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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sierra Leone: Report on War-Related Sexual Violence Sierra Leone: War-Related Sexual Violence
Date distributed (ymd): 020128
Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
+US policy focus+ +gender/women+


This posting contains a press release and excerpts from recommendations from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) based on a study released January 23 on "War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone." An executive summary and the full study are both available on the PHR web site at Also available there are the full text of an article based on the report in the January 23/30, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and additional background information on Sierra Leone.

The formal completion of the disarmament process in Sierra Leone was announced by the United Nations on January 11, 2002, and the U Security Council approved continuing UN support for the Sierra Leone peace process and elections scheduled for May 2002. The last report of the UN Secretary-General on Sierra Leone is available at:

For additional background and news, see:

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[Update note: In reference to last week's posting of background documents and links on Somalia, please add the link to the recent U.S. Committee for Refugees Issue Paper "Welcome Home to Nothing: Refugees Repatriate to a Forgotten Somaliland," available at]

Physicians for Human Rights
100 Boylston St., Suite 702
Boston, MA 02116
Tel: 617-695-0041 Fax: 617-695-0307

War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone
A Population-Based Assessment

A Report by Physicians for Human Rights with the support of UNAMSIL

Boston - Washington DC

Founded in 1986, Physicians for Human Rights mobilizes the health professions to promote health by protecting human rights. PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its role as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Press Release - January 23, 2002

Nathaniel A. Raymond, Media and Public Affairs Coordinator
W) 617-695-0041, ext. 220 H) 617-623-4249

Physicians for Human Rights Study Documents High Rate of Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone; Special Court Must Hold Perpetrators Accountable for Abuses

Boston - A new study released today by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), with the support of UNAMSIL (UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone), War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone: A Population-Based Assessment, reports that internally displaced women and girls in Sierra Leone have suffered an extraordinary level of rape, sexual violence and other gross human rights violations during their country's civil war, with half of those who said they came into contact with RUF (Revolutionary United Front) forces reporting sexual violence. (The report is available on the web in its entirety at PHR called on the newly announced Special Court to prioritize crimes of sexual violence and ensure the protection of witnesses.

The study, which reports findings from a survey of 991 households, is the first to evaluate the prevalence of sexual violence during war in Sierra Leone using population-based random sample methods. The PHR report issues strong findings and recommendations that stress the need for education and adequate protection and support for survivors of these abuses, especially those who wish to testify against the perpetrators of these abuses. The findings of the report suggest that thousands of women in Sierra Leone may be willing to testify to the recently announced Special Court and the planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) about these crimes. Portions of the report were published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Virtually all (94%) of the households randomly surveyed reported at least one person having suffered abuses in the past ten years. These abuses include abduction, beatings, killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labor, gunshot wounds, serious injuries, and amputations. Approximately one of every eight (female and male) households (13%) interviewed by PHR reported some form of war-related sexual violence, and 9% of individual female respondents reported such abuses. The prevalence rate of war-related sexual violence during the ten-year period of the civil war is equivalent to the lifetime prevalence of non war-related sexual violence among the study participants.

When asked if perpetrators of sexual violence and other abuses should be punished, almost half (42%) of respondents to this question thought that they should. Fear of reprisals and a desire for peace were cited by many women as a reason for not supporting punishment for human rights violators. Though 80% of women surveyed expressed support for legal protection of women's rights, more than half of the women said that their husbands had the right to beat them and that it was the wife's duty to have sex with her husband even if she did not want to.

The vast majority of reported abuses occurred between 1997 and 1999, and most were identified as having been committed by RUF combatants. 53% of respondents who had "face to face" contact with RUF forces experienced some form of sexual violence, compared with a 6% figure for any other combatant group. One third of those who reported sexual assault said that they were gang raped. When the total number of war-related sexual violence incidents reported by the survey participants is extrapolated to the total female internally displaced population in Sierra Leone, 50,000 to 64,000 Sierra Leonean internally displaced women may have suffered sexual violence. If non war-related sexual violence among females who are not internally displaced is added to the totals (assuming a 9% prevalence rate) for the internally displaced women, as many as 215,000-257,000 women and girls in Sierra Leone currently may have been affected by sexual violence.

"The recently established Special Court for Sierra Leone provides an opportunity for justice for the victims of the extreme levels of sexual violence perpetrated against the women and girls of Sierra Leone by the RUF and other forces," said Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of PHR. "This report details the extent to which rape and sexual violence were used as a weapon in this case, and, like with the Foca verdict, underscore the importance of bringing to justice those who commit these heinous crimes."

Participants reporting war-related sexual violence related the following types of abuses: rape (89%), being forced to undress/stripped of clothing (37%), gang rape (33%), abduction (33%), molestation (14%), sexual slavery (15%), forced marriage (9%), and insertion of foreign objects into the genital opening or anus (4%). In addition, 22 (23%) of the women who experienced sexual violence reported being pregnant at the time of the attack with an average gestation of three months. Besides the overwhelming quantitative evidence of sexual abuse uncovered by the study, narrative testimonials are also included as part of the documentation of these abuses.

"I don't have any children. I was a virgin before. They ruined me. I was at home when they came and kidnapped me. They demanded money. My family has no money…they said to my parents, come and see how we use your children. They undressed five of us, laid us down, used us in front of my family and took us away with them. They wouldn't release us, they kept us with them in the bush…When I escaped, I couldn't walk - the pain. I was bleeding from my vagina," said Isata, a 15 year-old girl interviewed by the PHR team.

PHR randomly sampled 1,048 households in three camps for the internally displaced, representing 91% of the registered displaced population in Sierra Leone. The 991 household representatives who participated in the survey reported on the experiences of 9,166 household members, which included themselves and those who lived with them prior to their displacement. The PHR survey contained 49 questions pertaining to demographics, physical and mental health perception, experiences of human rights abuses among household members and experiences of sexual violence, assistance needs, opinions regarding punishment and justice for perpetrators, and attitudes on women's human rights and roles in society. Seven open-ended questions were included in the questionnaire itself, and longer semi-structured interviews were conducted with survivors of human rights abuses who were not participants in the survey.

"By documenting the wartime experiences of women in Sierra Leone, this report will provide a valuable contribution in making the post-conflict needs of women and girls more apparent," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, in the report's forward. "Its findings should be taken into consideration in the formulation of repatriation and resettlement plans, as well as demobilization, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction programs."

The report issues strong recommendations to all parties involved in the post-conflict reconstruction of Sierra Leone, including the Governments of Sierra Leone, the United States and other bilateral donors, the United Nations and the Special Court. Among these recommendations, PHR strongly urges the Government of Sierra Leone to actively engage in large-scale public education of women, men and youth on sexual violence and human rights of women, especially demilitarized soldiers, working in collaboration with local non-governmental organizations and women's groups at the community level. The Government of Sierra Leone should also immediately address the needs of survivors of sexual violence through the provision of health services, referral and transportation assistance, culturally appropriate counseling, and long-term efforts to encourage community acceptance and assistance for rape survivors and their families.

The UN should ensure that rape and other types of gender-based violence are prioritized as crimes by the Special Court and that perpetrators of these crimes from all sides in the conflict are held accountable. To be successful in prosecuting these crimes, the UN must work closely with the Government of Sierra Leone to train the staffs of the TRC and the Special Court to prevent further traumatization of survivors of rape, sexual assault and other abuses. By providing counseling for survivors before and after they testify, and through ensuring their protection when they return to their local communities after testifying, the Special Court will be better able to both assist survivors and collect the information they need to prosecute these cases.

[excerpts only; for full text see]

To the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

  • The RUF should immediately release all remaining abductees and child soldiers under its control
  • The RUF command must explicitly prohibit violence against civilians including women and must hold RUF members who commit abuses accountable in a manner that is in keeping with international standards. The RUF should cooperate fully and not interfere with investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed during the conflict
  • The RUF must cooperate fully with demobilization of soldiers, accelerate efforts to collect and relinquish weapons, and allow U forces full access to the country.

To the Government of Sierra Leone

  • The Government of Sierra Leone, with the assistance of the international community, should ensure:N
  • that military commanders are held accountable for violations committed by their subordinates,N
  • that violations by members of the armed forces and militias will be promptly and fully investigated and those responsible brought to justice,N
  • that all members of its armed forces and civilian militias be trained in humanitarian law,N
  • that instruction in the rights of civilians - and in particular women's rights - be an integral part of this training
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should strengthen the capacity of its police force and judicial system adequately to address cases of sexual violence including rape. Efforts should include the recruitment of female police officers, training in appropriate means of obtaining evidence, development of procedures that protect the rights and privacy of victims, protection for victims and witnesses, development of forensic capacity, and social services. Police training must include training in women's rights
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should work with professional organizations and international experts to establish gender-based violence reporting procedures that are effective, sensitive, and that protect victims. Strict and consistent policies of confidentiality should be developed for all groups working with survivors of sexual violence so that the privacy of those who report or testify is fully protected
  • The National Commission for Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration must emphasize the protection of women's rights as an integral part of the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) effort for ex-combatants, including child soldiers
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should engage in large scale public education, in collaboration with women's groups to educate women, men and youth on issues relating to sexual violence and to women's rights. This includes the promulgation of information through radio
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should ensure that human rights education including women’s rights, be made an integral part of training of health, legal, education, and law enforcement professionals
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should work to increase the number of female clinicians/ health care workers and to increase the number of health care workers trained in women's health. The Government of Sierra Leone should support medical and educational institutions to increase the number of women professionals, including the establishment of dedicated scholarship programs to encourage women to enter these professions
  • The Government of Sierra Leone should work to address the needs of survivors of gender-based violence, including provision of health services, referral and transport assistance; counseling; and education or job/skills training. These services must be extended throughout the country. The physical, emotional and economic well-being of children born as a result of rapes should also be protected - and efforts made to encourage community acceptance of both rape survivors and their children as they reintegrate into society. ...

To the United States Government and other Bilateral Donors

General Funding

  • The US Government and other donors should accelerate provision of funds to meet the needs of victims of sexual violence, including rape, in Sierra Leone. In particular, the needs of the displaced and those newly returning to their communities in under-served areas should be prioritized. Assistance should be given to locally run programs such as FAWE that address the needs of survivors of sexual violence such as shelter, mental and physical health, and job skills training so that they can serve a larger number of people
  • The US Government should fully meet its obligation to fund UNAMSIL
  • The US and other Governments should fully fund the 2002 Inter-Agency Consolidated Appeal for Sierra Leone, with particular attention to those programs focusing on the needs of women and girls
  • The US Government and other donors should fund the World Bank trust fund for the DDR effort so that the reintegration portion of the plan can be carried out and former combatants who are not imprisoned can be reintegrated in such a way that they will be less likely to commit human rights abuses in the future, including sexual violence, or to re-arm.

Humanitarian/Medical Assistance

  • The US Government and other donors should fund HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment programs - specifically those that target high-risk populations and provide HIV test kits and anti-retroviral drugs at a low cost
  • The US Government and other donors should support improved medical facilities, equipment, medical supplies, and training, including health center and health post training and human rights and universal precautions training. Programs for community-based social service providers should be supported. ...

Justice and Law Enforcement

  • The US Government and other donors must adequately fund both the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

To the United Nations

  • The UN should continue to deploy peacekeepers in all areas of Sierra Leone and actively protect civilians, including women and girls, from sexual violenceN
  • The UN should work with the Government of Sierra Leone to incorporate education about sexual violence into all aspects of demobilization and re-training of professionals including those in the military and police, health and legal professions and educators
  • The UN should ensure that rape and other forms of gender-based violence are prioritized as crimes by the Special Court and that perpetrators from all sides are held accountable. ..
  • The UN, with the Government of Sierra Leone, should ensure that women are represented at every level of the Court and TRC.

This material is distributed by Africa Action (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Africa Action's information services provide accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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