September 8, 1994
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Copyright 8 September 1994 by Human Rights Watch.
This report is based largely on a Human Rights Watch fact-finding mission to Liberia in April 1994. The participants, and the authors of this report, were Janet Fleischman, the Washington representative of Human Rights Watch/Africa, and Lois Whitman, the director of the Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project. Human Rights Watch/Africa was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa.
The Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project was established in April 1994 to defend the rights of children around the world by investigating, reporting on and publicizing abuses against children and working to end them. The project's concerns include such issues as the killing of street children by police, the use of children as soldiers, torture and inhumane treatment of children by police, locking up children without due process, and bonded and forced labor of children.
We are grateful for the help of the many people who work closely with children in Liberia and who gave so freely of their time and assistance, including social workers, counselors and others who work with child soldiers, human rights activists, relief workers, and representatives of the United Nations. Unfortunately we cannot thank them by name for fear of endangering them or their work.
Lastly, we wish to thank the many former child soldiers who spoke to us of their experiences and their hopes.
Human Rights Watch/Africa was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Abdullahi An-Na'im is the director; Janet Fleischman is the Washington representative; Karen Sorensen, Alex Vines, and Berhane Woldegabriel are research associates; Kimberly Mazyck and Urmi Shah are associates; Alison L. DesForges and Bronwen Manby are consultants. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee and Alice Brown is the vice chair.
Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project
The Human Rights Watch Children's Rights Project was established in 1994 to monitor and promote the human rights of children around the world. Lois Whitman is the director and Michelle Morris is counsel.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. It addresses the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. In internal wars it documents violations by both governments and rebel groups. Human Rights Watch defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law; it documents and denounces murders, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, exile, censorship and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights.
Human Rights Watch began in 1978 with the founding of its Helsinki division. Today, it includes five divisions covering Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East, as well as the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It also includes five collaborative projects on arms transfers, children's rights, free expression, prison conditions, and women's rights. It maintains offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, London, Brussels, Moscow, Belgrade, Zagreb, Dushanbe, and Hong Kong. Human Rights Watch is an independent, nongovernmental organization, supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly.
The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Holly J. Burkhalter, advocacy director; Gara LaMarche, associate director; Juan Méndez, general counsel; Susan Osnos, communications director; and Derrick Wong, finance and administration director.
The regional directors of Human Rights Watch are Abdullahi An-Na'im, Africa; José Miguel Vivanco, Americas; Sidney Jones, Asia; Jeri Laber, Helsinki; and Christopher E. George, Middle East. The project directors are Stephen Goose (acting), Arms Project; Lois Whitman, Children's Rights Project; Gara LaMarche, Free Expression Project; Joanna Weschler, Prison Project; and Dorothy Q. Thomas, Women's Rights Project.
The members of the board of directors are Robert L. Bernstein, chair; Adrian W. DeWind, vice chair; Roland Algrant, Lisa Anderson, Peter D. Bell, Alice L. Brown, William Carmichael, Dorothy Cullman, Irene Diamond, Edith Everett, Jonathan Fanton, Alan Finberg, Jack Greenberg, Alice H. Henkin, Harold Hongju Koh, Stephen L. Kass, Marina Pinto Kaufman, Alexander MacGregor, Josh Mailman, Peter Osnos, Kathleen Peratis, Bruce Rabb, Orville Schell, Gary G. Sick, Malcolm Smith, Nahid Toubia, Maureen White, and Rosalind C. Whitehead.
AFL - Armed Forces of Liberia
ECOSOC - United Nations Economic and Social Council
ECOMOG - Economic Community Cease-fire Monitoring Group of ECOWAS
ECOWAS - Economic Community of West African States
IGNU - Interim Government of National Unity
INPFL - Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia
LDF - Lofa Defense Force
LNTG - Liberian National Transitional Government
LPC - Liberian Peace Council
NPFL - National Patriotic Front of Liberia
OAU - Organization of African Unity
ULIMO - United Liberian Movement for Democracy in Liberia
UNICEF - United Nations Children's Fund
UNOMIL - United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia
UNDP - United Nations Development Program
Children who have been used as soldiers are among the most tragic victims of the war in Liberia.1 Although international law forbids the use of children under the age of fifteen as soldiers, many thousands of children have been involved in the fighting.2 The main rebel forces, Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and the United Liberian Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO),3 have consistently used children under the age of eighteen, including thousands of children under fifteen. Children under fifteen are reportedly used by the other warring factions that have recently emerged. By all accounts, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the troops loyal to the former government of Samuel K. Doe, have not used people younger than eighteen as soldiers during the five-year civil war; however, the AFL has committed egregious offenses against children during the war.
The widespread use of child soldiers has ensured that many thousands of children in Liberia have suffered exceptional cruelties during the war; many child soldiers have been killed or wounded, or have witnessed terrible atrocities in a period in which thousands of other children, too,have died. Moreover, many children have themselves taken part in the killing, maiming or rape of civilians, including other children, or the looting of civilian homes. Many have staffed military checkpoints throughout the country where they have harassed and sometimes killed civilians. Some were only ten years old when they joined in the fighting; sometimes the weapons they carry are as tall as the children. As one Liberian working with former combatants put it: "It's the climax of the abuse of children's rights."
The use of children as soldiers presents grave human rights problems. Many of these children have been killed during the conflict -- denied the most basic right, the right to life. Others have been deprived of their liberty -- forcibly conscripted by warring factions, separated from their families against their wills. Many have been tortured and otherwise treated inhumanely by the warring factions with which they have served. Some have been forced to kill or torture others with consequent severe psychological effects to these children. All have been denied a normal childhood.
No one knows the exact number of children who have been used in the civil war in Liberia; even the total number of fighters used by all factions is unknown. It is estimated that 40,000 to 60,000 fighters are involved in the conflict.4 UNICEF estimates that 6,000 of the fighters, or 10 percent, are children under fifteen. In general, most observers agree that all the factions are made up largely of very young people; some estimate that another 20 percent of the fighters are between the ages of fifteen and seventeen.
People who work closely with child soldiers believe that the factions use children because they are obedient and do not question orders, because they are easier to manipulate. As one Liberian working with former combatants put it: "Adults need a good reason to take up arms. It is easier to convince kids to fight for almost nothing, with small promises of money and loot....They are easy prey for the factions."
Some observers told Human Rights Watch that children are used because they do not know what they are doing and do not realize that they are actually killing people. Counselors who work with former child solders do not believe this is true. Several told Human Rights Watch that once children have built up a relationship of trust with a counselor, they often reveal the guilt, horror and nightmares they suffer because of the appalling atrocities they have committed.
All the warring factions have forcibly recruited some children, but most children have joined voluntarily, usually because they saw no other way to survive. Children say they joined for various reasons: to avenge the killings of parents, other family or friends; to protect their families from the warring factions; or to get food for themselves and their families. In some cases, the children's families had been killed; no one was left to take care of them, and they took the only option that they thought they had -- to join a fighting force.
Children have played many roles in the conflict, ranging from carrying ammunition and cooking to serving at the front in major battles. Some have been used as spies, some as executioners, some as cannon fodder to draw the fire of adversaries. Many young boys -- as young as nine or ten -- staff checkpoints, where they have killed or terrorized civilians for no apparent reason. Almost all of the child soldiers are boys, although observers have reported girls among the child soldiers.
The educational level of the boys interviewed by Human Rights Watch ranged from no education (one boy could not read or write his own name) to fifth grade. Most of the children reported having gone only as far as first grade. A UNICEF official reported that before the war only 34 percent of Liberian children completed first grade.
Child soldiers reported training that lasted from one week to several months. Several described being taught how to shoot, how to put together and take apart weapons, how to "walk a far distance with a heavy load," how to take cover, how to carry out an ambush, how to "dodge bullets," how to crawl, squat, jog.
All of the child soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch had been armed. Most told us that they had carried AK-47's, fully automatic Kalashnikov assault rifles designed and manufactured in the former Soviet Union and the former eastern bloc. One boy said that he had carried and used a G-3 (a German-designed assault rifle used by NATO troops). With either of these weapons, one pull on the trigger can release as many as twenty (the G-3) or thirty (the AK-47) bullets.
Child soldiers report being treated cruelly by the factions to which they belonged; they have been beaten, flogged, and subjected to a form a torture called tabay -- in which a person's elbows are tied together behind his back, causing severe pain and often leading to nerve damage in the arms. Many children report being drugged with a mixture of cane juice and gunpowder, or with "bubbles," an amphetamine, to make them "strong and brave" for fighting at the front. Many child soldiers also report having been subjected to a cruel initiation rite on joining a warring faction in which a child is forced to kill or to commit some other atrocity to demonstrate that he would be a reliable fighter -- and to mark a turning point from which there would be no going back.
Many former child soldiers suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: sleeplessness, nightmares, flashbacks, bedwetting, anxiety, depression.
Reintegrating these children into their communities is an immense task. Some children's parents have been killed. In some cases children's families have fled, and no relatives can be found. In others, families have refused to take children back because of the abuses they have committed.
Efforts are currently underway to rehabilitate and reintegrate those children who have been captured or demobilized -- examining and counseling them and attempting to reunify them with their families. These efforts have been spearheaded by UNICEF and by a Liberian organization, the Children's Assistance Program (cap).
Human Rights Watch believes that children under eighteen should not take part in armed conflict, killing and being killed. Human Rights Watch supports international efforts to raise the minimum permissible age for participation in armed conflict from fifteen to eighteen years of age. We urge all warring factions to disarm and demobilize immediately all fighters under the age of eighteen and to refrain from any further such exploitation of children. We also urge the current government, the Liberian National Transitional Government (lntg), to do all in its power to keep warring factions from using children as soldiers. We urge the government to take all possible steps to ease the former child soldier's transition from war to a peaceful and productive life. Programs for this transition should start immediately, with long-term planning for the period after the war.
Since December 1989, Liberia has been devastated by a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of Liberians and caused an estimated one-third of its population to flee the country as refugees.5 The war has been marked by mass killings along ethnic lines and horrifying atrocities. Indeed, a characteristic of the Liberian civil war has been that civilians suffer the most, that they have been deliberately targeted by all the warring factions -- often because of their ethnicity -- and that as a consequence far more civilians than combatants have been killed. The lack of protection and respect for the lives of civilians by all sides and the profound distrust among the warring factions remain obstacles to lasting peace.
The roots of Liberia's civil war go far back in Liberian history.6 However, the immediate precursor dates from 1985: after President Samuel Doe, an ethnic Krahn who came to power in a 1980 coup, stole the presidential elections, he brutally suppressed a coup attempt led by Thomas Qwiwonkpa, an ethnic Gio. Doe's soldiers, the Krahn-dominated AFL, engaged in bloody reprisals against real and suspected opponents -- and their home communities as well -- targeting mostly Gios and Manos; hundreds were killed and hundreds more were detained without charge or trial. This violence and the subsequent repression set the stage for the country's ethnic conflict and civil war.
On December 24, 1989, Charles Taylor and his NPFL launched an incursion from the Ivory Coast into Nimba County. The AFL responded with a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign, indiscriminately killing civilians, burning villages, raping women and looting. The brutality served to swell the ranks of NPFL recruits, many of whom were Gio and Mano boys orphaned by the fighting and the random and reprisal killings that accompanied it, or enraged by the AFL's conduct.
The AFL went on the rampage outside Nimba as well. In one of the most egregious abuses of the war, on the night of July 29-30, 1990, AFL soldiers massacred some 600 people -- mostly Gios and Manos, many of them women with children -- who had taken refuge at St. Peter's Church in Monrovia.
Civilians also suffered at the hands of the NPFL. The NPFL targeted suspected supporters of the Doe regime, particularly members of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups. Throughout NPFL territory, civilians suffered the capricious actions of an occupying army -- arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, confiscation and destruction of property and restrictions on freedom of movement and freedom of expression.
In August 1990, without any prospect for intervention by the the United Nations or the United States, a peacekeeping force under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ecowas) arrived in Monrovia to separate the warring factions and to stop the bloodshed. The role assigned to the force, known as the Economic Community Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), was to impose a cease-fire and to help form an interim government that would hold elections within twelve months. With NPFL attacks continuing, there was no peace to keep, and ECOMOG itself engaged in combat to push the NPFL out of Monrovia.
This situation was aggravated in October 1992, when the NPFL attacked Monrovia. ECOMOG then accepted the assistance of other Liberian factions in fighting the NPFL, and in so doing dropped much of its appearance of neutrality. The human rights records of these factions -- ULIMO and the AFL -- ranged from suspect to abysmal. The AFL was thoroughly discredited by its horrific abuses during the 1980s and especially during the war in 1990, when it massacred civilians and devastated Monrovia. ULIMO is an offshoot of the AFL, and its conduct in the areas it captured in 1992 included extensive human rights abuses. Because of its conduct in the conflict, questions have been raised about ECOMOG's commitment to human rights and its ability to act as a neutral arbiter of the conflict.7
The chief warring factions currently involved in the conflict are Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which controls about 60 percent of the country; and the United Liberian Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), made up primarily of soldiers from former President Samuel K. Doe's army, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), which controls at least two western counties. In recent months, ULIMO has split along ethnic lines, pitting Krahns against Mandingos, causing serious casualties. Since late 1993, the NPFL has also been challenged by the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), a new armed faction made up largely of former AFL soldiers, most of whom are members of the Krahn ethnic group. The LPC claims to control significant territory in the southeast. The remaining troops of the Armed Forces of Liberia do not control territory per se, but are armed and deployed around Monrovia. In addition, the Lofa Defense Force (LDF) is fighting ULIMO in Lofa County.8
In June 1993, in one of the worst atrocities to be documented during the war, 547 civilians, mostly women and children, were massacred in a displaced persons camp outside of Harbel. The victims were shot, beaten or hacked to death. A United Nations investigation concluded that the massacre had been carried out by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL).
U.N. Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali condemned the Harbel massacre, and a new round of peace talks was initiated. The U.N. joined with ecowas and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to sponsor peace negotiations in Geneva that included representatives of all factions.
On July 25, 1993, a peace agreement was signed in Cotonou, Benin, by the NPFL, ULIMO, and the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). The peace accord stipulated that concomitant with disarmament, a five-person Council of State elected by all the factions would take power from the interim government until elections were held. A thirty-five-member transitional parliament would include thirteen members from the NPFL and the interim government, and nine from ULIMO. Between August 1993 and February 1994, political wrangling prevented the lntg from being seated.9 In February 1994, it was agreed that David Kpomakpor, a lawyer representing IGNU, would chair the lntg; with Dexter Tahyor of ULIMO10 and Issac Mussah of the NPFL as vice chairs. Finally, in mid-May, Dorothy Musuleng Cooper was named Foreign Minister.
An important element of the plan involved the creation of a U.N. Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) to help supervise and monitor the agreement, in conjunction with ECOMOG. The plan also provided for an expanded ECOMOG force, under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to be composed of African troops from outside the West African region. By early 1994, some 800 Tanzanians were deployed in Kakata, and 900 Ugandans were in Buchanan.
In March 1994, demobilization and disarmament formally began; although some progress was reported, the process lasted only a few days before the conflict erupted again. According to the U.S. Department of State, by late June, 1994, 3,400 fighters had been demobilized. A United Nations official estimated in April that between 175 and 200 children had been among the troops demobilized.
Life for children caught up in the civil war in Liberia is filled with random violence and acts of sickening cruelty. The war has spared no one. The World Health Organization reported in February 1994 that nearly two-thirds of high school students in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, had seen someone killed, tortured or raped during the civil war:
The children caught up in the war within the very ranks of the opposing forces experience additional horrors beyond those faced by the rest of the nation's children. People who work closely with former child soldiers told Human Rights Watch many stories of the appalling experiences through which these children have lived.12
Child soldiers have themselves committed serious atrocities, sometimes against total strangers but often targeting people they knew.16 As one social worker commented: "It is a fratricidal war. A poor or low status villager joins, say, ULIMO. Then he kills the teacher who flunked him, the man who beat him. Often women were raped by friends of their sons."
One international relief worker told Human Rights Watch:
Officials of both the NPFL and ULIMO acknowledge using children under fifteen as soldiers.
John T. Richardson, a spokesperson for the NPFL, told Human Rights Watch that the NPFL used children as fighters for their own protection:
Arthur Saye, another representative of the NPFL, told Human Rights Watch:
In an interview with Human Rights Watch, a ULIMO official, Lasanah Kromah, the brother of ULIMO head Alihaji Kromah, claimed that ULIMO used very few child soldiers, and none at the front:
People who work closely with former child soldiers told Human Rights Watch that they did not believe that the warring factions use children as fighters in order to protect the children. In discussing the advantages to warring factions of using children, one counselor said: "Children are very obedient; it's a strong cultural trait in Liberia. The children don't question their orders; they act out of blind obedience." Another counselor said: "Children are some of the best soldiers; they have nothing to lose."
These findings were echoed by a relief worker, who reported:
During the Octopus operation in 199220 children were used by NPFL as cannon fodder. They were in the first wave of troops, and the older fighters were behind them. At first the ECOMOG troops didn't want to shoot at the kids; some told us they were shocked to see such small kids fighting. But when the kids began shooting at them they had no alternative, so they began shooting and killing kids.
A Liberian child care worker noted the differences between children and adults, explaining why children were easily recruited:
Another Liberian child-care worker reported: "Children are easy to command and they have excessive energy that can be used. And they can stand conditions that adults can't."
Some child soldiers have been forcibly recruited. A child-care worker described how some of the children were threatened and forced to join a faction: "Some boys were told,'You join us or we'll kill your family.'" Other examples reported to Human Rights Watch include the following:
However, people who work with former child soldiers told Human Rights Watch that only a small percentage of children report having been forced by a warring faction to join.
Most children, when asked why they had joined one or another faction (Human Rights Watch interviewed children from both the NPFL and ULIMO factions) at first said it was because of "the advantage." When asked what this meant, children explained that they joined to avenge the killings of parents, brothers or sisters, to protect their families, or to get food for themselves and their families (extreme food shortages -- sometimes leading to starvation -- have existed in many counties during the fighting). In some cases, the children's families were killed, and with no one left to take care of them, the children took the only option that they thought they had -- to join a fighting force.
Among the cases reported to Human Rights Watch are the following:
Social workers, counselors and others who work directly with child soldiers described to Human Rights Watch a variety of factors that had impelled the children with whom they worked to join warring factions voluntarily. A U.N. official told Human Rights Watch: "Children joined for survival and protection."21 Another United Nations official said, "Children went to fight because their economic situation was so bad."
This point was summarized by Liberians working with the child soldiers. As one observer said:
The inducements to join armed groups often included promises of more than just the basic needs for a child's survival -- food, clothing and protection in a dangerous world. The groups depended upon foraging and looting, and the children, too, were promised a part of the spoils. Children were promised money and whatever they could loot -- including houses, cars, clothes, and food. This, in turn, encouraged children to abuse civilians in order to take their belongings. One counselor working with former child soldiers discussed how this increased the human rights abuses:
A child care worker noted some of the pressures put on the children to join:
A Liberian child care supervisor added that the militarization of Liberian society before the war was also an element pushing kids to join:
UNOMIL commander General Daniel Opande, told Human Rights Watch:
This view was shared by a civilian U.N. official, who said:
Human Rights Watch was told that it is not uncommon for children -- or for adults, for that matter -- to switch sides and fight with a different faction. If a child becomes disillusioned with one faction, either because of the way he has been treated or because of unkept promises, he may run away and join another warring faction. These children are motivated by self-preservation rather than by allegiance to any particular faction.
In some cases, boys recruit even smaller boys to act as their aides de camp (adc). These adcs are not always armed but are under the command of these young leaders.23
Human Rights Watch learned that children play many roles in the conflict, ranging from carrying ammunition and cooking to serving at the front in major battles. Among the duties performed by children included:
One child-care worker reported:
UNOMIL's Chief Operations Officer, Colonel Winkler, told Human Rights Watch:
All of the boys interviewed by Human Rights Watch had seen action at various fronts during the war. All said that they had fired their rifles during battle; most said they did not know whether their shots had killed anyone. Most reported seeing friends and sometimes brothers shot and killed at the front.
Representatives of warring factions, on the other hand, claim that children are not used for fighting except in rare instances. NPFL official Arthur Saye told us:
ULIMO official Lasanah Kromah stated:
Child soldiers and their counselors told Human Rights Watch that children have frequently been severely mistreated by the warring factions. KN, thirteen years old, who had been with the NPFL since 1993, told Human Rights Watch:
The treatment of child soldiers was described by a social worker as follows:
A counselor working with child soldiers discussed their treatment:
Liberian human rights activists also report mistreatment of child soldiers. A representative of the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission stated:
One former child soldier told Human Rights Watch that he had been "chopped with a bayonet" when his commanding officer thought that he was trying to run away.
There were also reports that the children were forced to have sex with women, especially at checkpoints. This was particularly aimed at higher class women as a way of humiliating them, and of breaking down the respect for elders. In addition, some children were themselves reportedly used sexually by older fighters.
A childcare worker reported:
The use of drugs among child soldiers was also reported to be prevalent. One man working with the child soldiers explained:
Several of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch told of being given "bubbles" that made them feel high. One spoke of having some drug put into his eyeball "so that you wouldn't see the people you killed, and you wouldn't think about it."
AS, thirteen, said:
Social workers who work closely with the children reported that although they heard many stories from children about "bubbles" or cane juice and gunpowder, they had not seen any children whom they believed to be addicted, although some children told of having "a burning desire" to go out and get drugs.
As indicated earlier, spokespersons for the factions told the mission that they did not mistreat children, but in fact protected and cared for them, feeding and clothing them, and keeping them away from the battlefronts.
Reintegrating former child soldiers into their communities presents problems of enormous difficulty. Most of these children have suffered terrible experiences. Many have seen their parents killed -- sometimes beheaded or disemboweled -- in front of their eyes. In some cases entire villages ran into the bush when a warring faction attacked, and children became separated from their families and have never seen them again. Most have been badly treated by the factions for whom they were fighting. Most have been forced, or have chosen, to kill, to loot, to rape, and to take part in dreadful atrocities.
Children's health has been at risk. Human Rights Watch was told by a relief worker that during Operation Octopus in 1992, for example, many children lived for weeks in swamps; many developed serious diseases and skin rashes. They have had no normal life, no chance to go to school or to play as ordinary children -- they have been robbed of their childhood. These children have been programmed to kill. Their daily lives have consisted of taking what they want at the point of a gun.
People who work closely with former child soldiers told Human Rights Watch that many of the boys were tired of fighting. A childcare supervisor said: "They want to be children again. They are tired and confused, and they want to go back to school." As one child soldier put it: "It was very bad being a fighter; I was afraid I would be killed." Another said,
Another former child soldier said that he would caution other boys not to fight:
Some people who work with children do not believe that the children experienced guilt or emotional upset because of their actions as fighters. A supervisor reported:
One counselor reported that child soldiers sometimes respond to questions as if they do not realize the consequences of their actions. She related the following interchange between herself and a child soldier:
However, a psychologist who works with children disputed the view that the children did not know what they were doing:
AW, fifteen years old, fought with NPFL for two years. He says: "I killed, but I ain't killed that much. I feel bad about the killing. I pray to God to forgive me."
Some children suffer from such guilt about their acts during the war that they consider suicide:
According to counselors and social workers who work closely with former child soldiers, many suffer from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Human Rights Watch was told that many have nightmares, wet their beds, cry, cannot sleep, have difficulty in relating to others, display aggressive or hyperactive behavior; some hear voices. Many suffer from anxiety or depression, and have difficulty concentrating.
Elizabeth Mulbah, a Liberian active in reconciliation and healing programs and currently the director of Community Reconstruction and Rehabilitation for UNOMIL, explained the long-term nature of the problem:
The UNOMIL Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program has trained one hundred trainers to work with community people, sensitizing them to the problems involved in reintegrating fighters into their communities. Ms. Mulbah said: "We all agree -- the children were just used." She told Human Rights Watch that she hopes that this sentiment will aid the communities in accepting the returning children.
At present, two groups are attempting to rehabilitate former child soldiers. One is the Children's Assistance Program (cap), which runs three residences in which children receive counseling and some training. cap's goal is to reunify children with their families; its task is to rehabilitate all of the former child soldiers under the age of fifteen. It has a training component in which older children are taught carpentry, graphic arts and other skills. Counseling is provided for children and, sometimes, for their parents, to try to ease the child's transition back to his or her community. As of April 1994, the program has received 168 former soldiers, only one of whom is a girl.
The second program consists of community-based transit homes -- small group homes -- with comprehensive services run under the auspices of UNICEF. Eighty-six former child soldiers have been involved in the program, ranging in age from nine years old to eighteen. The goal of the program is to de-traumatize the children and to reunite them with their families. Fifty-seven children have been reunited with their families so far; the transit home follows up the reunification to see how the children and families are managing.
The problems in reintegrating former child soldiers into their communities are immense. One child care worker told Human Rights Watch:
Lasanah Kromah of UNOMIL told Human Rights Watch:
But reintegration is not easy. Some of the problems were described by a relief worker, who reported:
General Daniel Opande of UNOMIL recognized the critical need for reintegration and expressed optimism that it will work.
Most of the former child soldiers interviewed by Human Rights Watch told us that they wanted to go back to school:
A supervisor at a transitional camp for children reported that 64.4 percent of the forty-nine children in the camp wanted to go back to school, 12.5 percent wanted to take vocational courses, 6.3 percent wanted to start a business, and 16.7 percent didn't know what they wanted to do.31
No one underestimates the difficulties of reintegrating these children. The president of the former interim government, Amos Sawyer, called it "a problem of enormous proportions." He continued:
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child states that "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care." The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states in the preamble that "childhood is entitled to special care and assistance."
International humanitarian law (the laws of war) -- the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two additional protocols of 1977 -- accord special protection and treatment to children in armed conflict. Protocol II to the Geneva Convention forbids the use of child soldiers under the age of 15 in internal armed conflicts:
Liberia acceded to the Geneva Conventions in March 1954 and to Protocol II in June 1988. Protocol II is binding on armed opposition groups as well as on states parties.
International human rights law has also taken on the question of child soldiers. Article 38 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child33 provides:
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child also requires governments to promote the social reintegration of child victims of armed conflicts. Article 39 states:
Liberia signed and ratified this convention on July 4, 1993.
The African Charter on the Rights of the Child states:
An international effort is underway to raise the minimum age of recruitment from fifteen years of age to eighteen. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, established by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and charged with monitoring states parties' compliance with the convention, has written a preliminary draft of an Optional Protocol to the Convention that would raise the minimum age of recruitment to eighteen. A 1994 Swedish resolution (1994/91) on the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child urged the U.N. Human Rights Commission to ask the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to establish a working group to draft an optional protocol to the Convention to raise the minimum age for participation in armed conflict to eighteen. The resolution has forty-eight co-sponsors from all regional groups.36 Human Rights Watch supports this effort.
Throughout the 1980s, the United States supported the brutal and corrupt regime of former President Samuel K. Doe; Liberia was the largest recipient of U.S. aid in sub-Saharan Africa. When the war reached its height in 1990, the U.S. largely withdrew from its formerly close engagement with Liberia; the U.S. maintained a policy of neutrality and sought ties with all factions while remaining the leading donor to the victims of the war. Toward the end of 1993, when it became clear that the latest peace plan required substantial U.S. assistance if it was to succeed, the Clinton administration, with congressional support, made Liberia a higher priority.
The main tenets of stated U.S. policy toward Liberia are to support conflict resolution efforts by ecowas and the U.N., to withhold recognition of any of the governments that have been created since the war began, and to promote ecowas and its peace plan. By the end of 1993, the conflict resolution efforts had gained new momentum: on September 30, the U.S. obligated $19.83 million ($13 million in Economic Support Funds and the rest in Foreign Military Financing) to the U.N. Trust Fund for peacekeeping in Liberia. The money is to be used by ECOMOG and the oau to help finance the deployment of the expanded ECOMOG troops -- not for assistance with lethal weapons, but for transportation, food, and non-lethal equipment for the troops. On December 20, 1993, the U.S. allocated an additional $11 million in support for the U.N.-monitored African peacekeeping operation in Liberia.
United States Ambassador William Twaddell told Human Rights Watch that the United States is playing a supportive role at present, helping the United Nations and ecowas peace efforts, and "trying to help our Liberian friends who want peace."37 Ambassador Twaddell said that he had raised the issue of child soldiers with representatives of both the NPFL and ULIMO, telling them both that the use of children as fighters was "disgusting and unjustifiable." He said that he had also raised human rights violations with the AFL.
Human Rights Watch has concluded that children under the age of eighteen, including many thousands of children under fifteen, have been used, and are still being used, by the warring factions in the civil war in Liberia, although not by the Armed Forces of Liberia. The warring factions are bound by Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids the use of children under fifteen as soldiers in internal armed conflicts. Protocol II binds all parties to a conflict, not just government forces.
Human Rights Watch believes that international law should be amended so that no one under the age of eighteen can take part in armed conflict, in either government service or as a member of an armed opposition group.
Human Rights Watch urges all warring factions to disarm and demobilize immediately all fighters under the age of eighteen, and to refrain permanently from enlisting children under eighteen in the conflict.
Human Rights Watch urges the Liberian National Transition Government to do all in its power to persuade warring factions to end the use of children as soldiers.
Human Rights Watch concludes that the reintegration of children into society, returning them to normal lives, will be an immensely difficult task. We urge the government of Liberia to take all possible steps to ease the child soldier's transition from a life of killing and looting to a peaceful and productive existence. Human Rights Watch recommends that the programs for this transition start immediately and continue after the conflict.
Human Rights Watch urges the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, the United States and other governments:
Human Rights Watch supports international efforts to press for an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would raise the minimum age for participation in armed conflict from fifteen to eighteen.
1 The word "children" is used in this report to mean anyone under the age of eighteen. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier" (Article 1). The African Charter for the Rights of the Child, which is not yet in force, also defines a child as a human being under the age of eighteen (Article 2).
2 The laws of war (specifically, the norms of humanitarian law found in the 1977 Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949) forbid the use of children under the age of fifteen as soldiers and urge states to give priority to the oldest children when recruiting children between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child contains similar language. See section on Requirements of International Law, below.
3 In March 1994, ULIMO split into two along ethnic lines; the Krahn faction is headed by Gen. Roosevelt Johnson, and the Mandingo faction is headed by Alhadji Kromah. The inter-ULIMO fighting in the western counties of Bomi and Cape Mount has reportedly claimed hundreds of civilian lives since it flared up in March.
4 The UN Consolidated Interagency Appeal of November 1993 puts the figure at 60,000. Other observers believe the figure to be considerably lower.
5 Estimates of the number of Liberians killed during the war range from 50,000 to 150,000.
The population of Liberia in 1991 was estimated to be 2,637,000 (World Book, 1992). As of April 1994, an estimated 711,000 Liberians remained as refugees in the neighboring countries: 415,000 in Guinea; 250,000 in the Ivory Coast; 25,000 in Ghana; 17,000 in Sierra Leone; and 4,000 in Nigeria. (The war also displaced some 400,000 Sierra Leoneans, 170,000 of whom went to Guinea and 100,000 to Liberia.) The issue of repatriation of the refugees remained subject to progress on the political front and the resolution of certain security concerns, and as of April 1994 no significant repatriation had occurred.
For background information on the Liberian war, see Africa Watch (the former name of Human Rights Watch/Africa) publications:
Liberia: Human Rights Abuses by the Liberian Peace Council and the Need for International Oversight, May 1994.
Liberia: Waging War to Keep the Peace: the ECOMOG Intervention and Human Rights, June 1993.
Liberia: The Cycle of Abuse: Human Rights Violations since the November Cease-fire, October 1991.
Liberia: A Human Rights Disaster, October 1990.
Liberia: Flight from Terror. Testimony of Abuses in Nimba County, May 1990.
6 Liberia was founded in 1847 by freed American slaves. The new republic was controlled by the settlers, known as Americo-Liberians, who effectively held power for 133 years. The settlers ruled the country like a colony, in the name of a "Christianizing" and "civilizing" mission, while establishing a feudal structure with all social, economic and political power in their hands, and subjecting the indigenous population to a range of abuses. For these reasons, the 1980 coup that brought Samuel Doe to power was welcomed by many Liberians, who saw it as the overthrow of the ruling elite.
7 See Africa Watch: Liberia--Waging War to Keep the Peace: The Ecomog Intervention and Human Rights, June 1993.
8 The Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), that broke away from the NPFL in 1990 and was led by Prince Johnson, effectively disbanded in October 1992. The INPFL also used child soldiers.
9 On August 16, the Liberian factions elected Bismark Kuyon, representing the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), as chairman of the interim council, and Dorothy Musuleng Cooper of the NPFL as vice-chairman. On October 20, the NPFL abruptly replaced Musuleng Cooper with Isaac Mussah, a notorious NPFL commander. On November 15, IGNU replaced Kuyon with Philip Banks, who had been serving as Minister of Justice.
10 Thomas Ziah, a Krahn, refused to support his fellow ULIMO candidate, Mohamed Sheriff, as chairman, and this led to the split within ULIMO. Kromah sacked Ziah on March 3, and ordered Krahn fighters in ULIMO to be disarmed. General Roosevelt Johnson, a Krahn, announced on March 6 that he had replaced Kromah as head of ULIMO. Ziah was then replaced by Dexter Tahyor, a compromise candidate.
11 Reuters Information Services Inc., February 2, 1994.
12 Unless otherwise indicated, the interviews cited with counselors, social workers, child care workers, relief workers, supervisors and others whose names cannot be used took place in Monrovia, Liberia, between April 15 and April 28, 1994.
13 The initials FW are not this boy's real initials; all names and identifying information in this report have been changed for the children's protection.
14 This account was related by a counselor who works with TL in Monrovia.
15 UE gave this account to a counselor in Monrovia who reported it to Human Rights Watch.
16 Children were also involved in some of the most notorious abuses of the war. For example, a child soldier took part in the killing of five American nuns in late October 1992. The nuns, based in Gardnersville, were killed by the NPFL. The nuns were: Sister Barbara Ann Muttra, 69; Sister Joelle Kolmer, 58; Sister Shirley Kolmer, 61; Sister Kathleen McGuire, 54; and Sister Agnes Mueller, 62. Three were killed in the convent house and two were shot on a nearby road. Although the nuns represented a tiny fraction of those killed, their death attracted international attention to the resurging war.
17 Interview in Monrovia, April 18, 1994.
18 Interview in Monrovia, April 20, 1994.
19 Interview in Monrovia, April 19, 1994.
20 The so-called Operation Octopus took place in October 1992 when Charles Taylor's NPFL forces launched a major offensive against Monrovia. See Background section, above.
21 Interviewed in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 15, 1994.
22 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 20, 1994.
23 It should be noted that many of the boy soldiers have the rank of squad commander, lieutenant -- even general. The rank or responsibility is handed over to a certain boy as a reward for having done something special. "Of course," Col. Winkler of UNOMIL told Human Rights Watch, "that usually involves some kind of atrocity. It's the only competition they have."
24 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 19, 1994.
25 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 20, 1994.
26 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 19, 1994.
27 Michelle Faul, Associated Press dispatch from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, June 13, 1994.
28 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 18, 1994.
29 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 19, 1994.
30 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 20, 1994.
31 Interview, April 25, 1994.
32 Interview with Amos Sawyer in Monrovia, April 25, 1994.
33 See Appendix for full text of Convention on the Rights of the Child.
34 Liberian Mission to the United Nations, telephone conversation, May 4, 1994.
35 Quaker United Nations Office - Geneva, "Recruitment of Children: the International Standards and How They Could be Improved," February 1994, p. 4.
36 QUNO Reporter, Quaker United Nations Office Geneva Newsletter, January-March 1994, p. 2.
37 Interviewed in Monrovia, April 19, 1994.