(New York) - In a report released today, Human Rights Watch condemns the war of terror now underway against civilians in Sierra Leone, and calls on the international community to take emergency measures to end the killings, amputations, and abductions taking place in that civil war.
Members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel alliance in Sierra Leone, have been committing gross human rights violations since February 1998, when they were ousted from power.
The Human Rights Watch report, Sowing Terror: Atrocities Against Civilians in Sierra Leone, coincides with a special conference at the United Nations headquarters tomorrow in New York to discuss the security and humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone.
"What's happening in Sierra Leone today is so gruesome, it defies imagination," said Dr. Peter Takirambudde, the executive director for Africa at Human Rights Watch. "Civilians are bearing the brunt of these horrific abuses. The conference at the U.N. tomorrow has got to do more to stop the carnage."
The Economic Community of West African States Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) ousted the AFRC/RUF alliance from power in February 1998 and reinstalled Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as president of Sierra Leone. Since that time, the scale and grotesque nature of the AFRC/RUF attacks have set this round of violence against civilians apart from others in Sierra Leone's seven-year history of devastating armed conflict.
"With no recognizable political platform," the report says, "the AFRC/RUF is committing widespread and egregious atrocities against unarmed civilians in an attempt to regain power.... Many thousands of Sierra Leonean civilians have been killed, mutilated, amputated, raped or otherwise terrorized by the AFRC/RUF from the period of February through June 1998 alone. An additional number, probably in the thousands, of men, women and children have been abducted by the AFRC/RUF for use as combatants, forced laborers or sexual slaves."
Human Rights Watch also reports that forces fighting on behalf of President Kabbah have committed human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Among other concerns, Civilian Defense Forces (CDFs) have committed numerous abuses, including killings, torture and the obstruction of humanitarian assistance. Despite promises of the Sierra Leone government to demobilize all combatants under the age of 18, recent reports indicate that the CDFs continue to recruit children on a large scale.
Approximately one-quarter million Sierra Leoneans have fled to refugee camps in neighboring Guinea and Liberia in order to escape the abuses and fighting. Many of the refugees are languishing in camps in border areas with poor security conditions and difficult access for humanitarian assistance.
Human Rights Watch calls upon the Liberian government, ECOMOG, and the United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) to ensure that Liberian territory is not used in any fashion to support the AFRC/RUF. The report calls upon all sides of the conflict to stop the recruitment of children under the age of 18 and to demobilize all child combatants.
"Demobilizing soldiers in this conflict is key," said Takirambudde. "and the U.N. is going to have to pay particular attention to human rights in order for that process to be successful." He called on the U.N. conference to set aside more resources for monitoring the human rights situation throughout Sierra Leone, as well as providing technical assistance and training to the Sierra Leonean government and local human rights groups.