone have noted the lack of support for the approximately 3,000 ex-combatants in an encampment in dire conditions in the Lungi area outside of Freetown. Former combatants wishing to be reintegrated into the new national army will need appropriate support in order tocomplete their retraining. Those who are screened out as possible war criminals should be investigated and prosecuted where appropriate according to international standards. Those who wish to return to civilian life will require appropriate assistance to reintegrate into communities, including programs to encourage a return to farms, schools, or micro-economic activities. The reintegration aspects of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program must emphasize a respect for the laws of war and human rights. As combatants from rebel groups, CDFs and government forces have comprised the principal perpetrators of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone, the success of this program could play a crucial role in preventing future human rights abuses

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, September 2, 1990.

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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