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Abuses by Liberian Government Forces and Militias
Liberian government forces and militias have committed widespread abuses against civilians, particularly in Lofa and Cape Mount counties in the country's northwest. These forces include the regular army, known as the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), as well as the paramilitary Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) and various militia groups (see below). According to numerous victims and witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the abuses usually follow a similar pattern. After driving LURD forces from an area, government forces hunt down and detain local people whom they find hiding in the bush, including civilians. Those they suspect of supporting the LURD are then beaten, tortured, or summarily executed, in some cases by being confined in houses that the soldiers set on fire, burning the victims to death. Young women and girls are often raped and forced to become "wives" to the soldiers; young men are subjected to forced labor, being made to carry looted goods and captured weapons; and villages are systematically razed to the ground. Government forces violently round up civilians fleeing from the fighting, and separate and conscript young men in a manner which violates human rights. Sometimes those conscripted include boys. The conscripts are then sent to the front, often without any proper training.

In conducting research for this report, Human Rights Watch obtained first hand testimonies about many incidents in which Liberian government forces committed gross abuses. Some of these are briefly described here; extracts from testimonies obtained from eye-witnesses to some of the events recorded are also included in the last section of this report:

    · In April 2001, AFL troops raided a small clinic in Sasahun and executed six adults, including one patient recovering from an appendix operation.
    · In July 2001, AFL troops rounded up hundreds of civilians and burned at least fifteen of them to death in Kamatehun.
    · In September 2001, scores of ethnic Gbandi civilians who had been captured in the bush by AFL troops were taken to Kamatehun, where the troops forcibly confined some thirty of them in four houses and burned them to death. The troops killed another fifteen civilians by cutting their throats.
    · Also in September 2001, three youths accused of supporting the LURD were detained by AFL soldiers in Masambalahun and later killed.
    · In October 2001, AFL soldiers forced civilians whom they caught hiding to carry boxes of ammunition to Vahun and then lined up and shot six of them, and confined six others in a house and burned them to death.
    · In December 2001, AFL soldiers who had driven LURD forces from Kolahun, fired indiscriminately into houses in the town, killing civilians, and gang-raped six women and girls, including a twelve-year-old girl and a woman who was pregnant. When the soldiers left the town, they forced civilians to carry the goods they had looted to Foya, two and a half hours' walk away.
    · That same month, between Yenahun and Kamatehun, government soldiers raped a number of women, and executed a family who tried to leave, as a warning to others.
    · In January 2002, at Sawmill, AFL soldiers shot a thirty-year-old woman pointblank in the forehead, killing her, and wounded her four-year-old son, when she opened the door to her house.
    · In February 2002, ATU officers in Klay detained and tortured three men whom they accused of being rebels, before releasing them the following morning.

Government soldiers and militias have also been responsible for widespread looting, both in towns and villages that they occupied and at checkpoints on the roads. Local residents are often forced to carry looted belongings and captured weapons long distances by the army. As civilians flee conflict areas, they are repeatedly made to pay government soldiers in order to pass through checkpoints to safety, and in order to cross the border into Sierra Leone.

Although both the deputy minister of defense and the commander of the AFL denied it to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of civilian men-and sometimes boys-are being forced to fight for the government. There are no publicly established and clear criteria and procedures governing conscription, while recruits are not given any advance warning of conscription, any indication of how long they will be forced to serve, nor any idea of where they will be taken for training or for combat. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of an October 2001 "activities report" by a Captain Bill Dunbar (Jungle Lion Special Operation, Foya), confirming a policy of forced conscription by the AFL in Lofa County. The report stated that: "... the young men among the civilians retrieved from the bushes are selected and recruited and sent to base [to] be thoroughly screen[ed]." Attached to the report were the names of some 350 civilians captured by the government.

Forced recruitment by the government of young men, and sometimes boys, is often accompanied by abuses such as arbitrary detention and mistreatment, and recruits are then deployed without any prior notification to themselves or their families, and with little or no training. In February 2002, after President Taylor accused people in certain areas of Monrovia of harboring rebels, the Special Operations Division (SOD) police conducted house-to-house searches, systematically rounding up men. Hundreds of young men, and in a few cases boys, were arbitrarily detained, beaten, and accused of being rebel supporters. Many were given the choice of paying a bribe or being sent to the war front. Some who could not pay were forcibly recruited. Human Rights Watch interviewed one Liberian refugee who had recognized five civilians who had been rounded up and detained in Monrovia before being deployed at government checkpoints along the road in Cape Mount County without any opportunity to notify their families and without any training appropriate for their duties. Human Rights Watch documented other cases where internally displaced persons fleeing from the fighting had been abused and violently rounded up in the forest or at checkpoints. The young men were then separated from their families and taken away for recruitment into the army.

In the face of renewed rebel action and negative international publicity, the Taylor government has become increasingly intolerant of dissent. In particular, it has intensified its harassment and intimidation of the independent press, civil society groups, and legitimate political opposition groups. Since imposing a state of emergency in February 2002, the government has carried out a spate of arrests, clearly intended to silence criticism:

    · Journalists Stanley Seekor, J. James, and Ellis Togba from The Analyst newspaper were threatened and briefly detained after their newspaper published an article discussing the state of emergency.
    · The authorities also detained Frances Johnson Morris, director of Liberia's Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, for several hours among male inmates at the police prison at the Police Headquarters in Monrovia ostensibly on grounds of "mistaken identity" only days after she had made a public presentation questioning the state of emergency.
    · On March 27, Nipla Wiaplah, chair of the New Deal Movement party, was held for several days in police custody without charge as police determined whether an article in The News that he had authored on the war posed a national security threat. The News editor-in-chief Jerome Dalieh and acting news editor Bill Jarkloh were also held briefly without charge for publishing the article.
    · After the National Human Rights Center of Liberia, an umbrella organization comprising nine nongovernmental human rights groups, issued several press releases protesting government abuses, five of its members-Aloysius Toe, Tunny Zeogar, Peter Nickoson, John Okai, and Sam Nimely-were arrested on March 28 and held without charge for several days. Although they were released after a court order was filed, they were rearrested shortly after, and charged with "criminal malevolence" and "preventing arrest and discharge of other duties."
    · Augustine Toe of the Justice and Peace Commission was arrested on March 28 and held without charge for several hours.
    · On April 24, human rights lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe, was arrested without charge by the police, and beaten so severely that he was unable to stand and required hospitalization. He had been speaking out against security force abuses and other human rights violations. The Analyst newspaper, which had just reported on a statement recently made by Gongloe at a conference on peace in the Mano River Union, was ordered closed.

Disturbingly, the conflict also has taken on an ethnic dimension, with the Taylor government indiscriminately accusing ethnic Mandingo, Krahn, and Gbandi citizens of Liberia of supporting the rebel incursion. Members of these groups, as a result, face growing discrimination, arbitrary arrests, and violence at the hands of the government and its supporters, based on their ethnicity. Many LURD fighters are ethnic Mandingo or Krahn, and many reportedly fought with the two former ULIMO rebel factions during the pre-1997 civil war. As a result, other ethnic Mandingos and Krahns, as well as ethnic Gbandis, are clearly considered suspect by the government and have been accused of being rebel supporters. For their part, LURD forces have committed some of their worst abuses against ethnic Kissi civilians, perhaps because the RUF rebel group in Sierra Leone, which had a longstanding alliance with the Taylor government, formerly had its stronghold in an ethnic Kissi area in Sierra Leone. Human Rights Watch learned of a number of cases in which AFL fighters had escorted ethnic Kissi civilians, fleeing fighting, to safety over the Sierra Leone border.

Government Forces Responsible for Abuses
One of the most important steps for Liberia's reconstruction after the seven-year-long civil war ended in 1997 was to have been the restructuring and retraining of the country's armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The existing Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) had a long history of abusing human rights both before and during the civil war, and there were thousands of ex-combatants from all sides in the war to be demobilized and reintegrated into society.1 Under the Abuja Peace Accords that signaled the end of the conflict, the restructuring was to have been conducted by the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG (the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group), and the newly reconstituted Liberian armed forces and police were to be drawn from all the disbanded factions.

However, one of President Taylor's first policy decisions was to refuse to allow ECOMOG to be involved in this process. Instead, he reconstituted the security and police forces using his own ex-combatants, purged and marginalized troops from the existing AFL that had opposed him during the war, and created new security forces that reported directly to him. Liberians began to have problems with the new security and police forces almost immediately.

Shortly after his inauguration in l997, President Taylor created two elite paramilitary security forces, the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) and the Special Security Service (SSS); these units report directly to Taylor and commit abuses with impunity. The ATU is headed by the president's son, Charles Taylor, Jr., and the SSS is led by Benjamin Yeaten. Neither of these forces is established by law, nor are their operational costs included in the state budget. There is no effective mechanism for victims of abuse by these forces to lodge a complaint with any government structure and obtain redress. Both forces have become notorious for abuses, including abuse of civilians, extortion, and looting. There have also been reports of extrajudicial killings and torture by the ATU, particularly at its base at Gbatala. Victims of torture by the ATU have been held in water-filled holes in the ground, burned with molten plastic, beaten and sexually abused, and forced to drink urine and eat cigarette butts. Additionally, within the Liberian National Police, headed by Paul Mulbah, an elite Special Operations Division (SOD) was created after Taylor came into office, made up largely of former Taylor-faction fighters; this police unit has also been responsible for arbitrary arrests, mistreatment, and extortion.

The Ministry of Defense, headed by Daniel Chea, oversees the now marginalized AFL, but also appears to have some measure of control over militia groups. Although it has had some new recruits, the AFL still includes many soldiers who served under the government of former president Samuel Doe (1980-1989), perhaps to secure their loyalty to the Taylor government. For that reason, the AFL is not fully trusted by the government, and its soldiers are neither well equipped nor regularly paid. Even so, the AFL remains the largest government fighting force and the Taylor government has sent a large number of AFL troops to oppose the rebel incursion. These soldiers are effectively given free rein to pay themselves through looting. In particular, Human Rights Watch heard consistent testimonies of abuses by soldiers, especially those serving in the AFL Jungle Lion Operation, often wearing yellow t-shirts.

Human Rights Watch heard many disturbing reports that the Liberian government has, since the LURD incursion began, established a number of new militia groups, whose numbers, structures, and leaders remain unclear. Both the AFL command and Ministry of Defense officials told Human Rights Watch that the Taylor government's frontline troops are drawn not only from the AFL but increasingly include militia groups largely made up of remobilized men who fought with Charles Taylor's NPFL during the civil war. Hundreds of former combatants, many of them originally recruited as children, are being regrouped, organized, and supported by Taylor's former commanders, such as Roland Duo, chief of security of the National Port Authority, who reportedly commands a militia group in Lofa County; Melvin Sobandi, the deputy minister of transport; Siaffa Norman, and Adolphus Dolo. The militia effort against the LURD appears to be under the supervision of long-time Taylor ally, Kuku Dennis, a businessman with timber interests in Nimba County. In March 2002, Human Rights Watch interviewed three young men, formerly part of an NPFL "Small Boys Unit" (SBU) who were undergoing training for a new militia group, which they called the Executive Mansion Special Operations Unit. The militia groups are also believed to include former members of Sierra Leone's RUF rebel group, many of whom crossed into Liberia during and after the disarmament process in Sierra Leone.

The various security agencies and militia groups have extensive powers, poorly defined mandates, and overlapping functions. This situation has resulted in a jockeying for power between the various groups and a complete lack of accountability. The state security apparatus as it exists today in Liberia undermines any possibility of respect for human rights and the consolidation of peace in Liberia.

1 The six factions of the seven-year civil war in Liberia were: the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) headed by Charles Taylor; the former government Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL); two rival factions of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), one led by Al-Haji Kromah representing ethnic Mandingo interests, and the other headed by Roosevelt Johnson representing ethnic Krahn interests; the Liberia Peace Council (LPC); and the Lofa Defence Force (LDF).

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