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The Civil War
Sierra Leone is a coastal West African country that shares borders with Guinea and Liberia. It has a population of close to five and a half million (July 2001 estimate) composed of sixteen ethnic groups.7 These are the Fullah, Gola, Koranko, Kissi, Kono, Krim, Krio, Limba, Loko, Mandingo, Mende, Sherbro, Susu, Temne, Vai and Yalunka. The Mende, in the south, and the Temne, in the north, are the largest ethnic groups (around 30 percent each). The Krio, who are descendants of freed slaves, were settled in the area of Freetown (now the capital) in the late eighteenth century and make up 10 percent of the total population. The educated Krio minority generally still occupies a higher social and economic position and has traditionally been resented by the other groups. Sierra Leone was a British colony, and English is Sierra Leone's official language. Krio, largely based on English vocabulary but with its own grammar, is the first language of the Krios as well as Sierra Leone's lingua franca. Though there are no reliable figures, Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim country (around 60 percent) with the remainder of the population practicing indigenous religions (10 percent) and Christianity (30 percent).8

In 1961, Sierra Leone gained its independence from the United Kingdom. For most of the next three decades, Sierra Leone was governed by the All People's Congress (APC), dominated by the northern Temne and Limba ethnic groups, which came into power in 1967.9 The corruption, nepotism and fiscal mismanagement under the one-party rule of the APC led to the decay of all state institutions and the impoverishment of Sierra Leone's population, notwithstanding the country's large deposits of diamonds, gold, rutile, and bauxite. Frustration with government corruption and mismanagement led to the formation of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1984. The RUF claimed to be a political movement with the aim of salvaging the country and overthrowing the APC. Its invasion of Sierra Leone from Liberia on March 23, 1991 triggered the civil war that was to last ten years.

At its inception, the RUF consisted of a mixture of middle class students with a populist platform, unemployed and alienated youths, and Liberian fighters from Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), who had helped Charles Taylor in his quest to become the president of Liberia. A lesser-known covert sponsor of the RUF was the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), with its ethnic base among the Mendes from the south, which also sought the overthrow of the APC.10 The RUF was led by Foday Sankoh, a former army corporal who had been imprisoned in 1971 for his alleged involvement in an attempted coup against the APC. Sankoh had also reportedly received training in Libya with Taylor.11 The RUF initially consisted of two small groups of only 150 combatants in total. As the RUF captured border towns and villages in Kailahun and Pujehun districts, they used tactics similar to those used to terrorize civilians during the Liberian civil war: seizing and summarily executing chiefs, village elders, traders, government agents and suspected SLA collaborators.12 The violence and looting or "jah-jah," especially by the Liberian mercenaries within the RUF, was sanctioned by Sankoh who justified them as reward for the mercenaries' support.13 The RUF's ideology of salvation quickly degenerated into a campaign of violence whose principal aim was to gain access to the country's diamond and other mineral wealth. From the very beginning, the RUF's campaign of terror included sexual violence and sexual slavery, committed on a widespread and systematic basis.

In April 1992, APC President Joseph Momoh was overthrown in a military coup by twenty-six-year-old army captain Valentine Strasser, who formed the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). Strasser vowed to end corruption and create opportunities for all Sierra Leoneans. The new regime, however, was as corrupt as the old. The RUF continued to gain strength and was joined by numerous soldiers from the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) who were disgruntled with their poor conditions. These soldier-rebels or "sobels" discarded their uniforms at night to loot but wore government uniforms and continued to work for the government during the day. The "sobels," who included officers, also provided weapons, ammunition, and intelligence to RUF forces.

Starting in January 1991, Momoh and later Strasser embarked on a recruitment drive that swelled the army's ranks to approximately twelve thousand, aiming to dislodge the RUF including by offering its youthful constituency a lucrative alternative. Many of the new soldiers were unemployed drifters, petty criminals, and street children as young as twelve. Given the inability of the undisciplined and ill-trained SLA to drive out the RUF, in March 1995, Strasser invited Executive Outcomes (E.O.), a South African private security company, to fight the RUF and guard the mining areas, in return for concessions over their production. The RUF was by that time approaching Freetown and controlled most of the diamond mining areas. By December 1995, E.O. had retaken a number of key diamond areas and began to collaborate with the pro-government militia known as the Civil Defense Forces (CDF), of which the Kamajors are the largest and most powerful.

The CDF movement began with the establishment of the Eastern Region Defence Committee in 1993-4 and was greatly expanded in 1996 when regent chief Hinga Norman was appointed deputy minister of defense in Kabbah's government and head of the CDF, with the government providing the CDF with training, weapons and food.14 The CDF movement consists of groups of traditional hunters and young men who were used by the government to defend their native areas. The Kamajors operate mainly in the south and east, the Tamaboros in the far north, the Gbettis in the north and the Donzos in the far east. Civilians who joined the CDF underwent initiation ceremonies, which were said to bestow magical powers, making them immortal and invincible.15 Units of fighters were initially deployed only in their own chiefdoms to ensure their loyalty and discipline and make the best use of their superior bush knowledge. The CDF, in contrast to the SLA and the RUF, had the support of the local civilians and were very effective, overrunning main RUF camps in late 1996 with the support of E.O. and the army.

In January 1996, Strasser was overthrown by his deputy, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Bio initiated peace negotiations with the RUF, which had begun to suffer a number of defeats, as well as a program to return Sierra Leone to civilian rule. In March 1996, elections were held, and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP, who pledged to bring about an end to the war, became president of Sierra Leone.

In November 1996, the RUF and Kabbah's government signed the Abidjan Peace Accord, which provided for a ceasefire, disarmament, demobilization, an amnesty to the RUF, and the withdrawal of all foreign forces. The ceasefire was broken in January 1997, however, when serious fighting broke out in southern Moyamba district. In January 1997, Sankoh was arrested in Nigeria on an arms charge and imprisoned by the Nigerian government.

In May 1997, fourteen months after assuming power, President Kabbah was overthrown in a coup led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who formed a new government called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Koroma had escaped from prison, where he had been held following an earlier attempted coup in September 1996. The AFRC suspended the constitution, banned political parties, and announced rule by military decree. Days of looting by soldiers followed the coup, which also ushered in a period of political repression characterized by arbitrary arrests and detention. An attempt by Nigerian and Guinean troops (who had been in Sierra Leone since 1995 as part of bilateral security accords to give support to the NPRC), supported by South African mercenaries, to oust Koroma failed.16

The AFRC consisted primarily of disgruntled ex-SLA soldiers who had become disillusioned by President Kabbah's decision to cut back support for the military. Koroma also cited the government's failure to implement the peace agreement as the reason for the coup. The SLA accused Kabbah of having put greater confidence for the country's defense in and giving more economic resources to the CDF than to the army. Formalizing an alliance between the army and the rebels based on joint opposition to President Kabbah and the SLPP, the AFRC invited the RUF to join its government in June 1997.

From exile in Guinea, President Kabbah mobilized international condemnation for and a response to the coup makers. In response to a plea from Kabbah, hundreds of Nigerian troops based in Liberia as part of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) moved to Freetown, reinforcing ECOMOG colleagues already based at the Freetown airport to defend it from attacks by the RUF. Nigerian vessels stationed off Freetown shelled the city, reportedly killing at least fifty people. Nigerian forces were, however, eventually forced to withdraw from around the capital. In August 1997, following the AFRC's announcement of a four-year program for elections and return to civilian rule, which represented a breakdown in negotiations initiated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), ECOWAS established a strict economic embargo against Sierra Leone. In October 1997, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution also imposing mandatory sanctions on Sierra Leone, including an embargo on arms and oil imports, which ECOMOG forces were mandated to enforce.

After negotiations in Guinea under the auspices of ECOWAS, the Kabbah government-in-exile and the RUF/AFRC signed an agreement on October 23, 1997, providing for the return to power of President Kabbah by April 1998. The RUF/AFRC, however, undermined the implementation of the accord by stockpiling weapons and attacking the positions of ECOMOG forces. In February 1998, ECOMOG forces together with Kamajor militia launched an operation that drove the RUF/AFRC forces from Freetown. In March 1998, President Kabbah was reinstated. Over the succeeding months ECOMOG forces were able to establish control over roughly two-thirds of the country, including all regional capitals: as of mid-1998, the ECOMOG contingent in Sierra Leone was composed of approximately 12,500 troops, predominantly Nigerian with support battalions from Guinea, Gambia, Ghana and Niger.17 Sankoh was transferred to Sierra Leone from Nigeria and incarcerated in July 1998. In October 1998, the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone tried and sentenced Sankoh to death for his role in the 1997 coup.

Once expelled from Freetown, the AFCR/RUF rebels tried to consolidate their own positions in other parts of the country. The Kabbah government, which had negligible forces of its own, had to rely on ECOMOG to stay in power. Through a series of offensives, the RUF/AFRC managed to gain control of the diamond-rich Kono district and several other strategic towns and areas. By late 1998, the rebels had gained the upper hand militarily and were in control of over half of the country, including all the mineral-rich areas. From this position, the RUF/AFRC launched a major offensive on Freetown in January 1999.

The battle for Freetown and ensuing three-week rebel occupation of the capital were characterized by the systematic and widespread perpetration of a wide range of abuses against the civilian population, and marked the most intensive and concentrated period of human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations in Sierra Leone's ten-year civil war. At least five thousand civilians were killed and one hundred civilians had limbs amputated, including twenty-six double arm amputations. Thousands of women and girls, including girls as young as eight, were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual violence. In addition, the rebels used civilians as human shields, both while advancing towards ECOMOG positions and as a defense against ECOMOG air power. They also burnt whole neighborhoods, often with the residents in their houses.

Government and the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces also committed serious human rights abuses, though on a lesser scale, including over 180 summary executions of rebels and their suspected collaborators. Prisoners taken by ECOMOG, some of who had surrendered and many of whom were wounded, were executed on the spot often with little or no effort to establish their guilt or innocence. Officers to the level of captain were present and participated in the executions. ECOWAS officials have yet to initiate a formal investigation into these killings.

As the RUF/AFRC were driven out of Freetown in February 1999, they abducted thousands of civilians, who were used to carry looted goods and ammunition, forcibly conscripted into fighting or used for forced labor. Thousands of girls and women were used as sex slaves by the rebels and forced to "marry" rebel husbands. As they moved eastward, the rebels continued to commit egregious human rights abuses, including killings and amputations, particularly in the villages around the towns of Masiaka, Lunsar, and Port Loko.18

In the months following the January invasion, and as a result of intense international pressure, Kabbah's government and RUF rebels signed a ceasefire agreement on May 18, 1999,19 followed by a peace agreement in Lomé, Togo, on July 7, 1999.20 Sankoh was released from prison by the Sierra Leonean government to participate in the peace negotiations. The accord, brokered by the U.N., the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and ECOWAS, committed the RUF/AFRC to lay down its arms in exchange for representation in a new government. Sankoh was given the chairmanship of the board of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development (CMRRD) and the status of vice-president.21 Johnny Paul Koroma was made the chairman of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), provided for under Article 6 of the peace agreement.22

The peace agreement also included a general amnesty for all crimes committed by all parties during the civil war until the signing of the peace agreement.23 At the last minute, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative attending the talks added a hand-written caveat that the U.N. held the understanding that the amnesty and pardon provided for in Article 9 did not apply to international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. In addition, the peace agreement mandated the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a national human rights commission.

The United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), initially established in July 1998 to monitor the military and security conditions, was transformed into a much larger peacekeeping mission.24 In October 1999, months later than had been planned, UNOMSIL, which at its maximum deployment included 192 military observers as well as a small human rights unit of four persons, was transformed into the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). UNAMSIL was mandated to maintain the peace and monitor the ceasefire and had a maximum authorized strength of 6,000 military personnel, including 260 military observers.25 The human rights unit was authorized to expand to a total of fourteen human rights officers. Two further Security Council resolutions followed, increasing the authorized troop strength to 11,10026 and then 13,000.27

The peace process was marred by cease-fire violations, missed deadlines and infighting within rebel ranks. The RUF/AFRC failed to comply with several commitments, including the release of all civilian abductees. There was a relative decrease in human rights abuses following the peace agreement, although the RUF/AFRC continued to terrorize the civilian population in the north and east, which largely remained under its control. Sexual violence, in particular against the thousands of abducted women and girls, continued. In addition, a splinter group of the AFRC known as the West Side Boys established numerous bases in the Occra Hills near Freetown, from where they staged looting raids. The West Side Boys abducted hundreds of civilians, including girls and women, whom they raped and kept as sex slaves. In August 1999, they took hostage for one week forty-two members of a U.N.-led delegation composed of ECOMOG soldiers, religious leaders, aid workers, and journalists, who had gone to the Occra Hills to have abducted children released to them.

The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program progressed slowly, with only 25,000 out of a total 45,000 combatants demobilized by May 2000.28 There was also considerable delay in the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping forces, with only 8,700 peacekeepers deployed by the same month. The peace process then broke down completely, when, in early May, the RUF captured over five hundred UNAMSIL peacekeepers and military observers deployed in the north and the east, holding them for several weeks.29 The conflict erupted again throughout the country and many of the combatants, including child combatants, who had been disarmed and demobilized, were re-conscripted. The human rights situation deteriorated sharply with numerous reports of RUF abuses, including murder, widespread rape, abduction, forced labor, and looting. During a demonstration in Freetown to protest the collapse of the peace process and hostage taking of the peacekeepers, twenty-two civilians were killed outside the house of the RUF leader, Sankoh. On May 17, 2000, several days after the demonstration, Sankoh was arrested by the government and held in custody, together with over 125 members of the RUF, without charge, using powers under a state of emergency declared in 1998.

There was also a disturbing intensification of abuses by pro-government forces. The Sierra Leonean government caused numerous civilian casualties through helicopter gunship attacks during May and June 2000 against the RUF strongholds of Makeni, Magburaka, and Kambia. Abuses by both the government forces and the RUF caused the displacement of some 330,000 civilians from behind rebel lines. Civilians leaving RUF territory were often captured and accused of being rebel sympathizers by the CDF. Whereas previously sexual violence against women had been very uncommon among the CDF, numerous cases of sexual violence were reported, including gang rape by Kamajor militiamen and commanders.

When, in May 2000, it seemed as though the fighting would threaten Freetown again, several hundred British soldiers were rapidly deployed to Sierra Leone-in the first instance to evacuate foreign nationals who wished to leave, but also to secure the airport, allow reinforcement of the U.N. contingent, and assist in the reorganization of the pro-government forces as an effective fighting force. At their maximum, there were more than 1,200 British soldiers in Sierra Leone, though they began to withdraw within two months of the first deployment. UNAMSIL was rapidly brought up to strength: by June 5, 2000 there were 11,350 U.N. troops in the country.

At the behest of Johnny Paul Koroma, the West Side Boys in May 2000 briefly fought on the government side to prevent the RUF from entering Freetown. However, they continued to commit human rights abuses, and in August 2000 abducted eleven British soldiers of the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) and one SLA officer. In September 2000, the West Side Boys bases were destroyed during an operation by British paratroopers to free the captured soldiers. Numerous West Side Boys, including their leader, were arrested and incarcerated.

From September 2000 through April 2001, RUF rebels and Liberian government forces acting together attacked refugee camps and villages accommodating several hundred thousand Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees just across the border with Guinea. Following the attacks, Guinean security forces and the local population retaliated against the refugees, frequently looting, raping, and unlawfully detaining them. Guinean forces also responded to these RUF raids by killing and wounding dozens of Sierra Leoneans in indiscriminate helicopter and artillery attacks in the rebel-held areas in the north of Sierra Leone. Guinean troops conducted several ground attacks during which several civilians were gunned down and girls and women were raped.

In November 2000, the government and RUF signed a cease-fire, which committed both parties to restarting the disarmament process, the reestablishment of government authority in former rebel-held areas, and the release of all child combatants and abductees. On March 30, 2001, the U.N. Security Council authorized the further expansion of UNAMSIL to 17,500 military personnel, including 260 military observers. These forces, contributed by Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Zambia, were deployed into RUF strongholds, including the diamond-rich Kono district.30 The DDR program recommenced in May 2001, and by the end of 2001 over three thousand child soldiers, abductees, and separated children had been released by the RUF and the CDF.

During this period, serious human rights abuses continued to be committed, though on a reduced scale. Fighting between the RUF and the CDF broke out in the east of the country in June through August 2001, leaving tens of civilians dead. RUF forces committed scores of serious abuses including rape, murder, and abduction. The victims of these abuses included Sierra Leoneans returning from refugee camps in Guinea; Guinean civilians who were attacked during the cross-border raids by the RUF from September 2000 through April 2001; and Liberians fleeing renewed fighting in Lofa county of Liberia from April 2001. While the RUF released or demobilized more than 1,500 male child combatants, they were reluctant to release Sierra Leonean and Guinean female abductees, most of whom are believed to have been sexually abused.

The human rights situation continued to improve in 2002, with the disarmament and demobilization phases declared completed. By January 2002, 47,710 combatants had been disarmed and demobilized. On January 18, 2002, the armed conflict was officially declared to be over in a public ceremony attended by many dignitaries. In addition, the state of emergency was lifted for the first time in four years on February 28, 2002. Following the end of the state of emergency, the government charged Sankoh, and the other RUF and West Side Boys members held in custody since May 2000, with a number of crimes, including murder and related charges. The resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees from Guinea and Liberia was ongoing as of the writing of this report. By July 2002, approximately 250,000 refugees and IDPs had been resettled. The RUF transformed itself into a political party and nominated presidential and parliamentary candidates for elections held on May 14, 2002.

In the elections, President Kabbah's SLPP was re-elected for a second term and faced the challenge of rebuilding the country and its economy. After a decade of war, Sierra Leone ranks last out of 162 countries in terms of life expectancy at birth; adult literacy; combined enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education; and GDP per capita.31 Fifty-seven percent of Sierra Leone's population struggles to survive on only U.S. $1 per day.32 Unemployment is rampant and the current economy is driven by the presence of UNAMSIL and other international organizations. Investors who could create desperately needed jobs remain cautious given the rampant corruption that permeates all levels of Sierra Leonean society and their concerns about regional security.

Women and Girls under Sierra Leonean Law

The Sierra Leonean Legal system
Three systems of law-general, customary, and Islamic-co-exist in Sierra Leone.

General Law
General law consists of the statutory law (codified) and common law (based on case law) mainly inherited from the United Kingdom, the former colonial power. General law is administered through the formal court system, which follows the usual Commonwealth structure, under which the High Court hears more important cases, and magistrates courts the less important ones, both civil and criminal. There is an appeal system, first to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court, which is the ultimate court of appeal and also hears cases relevant to the interpretation of the constitution. The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court are located in Freetown. A High Court and magistrates courts are constituted in Freetown. The High Court was re-established in Kenema and Bo in 2002 and there are magistrates courts in Bo, Kenema and Port Loko.33 The court system in the provinces, which had a limited infrastructure before the war broke out in 1991, was virtually destroyed during the war-the High Court has not held hearings outside Freetown for six years-and was only gradually being rehabilitated from 2002. Access to the judiciary for rural Sierra Leoneans is further limited by their lack of funds for lawyers, or even transport money.

Only a small number of women, primarily those who reside in the Western Area (where Freetown is located) and women with sufficient funds, have access to the formal court system. As many general law provisions have not been updated since colonial days, the protection that general law affords women is often only marginally better than that provided under customary or Islamic law.

Customary Law
Customary law is defined by the 1991 constitution as "the rules of law by which customs are applicable to particular communities in Sierra Leone."34 Although there are sixteen ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, a general treatment of customary law is justified, as there are many fundamental similarities between the customary laws of these ethnic groups.35 Customary law has not been written down or codified and is only applied by the local courts. 36 These courts operate in the provinces and not in the Western Area, which is historically where the Krio and the British colonizers settled. A chairman presides over the local courts with the assistance of chiefdom councilors who are knowledgeable in customary law. The chairmen in theory should be independent from the paramount chiefs who used to preside over the local courts before reforms were introduced both prior to and after independence.37 Customary law officers who are trained lawyers are supposed to review decisions of local courts and provide training to the personnel of local courts. The government Law Officers' Department, however, remains chronically understaffed, and few of the customary law officers' posts are filled.

As the majority of Sierra Leoneans live in the provinces, customary law governs at least 65 percent of the population in relation to issues not reserved by statute to the magistrates courts or High Court. In practice, issues that should be dealt with in the magistrates courts and High Court are also dealt with under customary law. In addition to problems accessing the formal court system, rural Sierra Leoneans, in particular, have historically always preferred to administer justice amongst themselves to ensure that good community relations are maintained in villages where the other residents are invariably relatives by marriage or descent, rather than turning to outsiders.

Although customary law is not applied in the formal court system, it is recognized and there is some interaction between the two systems. There is the right of appeal from the local courts to the District Appeal Court, where a magistrate sits with two assessors who are chiefdom councilors from the given area of the local court and are knowledgeable about the customary law in their respective areas.38 The assessors advise the magistrate on questions of customary law, with the decision remaining with the magistrate. Likewise, a decision of the District Appeal Court can be appealed to the High Court, with the High Court judge being advised by assessors with expertise in customary law.39

Islamic Law
Islamic law has been recognized by statute in Sierra Leone in relation to marriage, divorce, and inheritance among Muslims.40 Otherwise, Islamic law, if applicable at all, is considered part of customary law. In this report, Islamic law is therefore treated as part of customary law except when referring to the specific areas dealt with by the Mohammedan Marriage Act, and cases involving Islamic law are heard by the local courts. Criminal sharia law is not applicable in Sierra Leone.

Constitutional Status of Women
In theory, Sierra Leonean women are granted equal rights to men under the 1991 constitution, which provides as one of the "fundamental principles of state policy" that the state "... [s]hall discourage discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, circumstances of birth, sex, religion,...."41 The equal rights of women are again underscored in the human rights chapter of the constitution.42 Under Section 27 of the constitution, however, discrimination is permitted, inter alia, under laws dealing with "adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other interests of personal law," which have direct bearing on the rights of women, as well as under customary law.43 This important contradiction in the constitution-similar to that in many African constitutions-has contributed to the low status of women in Sierra Leone, as it legitimizes the application of discriminatory customary law. No protection from discriminatory customary law can be sought under the constitution on the basis of sex. Customary and Islamic laws also continue to be widely applied, notwithstanding the fact that legislation provides that general law should prevail over customary law when customary law is "repugnant to statute or natural justice, equity, and good conscience."44

The rights of married women remain limited, particularly for those married under customary and Islamic laws, which govern most marriages. Women married under the general law have comparatively more rights.45

A married woman's position under customary law is comparable to that of a minor: a woman is generally represented by her husband who has the right to prosecute and defend actions on his spouse's behalf.46 Sierra Leonean women can gain status through marriage as well as through their role as mothers: a woman's status within society and the polygynous household increases with the number of children she bears. Sierra Leone has one of the highest birth rates in the world, with the average number of children born to each woman estimated at 6.5.47 Most households are polygynous, apart from the monogamous Christians (approximately 30 percent of the population); under customary law, a husband can marry as many wives as he wishes. Muslims (60 percent of the population) can marry up to four wives.

Under customary law, a girl is considered of marriageable age once her breasts have developed, her menses have started and she has been initiated, which could mean as young as twelve. Marriages are usually arranged, and the consent of the bride-to-be is not considered essential in most ethnic groups, but the consent of the girl's/woman's family is required.48 The fact that a girl is considered "ready" for marriage at such a young age and her consent is not sought has contributed to the common practice of early forced marriages. Men wishing to marry do not need to seek consent from their own parents. The statutory age of marriage under general law is twenty-one years.

Under Islamic law, a male or female dependant can be given in marriage against his or her will, and the legal guardian of an adult woman has the right to object to her choice of husband if the prospective husband is not of equal birth.49 Under customary law, a dowry is usually paid to the wife's family. Under Islamic law, the dowry is paid to the bride, although the contract is concluded with the legal guardian of the bride-to-be.50

Under customary law, a wife can only refuse to have sexual intercourse with her husband if she is physically ill, menstruating or suckling a young child. She can also refuse intercourse during the daytime, in the bush or during Ramadan.

Under customary law, a wife's decision-making powers are limited since she is obliged to always obey her husband. This lack of decision-making power means that women in families where the breadwinner is the man find it very difficult to influence decisions on how the (generally) little income that the family makes is disbursed. Under customary law, a married woman must ask her husband for permission to work outside the house or visit her family. In families where the woman has been given permission to work outside the house and is the breadwinner, it seems that the added responsibility has not necessarily come with increased decision-making power.

A wife, especially in rural communities, is expected to cultivate food for herself and her children, whilst the husband's responsibility is limited to providing accommodation and clothing.51 A wife residing in an urban area is generally given a lump sum of money by her husband to start a small business, usually petty trading. If the business fails, the wife must refund the capital to her husband. Given the heavy work burden on women, however, there is little opportunity for women to seek remunerated work outside the house.

Divorce and Death of Husband
Under customary law, both parties can bring divorce proceedings either extrajudicially or judicially before a local court, but in practice women are generally not as free to do so as men.52 Only the husband has the right to divorce through unilateral repudiation.53 A wife married under customary or Islamic law may, however, seek dissolution of marriage on grounds of impotence of the husband, for example.54

Under customary law, the dowry is refundable upon divorce. Dowries paid to poor families are sometimes set purposely excessively high to ensure that the wife's family will not sanction a divorce given their inability to repay the dowry, again highlighting how little control women married under customary law have over their lives.55 Under general law, a husband is expected to pay alimony for his wife and children on divorce, which both parties may initiate.56

When a husband dies, the widow is expected under customary law to undergo a mourning period and rituals.57 It is only after these rituals that widows are considered purified and can remarry. Some ethnic groups still insist that if the widow remarries, she does so within her deceased husband's family, otherwise all marriage payments are refundable.58

As Sierra Leone is a patrilineal society and the husband has custodial rights over children, children are handed over to the husband's family head upon his death.59 Under Islamic law, the mother has the right to care for a boy child until the age of nine and a girl child until she comes of age.60

Under customary matrimonial property law, a wife is generally only able to keep her own possessions and her self-acquired property in the event of divorce or death. A wife is generally not entitled to keep property acquired through the joint efforts of husband and wife and has no rights over the matrimonial home.61 Nor can a wife inherit under Islamic law: either the eldest son or brother or the official male administrator of the deceased inherits.62 Under general law, a wife is also only entitled to one third of her deceased husband's property, if he has not made a will.

This denial of inheritance rights of women is a major problem given the large number of war widows who are now able to return to their villages of origin, but have no access to land.

Domestic Violence
Societal attitudes to domestic violence are another indicator of the status of women and girls in society; physical violence against women and children is common in Sierra Leone. Indeed, under customary law, a husband has the right to "reasonably chastise his wife by physical force."63 If the husband is persistently cruel and frequently beats his wife to the point of wounding her or causing her great pain, the wife can divorce her husband, but under customary law a single act of physical and brutal force is permitted. A population-based assessment of war-related sexual violence in Sierra Leone carried out by Physicians for Human Rights among 991 female-headed households in camps for displaced people found that, although 80 percent of women surveyed expressed that there should be legal protections for the rights of women, more than 60 percent of the women believed that a husband had the right to beat his wife.64

Rape as a Crime under General Law
The laws governing rape in Sierra Leone are very confusing even for persons working in the criminal justice system, such as members of the judiciary and police force. They are also archaic and date back to the British 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. Under this Act, rape is defined as "the unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent by force, fear or fraud."65 Penetration (however slight) is required to constitute the crime of rape.66 In addition, although a child is defined as a person under the age of sixteen,67 Sierra Leonean law makes the extremely unhelpful distinction between unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of thirteen and unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl between thirteen and fourteen years of age. The law is unclear about unlawful carnal knowledge committed against persons aged between fourteen and sixteen, although the few cases involving this age group that have gone to trial have reportedly been prosecuted as rape.68

Nor is the age of consent explicitly stated, although it is presumably by necessary implication sixteen years old. Marital rape does not exist under Sierra Leonean statutory law, and most Sierra Leoneans firmly believe that it is the duty of a wife to have sex with her husband even if she does not want to.69

Unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of thirteen, whether with or without her consent, is a felony and carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years of imprisonment.70 Unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl between the ages of thirteen and fourteen, whether with or without her consent, is, however, only considered a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of two years.71 The language "with or without her consent" refers only to cases of unlawful carnal knowledge that do not constitute rape; for example, an eighteen-year-old man who has sexual intercourse with a thirteen-year-old girl with her consent.

The police and judiciary seem to have misconstrued the meaning of the law. When an offence of rape against a girl under the age of fourteen is reported, the police and judiciary turn to either Section 6 or 7-depending on the age of the victim-of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act and determine that the girl did not consent. Based on her age, they then charge unlawful carnal knowledge and not rape. This misinterpretation therefore leads to a lesser charge for the rape of a child than for the rape of an adult.72

Rape of a person over the age of sixteen is considered a felony and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.73 Indecent assault-sexual assault without penetration-on or attempts to have carnal knowledge of girls under the age of fourteen years carry the same maximum sentence as unlawful carnal knowledge of girls between the age of thirteen and fourteen i.e. only two years of imprisonment.74 No person can be convicted of unlawful carnal knowledge, indecent assault or attempted unlawful carnal knowledge "upon the evidence of one witness, unless such witness be corroborated in some material particular by evidence implicating the accused."75

The law pertaining to the abduction of girls for immoral purposes applies to any unmarried girls under the age of sixteen.76 Abduction of girls for immoral purposes is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum sentence of two years of imprisonment.

In addition to the legal confusion that exists in general law concerning rape, attempts by women to obtain the prosecution of rapists are frustrated by the collapsed state of the judiciary and the lack of effective law enforcement, which has contributed to the ongoing climate of impunity for offenders.

Prosecution of Sexual Violence under Customary Law
The manner in which rape is dealt with under customary law is indicative of the societal values towards sexual violence and the low status of women and girls in Sierra Leone. Although all serious criminal cases should automatically be tried under general law, rape cases continue to be prosecuted under customary law in the local courts.77

Under customary law, when a case is brought to the local court, the perpetrator is generally required to pay a substantial fine to the victim's family as well as to the chiefs. "Virgin money" is payable to the victim's family if the victim was a virgin. In some communities, in particular Muslim communities, the victim is forced to marry the offender, as a girl who is not a virgin is considered less eligible for marriage. Traditionally, in some ethnic groups, both the victim and the perpetrator will be made to undergo a purification ceremony. For the victim, the purification ceremony is supposed to restore her virginity and for the perpetrator to cleanse the guilt. Any man who invades the husband's exclusive sexual rights over a wife compensates the husband, and not the wife, for "woman damage."78

In addition to applying discriminatory laws, the local court system is problematic as women of some ethnic groups do not have direct access to the local courts, but must be represented by a male guardian.79 The situation is further exacerbated as the chairmen and chiefdom councilors of the local courts are generally all male, which makes it difficult for women to bring cases of sexual violence as the women are often embarrassed and their cases are generally dealt with insensitively by the male court staff. The local courts are also prone to interference by the chiefs as well as the concerned parties, especially in cases dealing with sexual violence.

Many people in rural areas prefer to settle the case between the families and do not go to court. In cases settled between the two families, money or goods are given to compensate the victim's family. Paradoxically, the giving of gifts or money to a rape victim may even elevate her status within her family.

Some families turn to the local chiefs who can arbitrate between the two families but have no right to impose any fines. In practice, however, the local chiefs have been known to impose fines.

Discrimination against Women and Girls in Practice
In addition to being subjected to discriminatory laws, all women and girls face structural discrimination in Sierra Leone's patriarchal society, which accords automatic respect to its older male members. As a result of the low status accorded to them by law and by custom, women in Sierra Leone face substantial discrimination in practice.

Systemic discrimination against women starts in childhood, when many parents prefer to spend their scarce resources on the education of their sons rather than their daughters. According to the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Gender-Related Development Index, females account for only 21 percent of the combined primary, secondary and tertiary gross enrolment ratio, compared with 32 percent males.80 This gender disparity illustrates not only that fewer girls attend school but also that their education is discontinued at an earlier age than boys. This is reflected in the literacy rate of persons over fifteen years: only 20 percent of females are literate compared to 40 percent of males.81

The high illiteracy rate among women can in part be explained by the higher demand for female labor in the family. Girls are required to work in the house at an early age given that their mothers have to take care of the household and the children and do farm work. Another contributing factor to women's illiteracy is the harmful traditional practice of early forced marriage, which is very common in the provinces (see below).

The Workplace
Sierra Leone has ratified numerous international labor conventions.82 Some discriminatory practices, such as restricting the right to maternity leave to married women, which was the norm in the formal sector in the 1970s, have been prohibited by law. Extremely poor working conditions, however, persist in Sierra Leone for the majority of workers. In addition, women working for male bosses continue to be subjected to sexual harassment. According to the president of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, the trade union federation, much work remains to be done to ensure the full and even application of the labor laws, especially in the provinces.83

Sierra Leone's rural population is primarily engaged in subsistence farming, with women constituting 80 percent of the labor that produces 70 percent of the nation's food.84 This agricultural labor is generally not remunerated by cash wages and women have unequal access to land or technology. In Sierra Leone, the different ethnic groups continue to operate under communal and family land holding systems. Women can use the land for subsistence farming but the control and management of the land and any property on it is vested in the male head of the family. With the post-war resettlement process underway, war widows returning to their villages of origin often lack the legal means or community support to reclaim their families' properties. As women have little or no property to offer as collateral, their access to credit is limited. Women therefore tend to rely on traditional sources of credit such as rotating savings, which only provide small loans.85

Due to the limited number of educated women, which is partly the result of the high demand for girls to perform household tasks at a young age, the preference of sending boys to school, and early forced marriages, few women are represented in the better remunerated professional or managerial jobs. Sierra Leone's crushing poverty and high unemployment have also meant that positions that in the West are perceived as women's jobs are often held by men in Sierra Leone, leaving even fewer openings for women. In the formal employment sector, women therefore constitute only 40 percent of the clerical staff and a mere 8 percent of the administrative and managerial cadre.86 In the informal sector outside agriculture, where the cash returns are low, women are mainly involved in petty trading, soap making and tie-dying. Given the lack of opportunities for remunerated work, women tend to be heavily dependent on their husbands.

The breakdown of community values as the result of the war, combined with cultural practices, also serves to make girls and women vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation, which has historically been rampant in Sierra Leone.87 Many women and girls have been driven to prostitution as a result of the increased poverty caused by the conflict and their lack of other opportunities and skills.

In the Political Arena
Discrimination against women is evident in the political arena. Women were not granted the right to vote or stand for election for any political office until after independence in 1961. Given their economic dependence on men, it is also much more difficult for women to raise the necessary campaign funds. In the Northern Province, women continue to be excluded from contesting and voting for the elections for traditional leadership positions (although there are reportedly several female chiefdom councilors).88 Out of the 149 paramount chiefs in the country, only three are female, all based in the south.

Under the new block voting system which was introduced for the 2002 elections, 112 parliamentary seats are elected by popular vote. An additional twelve parliamentary seats are reserved for paramount chiefs who are elected in separate elections by chiefdom councilors. There are presently only eighteen female parliamentarians, including two female paramount chiefs. This does represent an increase over the previous government, which had a total of eight women parliamentarians, including two female paramount chiefs. At government level, there are only three female ministers and three female deputy ministers, which is a marginal increase from President Kabbah's previous Cabinet.89

Harmful Traditional Practices and Their Impact on Women's and Girls' Health

Early forced marriages
The health of many women and girls in Sierra Leone is compromised by early forced marriage.90 Early forced marriages are very common in the provinces, where men often sponsor a girl from birth (paying for school fees, clothes, etc.) and marry her after she has been initiated (see below for an explanation of the initiation process).

Early forced marriage is one of the factors contributing to Sierra Leone's high maternal mortality rate, since young girls have several children before their bodies are fully mature. At 1,800 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, Sierra Leone's maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world. This mortality rate translates to approximately 4,000 maternal deaths per year based on a total population of five million.91
Girls who are forced to marry early not only miss out on education, but also on skills training opportunities and are therefore highly dependent on their husbands.

Female Genital Cutting
Sierra Leonean girls as well as boys are traditionally initiated into secret societies at adolescence. The secret societies that perform the initiation rites take the adolescents into a sacred place in the bush where they are circumcised and taught about traditional practices. The male and female societies are segregated and males are not supposed to know what happens in female secret societies or vice versa.

Traditionally, initiation for girls entailed spending an extended period (up to two years) in the bush with girls of the same age, being taught various cultural skills (dancing, singing, drama, arts and craft, how to use local herbs, how to respect elders, etc.) and being a good wife (cooking, cleaning, child welfare, hygiene, fishing, etc.) by older women. Girls who undergo initiation through the secret societies are treated with deference after having completed the ritual and are feted by their communities.92 Today, the duration of the initiation ceremony has been greatly reduced, minimizing the skills transfer aspect, and thus focusing on the cutting itself. Because it was not always possible to hold the ceremonies during the war, initiation rites are now often practiced on adults, girl mothers, and pregnant girls-whereas traditionally it was seen as a rite of passage into adulthood for adolescent girls, who had to be virgins. In recent years, girls and/or adult women who do not wish to be initiated have been abducted and circumcised by force by female members of the community.

Ninety percent of Sierra Leonean women have undergone female genital cutting, which can have major health repercussions, including pain, injury to adjacent tissue of the urethra, hemorrhage, shock, acute urine retention, and infection.93 Longer-term health effects include recurrent urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, infertility, keloid scar, and problems during childbirth.94 The high prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence, which causes trauma to the genital area, can only have served to aggravate these health repercussions and both have in turn contributed to the increased spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including Human Immunodeficieny Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).

This harmful traditional practice, which is contrary to provisions of several international human rights instruments, continues to be practiced due to the significant societal pressure exerted by adults as well as peers.95 Girls who have not been initiated are seen as less eligible for marriage and many future husbands sponsor the initiation of their bride-to-be.

Societal Attitudes to Sexual Violence against Women and Girls
The low status of women and girls is highlighted by the prevalent societal attitudes towards sexual violence. The notion of sexual violence as a crime is a very recent concept in Sierra Leone. It is still widely believed that only rape of a virgin is rape, which in Krio is called "to virginate." Rape of a non-virgin, on the other hand, is not considered rape, and there is often a belief that the woman must have consented to the act or is a seductress. Marital rape is not recognized under either customary or general law in Sierra Leone.

Given the lack of statistics about rape cases before the war, it is impossible to establish the historical prevalence of sexual violence, but several doctors reported to Human Rights Watch that, before the war, they only treated a limited number of young girls who generally had been raped by older men.96 According to the doctors interviewed, many cases of rape before the war occurred within the extended family and were considered family matters. They were rarely discussed or reported, in order to ensure that the victim's chances of marriage and obtaining a good dowry were not destroyed. Rape was also apparently unlikely to occur within a village community, where everyone knew each other and the shame attached to the offender would be too great. Rape outside the extended family was more likely to be committed in environments where there were mixed ethnic groups, such as in mining areas or larger towns. The cultural definition of rape and lack of reporting, however, may have led to the understanding that rape rarely occurred before the war. Sexual exploitation, however, has always been rampant in Sierra Leone, where economic options for women are limited and which has traditionally condoned a high level of promiscuity, despite the high value placed on virginity. With the increased poverty caused by the war, sex has become even more of a commodity.97

The societal attitudes to rape and the low status of women have meant that no cases of conflict-related sexual violence and few cases of non-conflict-related sexual violence are prosecuted.98 (See also below at p. 61 for a discussion on the amnesty included in the Lomé Peace Agreement.)

7 See

8 See

9 See generally, J.A.D. Alie, A New History of Sierra Leone (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990).

10 Paul Richards, Fighting for the Rainforest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone (London: The International African Institute in association with James Currey and Heinemann, 1996), p. 7. When the RUF first invaded from Liberia, villagers in Kailahun were ordered to cut palm fronds-the symbol of the SLPP-"in support" of the rebels.

11 Ibrahim Abdullah and Patrick Muana, "The Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone," in Christopher Clapham (ed.), African Guerrillas (Oxford: James Currey, 1998), pp. 173-178.

12 Ibid., p. 178.

13 Ibid., p. 180.

14 Ibid., p. 185. By 1999, the CDF had grown into a movement of an estimated fifteen thousand fighters who had to be disarmed and demobilized.

15 Ibid. This is a throwback to the venerated esoteric Mende cult of invincible traditional hunters who were given power through initiation ceremonies. These powers enabled the hunters, inter alia, to turn into an animal in order to catch their prey.

16 See Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation and Rape," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, Vol. 11, No. 3 (A), June 1999, p. 8 for a discussion of the role of foreign mercenaries in the armed conflict. See Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Transition or Travesty? Nigeria's Endless Process of Return to Civilian Rule," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 9, no. 6, October 1997, for a discussion of the Nigerian intervention in Sierra Leone.

17 See Human Rights Watch, "Sowing Terror: Atrocities against Civilians in Sierra Leone," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, Vol.10, No. 3 (A), July 1998.

18 See Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation and Rape," for a comprehensive report on the January 1999 invasion.

19 See the annex to U.N. Security Council report, S/1999/585, May 18, 1999.

20 Lomé Peace Agreement at

21 Article 5 (2) of the Lomé Peace Agreement.

22 The RUF delegation to the peace talks in Lomé included members of the AFRC who were also appointed as ministers as part of the agreement to share power.

23 Lomé Peace Agreement. Under Article 9 (1) of this agreement, the Government of Sierra Leone was required to grant Sankoh absolute and free pardon. Article 9 (3) refers to the amnesty granted to all combatants of the RUF/SL, ex-AFRC, ex-SLA or CDF for any crimes they may have committed in pursuit of their objectives (See below, p. 61, for a discussion on the amnesty).

24 U.N. Security Council resolution 1181, S/RES/1181 (1998), July 13, 1998.

25 U.N. Security Council resolution 1270, S/RES/1270 (1999), October 22, 1999.

26 U.N. Security Council resolution 1289, S/RES/1289 (2000), February 7, 2000.

27 U.N. Security Council resolution 1299, S/RES/1299 (2000), May 19, 2000.

28 U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Sierra Leone Humanitarian Situation report, May 29, 2001. See

29 The hostages in the north were released on May 28, 2000. The hostages in the east, however, were not released until June 29, 2000. Two hundred and thirty-three peacekeepers and military observers who had been encircled by the RUF were finally freed by the U.N. military operation "Khukri" on July 15, 2000.

30 U.N. Security Council resolution 1346, S/RES/1346 (2001), March 30, 2001.

31 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Report 2001: Making New Technologies Work for Human Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 141-144.

32 Ibid., p. 151.

33 An itinerant judge covers the High Court in both Bo and Kenema.

34 The Constitution of Sierra Leone (1991), Chapter XII - The Laws of Sierra Leone, Section 170 (3). See

35 H. M. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law (Freetown: Atlantic Printers Ltd., 1983), p. 6.

36 See 1963 Local Courts Act.

37 Richards, Fighting for the Rainforest, p. 46.

38 Section 29 (1) of the 1963 Local Courts Act and Section 76 of the 1965 Courts Act.

39 Section 31 (1) of the 1963 Local Courts Act.

40 The Mohammedan Marriage Act (Cap. 96 of the revised laws of Sierra Leone, 1960) deals with marriage, divorce, and intestate succession. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, p. 20. Intestate successions occur when the deceased did not leave a will.

41 The Constitution of Sierra Leone (1991), Chapter II - Fundamental Principles of State Policy, Section 6 (2). See Under Section 8 (2) (a), "... [e]very citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law...." and specific safeguards of equality before the law in terms of health care, employment and education are provided under Section 8 (3) (d); Section 8 (3) (a), (c), (e) and Section 9 (1) (a), (b) and (2) respectively.

42 Ibid., Chapter III - The Recognition and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, Section 15. See Section 15 provides that "every person in Sierra Leone is entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, has the right, whatever his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed or sex, but subject to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest, to each and all of the following-(a) life, liberty, security of person, the enjoyment of property, and the protection of law; (b) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association; (c) respect for private and family life, and (d) protection from deprivation of property without compensation."

43 Ibid., Section 27. Subsection 27 (1) provides that "Subject to the provisions of subsections (4), (5), and (7), no law shall make provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect." Under Subsection 4, however, the protection provided under Subsection 1 does not apply "... (d) with respect to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other interests of personal law, or (e) for the application in the case of members of a particular race or tribe or customary law with respect to any matter to the exclusion of any law with respect to that matter which is applicable in the case of other persons." Discrimination is also permitted against persons who are not citizens of Sierra Leone or naturalized Sierra Leoneans. According to Dr. Tucker, former Chairperson of President's Kabbah's Advisory Committee, the original intent of Section 27 was "to preserve certain areas of segregation which are embedded in traditional practices and are generally acceptable to both sexes, such as the segregation between male and female secret societies. What was taken up in the constitution was more extensive than what was intended." Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Tucker (Consultant on the Law Development Program funded by the U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID)), Freetown, April 25, 2002.

44 Section 2 of the 1963 Local Courts Act and Section 76 of the 1965 Courts Act.

45 Marriages under the general law are governed, inter alia, by the Christian Marriage Act, (Cap. 95), the Civil Marriage Act (Cap. 97), and the Matrimonial Causes Act (Cap. 102).

46 Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, p. 98. Under customary law, a Sierra Leonean woman is always under the guardianship of a male relative.

47 UNDP, Human Development Report 2001, p. 157. This figure is based on births recorded for 1995-2000.

48 Consent is a very relative term, as girls generally will find it very difficult to disobey their parents' wishes, which can result in severe punishment, including ostracism from the immediate and extended family.

49 Joseph Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 161-2.

50 Schacht, Introduction to Islamic Law, p. 161.

51 Full maintenance of his wife is only the responsibility of the husband during the rainy season (approximately between the months of May and November) or when his wife is sick or nursing a baby. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, pp. 106-7.

52 Judicial divorces are rare as they are more expensive. Ibid., pp. 146-149.

53 Ibid., pp. 143-4.

54 Schacht, Introduction to Islamic Law, p. 165.

55 Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, p. 79. Strict tribal Muslims do not require that the dowry be repaid on divorce.

56 Christian Marriage Act, Cap. 95 of the revised Law of Sierra Leone, 1960, s. 7 (2), s. 15 (1) (b), and s. 5 respectively.

57 A widow must mourn for forty days. Her head is shaved or, in some chiefdoms, disheveled and her body is washed with the same water used to wash her husband's corpse. In some chiefdoms her body is smeared with mud to indicate her mourning. After either one week or forty days for strict Muslims, widows are taken to a stream to be ceremonially washed.

58 The Mende, Krim, Sherbro, Vai, Karonko and Yalunka adhere to this custom, whereas the Temne, Susu, Limba, Loko, Kissi and Kono allow a widow to select her own husband and do not require a refund of the marriage payments if she marries outside her deceased husband's family. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, p. 138.

59 If the couple was married under general law, the custody of the children is often determined by the courts, which generally grant the mother custody of the children.

60 Schacht, Introduction to Islamic Law, p. 167. In practice, the mother and children will stay with whomever has the money to provide for them.

61 As customary marriages are generally polygynous, a divorce with one of the wives would result in the dissolution of the whole household if she were to ask for a refund for her contribution to building the house. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Family Customary Law , pp. 113-120.

62 Mohammedan Marriage Act, Cap. 96 of the revised laws of Sierra Leone, 1960, s. 9.

63 Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Family Customary Law, p. 152.

64 Physicians for Human Rights, War-related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone: A Population-based Assessment (Boston: Physicians for Human Rights, 2002), p. 55 (hereafter referred to as PHR report).

65 Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 (24 & 25 Vict. c 100), s. 63. Unlawful carnal knowledge refers to sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. The law does not actually forbid or make sexual intercourse between unmarried persons a punishable crime, but it only recognizes the right to sexual intercourse for married couples.

66 Ibid.

67 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act (1926), Cap. 31 of the revised Laws of Sierra Leone 1960, s. 2.

68 Human Rights Watch interviews with Abdul Tejan-Cole (human rights lawyer and acting coordinator for the national nongovernmental organization Campaign for Good Governance), Freetown, February-May, 2002.

69 As the right to have intercourse between a husband and wife is recognized, a husband cannot be guilty of raping his wife unless he has been legally separated from his wife. See also PHR report, p. 55.

70 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, s. 6.

71 Ibid., s. 7. If a man were legally married to a girl under fourteen years of age, sexual intercourse with her would not be an offence.

72 Human Rights Watch interview with Bill Roberts and Anne Hewlett (respectively crime adviser and criminal investigation trainer with the Commonwealth Community Safety and Security Project), Freetown, May 1, 2002.

73 Offences against the Person Act, s. 48.

74 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, s. 9. Section 9 stipulates that "whosoever commits an indecent assault or attempts to have carnal knowledge shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall on conviction before the Supreme Court be liable for imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for any period not exceeding two years." Consent is no defense to a charge of indecent assault of a child under fourteen years.

75 Ibid., s. 14.

76 Ibid., s. 12. There are also problems with the term "unmarried" because abduction of persons should obviously be prohibited irrespective of their marital status.

77 Under Section 13 (1) of the 1963 Local Courts Act, the local courts have no jurisdiction in seduction actions, which includes any act intended to lead the wife astray. Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Family Customary Law, footnote 34, p. 121.

78 Joko Smart, Sierra Leone Customary Family Law, p. 5.

79 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Mariane Ferme (Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University, U.K.), Freetown, April 19, 2002.

80 UNDP, Human Development Report 2001, p. 213.

81 Government of Sierra Leone, The Status of Women and Children in Sierra Leone: A Household Survey Report (MICS-2) (Freetown: 2000), p. 30. The literate population includes those who are able to read "easily" or "with difficulty." Only 30 percent of the total population over fifteen years is literate.

82 Multilateral Convention (no. 29) concerning Forced or Compulsory Labor, as modified by the Final Articles Revision Convention, June 28, 1930, 39 U.N.T.S. 55 (entered into force May 28, 1947); Multilateral Convention (no. 105) concerning the Abolition of Forced Labor, June 25, 1957, 320 U.N.T.S. 291 (entered into force January 17, 1959); Multilateral Convention (no. 100) concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, June 29, 1951, 165 U.N.T.S. 303 (entered into force May 23, 1953); Multilateral Convention (no. 111) concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation, June 25, 1958, 362 U.N.T.S. 31 (entered into force June 15, 1960). Sierra Leone has not signed Convention 47 (40 hour week), Multilateral Convention (No. 95) concerning the Protection of Wages, July 1, 1949 (entered into force September 24, 1952), Multilateral Convention (No. 102) concerning Minimum Standards of Social Security, June 28, 1952, 210 U.N.T.S. 131 (entered into force April 27, 1955) or Multilateral Convention (No. 182) concerning the Worst Forms of Child Labor, although a social security system for both the public and private sector was recently established.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with Uriah O. H. Davies, president of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress, Freetown, April 14, 2002.

84 Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, National Policy on the Advancement of Women (Freetown: Government of Sierra Leone, 2000), p. 7.

85 Ibid., p. 15. Rotating schemes are schemes whereby groups of women pool their resources and each member of the group has access to the funds on a rotating basis.

86 Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, National Policy on Gender Mainstreaming (Freetown: Government of Sierra Leone), p. 3.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with a highly respected international observer who has worked in Sierra Leone for two decades, Freetown, February 27, 2002.

88 Only persons paying tax can contest and participate in elections for paramount chiefs who are elected from ruling houses. The paramount chieftaincy system was introduced by the British Colonial Administration to administer the various chiefdoms in the Protectorate (i.e. the whole of Sierra Leone excluding the Western Area). Although there is reportedly no law against women paying taxes, women in the Northern Province have historically not done so probably due to lack of opportunities to find remunerated work. The tax is a negligible amount that women are willing to pay to ensure their eligibility for these elections. Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph Hall and Honerin Muyoyatta from the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freetown, March 22 and 23, 2002.

89 The three ministerial posts are Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, Minister for Trade and Industry, and Minister of Health and Sanitation. The three female deputy ministers are in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Works, Housing and Technical Maintenance. The new government was sworn in on July 12, 2002.

90 Early forced marriages are marriages whereby the consent of either party is not sought or more commonly whereby the consent of the girl is not sought and whereby one or both spouses is/are under the age of consent (which under international law should not be less than fifteen years of age). This harmful traditional practice contravenes article 16(3) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which states that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, article 16(1) and (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and article 23(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which says that "[n]o marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses."

91 Government of Sierra Leone, The Status of Women and Children in Sierra Leone, p. 63.

92 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Mariane Ferme, (lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, Cambridge University, U.K.), Freetown, April 19, 2002.

93 Dr. Olayinka Koso-Thomas, The Circumcision of Women: A Strategy for Eradication (London and New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd., 1992), p. 19. The type of female genital cutting performed in Sierra Leone is clitoridectomy (removal of the prepuce of the clitoris) and excision (removal of the prepuce, the clitoris and all or part of the labia minora). The extreme form of infibulation is not practiced in Sierra Leone.

94 U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Report on the First Donors Meeting For FGM/FGC Elimination (Washington D.C.: USAID, 2001), p. 12.

95 Female genital cutting violates the right to be free from violence (Article 1 of the CEDAW) and the right to bodily integrity (Article 6 of the CRC). Under Article 5 (a) of the CEDAW, states are called upon "to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women." Article 24 (1) and (3) of the CRC also requires states to abolish traditional practices that are harmful to the health of children. General Recommendation 19 of the CEDAW Committee also links traditional attitudes which subordinate women and violent practices, including female genital cutting, that "... justify gender-based violence as a form of protection or control of women."

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Olayinka Koso-Thomas, Freetown, February 25, 2002; Dr. Noah Conteh, Freetown, March 1, 2002 and Dr. Bernard Fraser, Freetown, March 3, 2002. The latter two doctors practiced in the provinces as well as in Freetown.

97 Sex can be bought for as little as U.S. $0.50. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children U.K., Sexual Violence and Exploitation: The Experience of Refugee Children in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone (Geneva/London: UNHCR/SC-UK: 2002). Human Rights Watch has some concerns about this report as the report does not provide an adequate review of the context, including the status of women and girls within the given countries. Given the low status of women and girls in these countries, the sexual exploitation is much wider than reported: the power dynamic means that men of all walks of life, such as teachers, pastors, police, businessmen as well as aid workers or peacekeepers, exploit girls and women. It would also appear that the short-term solutions proposed do not adequately address the underlying structural issues, such as poverty, lack of education or alternative means of income generation for many women.

98 It was not possible to obtain reliable statistics as reporting and recording of cases by the police and judiciary are not consistent.

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