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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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: Human Rights Documents

Sierra Leone: Human Rights Documents
Date distributed (ymd): 990627
Document reposted by APIC

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

Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from three recent documents on human rights in Sierra Leone, from Human Rights Watch, the UN Integrated Regional Information Network, and the Intenational League for Human Rights. For updates on the peace negotiations see and additional news sources in:

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Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299 USA.
E-mail:; Web:

Shocking War Crimes in Sierra Leone:
New Testimonies on Mutilation, Rape of Civilians

[full report available on web:]

(New York, June 24, 1999) -- Rebel forces in Sierra Leone systematically murdered, mutilated, and raped civilians during their January offensive, Human Rights Watch charged today. In a report released on the eve of an important United Nations visit to Freetown, Human Rights Watch documented how entire families were gunned down in the street, children and adults had their limbs hacked off with machetes, and girls and young women were taken to rebel bases and sexually abused. Government forces and the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force supporting them also carried out serious abuses, although to a lesser extent, including over 180 summary executions of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and suspected collaborators.

"The January l999 offensive against Freetown marked the most intensive and concentrated period of human rights violations in Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

"This is not a war in which civilians are accidental victims," said Takirambudde. "This is a war in which civilians are the targets. The crimes against humanity described in this report are unspeakably brutal, and the world must not simply avert its attention from the crisis. The U.N. and its members states must show that the rights of all human beings are of equal value."

Takirambudde urged Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights who visits Freetown, Sierra Leone on June 24, to mobilize international support for the investigation and punishment of Sierra Leone's war criminals.

While the current peace negotiations taking place in Lome, Togo, offer some hope that the civil war may come to a close, Human Rights Watch cautioned against granting amnesty to human rights violators as a condition for peace. "Conflict in Sierra Leone has been so tenacious precisely because of this cycle of impunity," said Takirambudde. "Those responsible for torture and mutilations should not walk away scot-free."

The sixty-page report, "Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation, and Rape: New Testimony from Sierra Leone," documents how, as rebels took control of the city in January 1999, they made little distinction between civilian and military targets. Testimonies from victims and survivors describe numerous massacres of civilians gathered in houses, churches and mosques. One massacre in a mosque on January 22 resulted in the deaths of sixty-six people. A woman describes how she escaped from a burning house after rebels set her mother and daughter on fire. A child recounts how, from her hiding place, she watched rebels execute seventeen of her family and friends.

The report also includes testimonies from girls and women who describe how they were systematically rounded up by the rebels, brought to rebel command centers and then subjected to individual and gang-rape. Young girls under seventeen, and particularly those deemed to be virgins, were specifically targeted, and hundreds of them were later abducted by the rebels.

The rebels carried out large numbers of mutilations, in particular amputation of hands, arms, legs, and other parts of the body. In Freetown, several hundred people, mostly men but also women and children, were killed and maimed in this way. Twenty six civilians were the victims of double arm amputations. One eleven-year-old girl describes how she and two of her friends were taken away by a group of rebels, who then hacked off both of their hands.

It is difficult to ascertain what level of the RUF command ordered these human rights abuses, but the report describes how many of the attacks seemed to be well organized, and some were clearly planned and premeditated. Victims and witnesses describe widespread participation in the abuses, with very few accounts of individual combatants or commanders trying to halt them. The report documents special operations to round up civilians for mutilation, rape, and execution, as well as the existence of units specializing in particular forms of atrocities.

The report also documents how the RUF made extensive use of human shields both to enter Freetown and as defense against the air power of the Nigerian-led Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeeping force. As the rebels withdrew, they set neighborhoods on fire, leaving up to 80 percent of some areas in ashes and an estimated 51,000 civilians homeless.

While the RUF committed the vast majority of atrocities and other violations of international humanitarian law during the battle for Freetown, those defending the capital also committed serious abuses, both during and after the rebel incursion. The report documents how members of ECOMOG, and to a lesser extent members of the Civil Defense Forces(CDF) and Sierra Leonean Police, routinely executed RUF prisoners and their suspected collaborators or sympathizers. While the victims were mostly young men, witnesses confirm the execution of some women, and children as young as eight. Officers to the level of captain were present and sometimes participated in these executions.

Human Rights Watch calls on all parties to the war, but especially the RUF rebels, who have been guilty of the worst abuses, to respect international humanitarian law as laid down in the Geneva Conventions and its protocols. In particular, parties to the conflict must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and desist from targeting civilians for attack.

"Influencing the actions of the rebel forces in Sierra Leone is difficult," said Takirambudde. "But international pressure must be maintained to cease indiscriminate killings, rape, mutilation, and the abduction of civilians, especially children."

While the international response to the Kosovo crisis has demonstrated how quickly and forcefully it can react to a human rights catastrophe, Human Rights Watch noted with concern the stark contrast with the lack of international response that these appalling atrocities committed in Sierra Leone have received. Eight years of war there have left over 50,000 dead and one million civilians displaced.

For more information, please contact: In Freetown: Corinne Dufka +232-22-23-11-85 In New York: Zachary Freeman +212-216-1834 In New York: Carroll Bogert +212-216-1244 In London: Bronwen Manby +44-171-713-1995 In London: Urmi Shah +44-171-713-1995 In Brussels: Lotte Leicht +32-2-732-2009

International League for Human Rights
432 Park Avenue South, Suite 1103
New York, NY 10016
Tel: 212.684.1221 ext 103; Fax: 212.684.1696
E-mail:; WWW:

June 23, 1999, letter sent by the International League for Human Rights to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, in regard to her June 24-25 visit to Sierra Leone:

Dear Madame High Commissioner:

Your decision to visit Sierra Leone encourages us to hope that the United Nations, having the opportunity and the ability, will make some progress in protecting and promoting the human rights of the people of Sierra Leone. The country has become the site of some of the worst human rights violations on the African continent since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, for which the international community has apologized for inaction. Yet we are extremely concerned that this lesson may be forgotten, and recent history will repeat itself in Sierra Leone. ... We support your efforts to draw attention to the plight of civilians in Sierra Leone, against whom war has been waged, and encourage you to take specific steps to ensure the actual implementation of human rights, such as: 1. Building International Support for Decommissioning and Reintegration Programs

Many RUF fighters have indicated in various interviews with local journalists that they would be willing to lay down their arms if there were a more substantial decommissioning and reintegration program available to them. Rebels who have lived in the bush for several years, children who have grown up without attending school -- and who have participated in the conflict -- and victims of kidnapping who have been forced into military service will require assistance in making the transition to civilian life. Here, the international community has the opportunity to recruit rebel fighters out of military service -- and thereby diminish human rights violations. We ask that you encourage members of the international community to increase the support and the scope of decommissioning and reintegration programs.

2. Securing International Support for the Independent Media

Citizens of Sierra Leone have raised concerns over power sharing between the democratically elected government and the RUF, and over the question of whether RUF members will be granted a general amnesty for human rights abuses that have been committed. The League shares these concerns, and recognizes the dangers for future conflict that are sown in compromising democracy through force, and granting impunity to human rights violators. In order for a solution to be successfully implemented, citizens of Sierra Leone must be informed fully and consulted meaningfully about the terms of any peace agreement.

To achieve this end, UN and international support for independent media -- particularly radio, the most effective means of reaching the majority of the population -- is vital. ... The independent media in Sierra Leone is in need of financial and logistical support, and professional training. We ask that you help to secure UN and international support for the independent media of Sierra Leone.

3. Supporting Free Expression Rights and A Legal System that is Free of Intimidation

The independent media must also be allowed to report freely and without fear of reprisal in order to educate the citizenry. However, both parties to the current conflict in Sierra Leone have targeted journalist for reports that are perceived as critical, or supportive of the opposing side. We ask you to strongly communicate to the government of Sierra Leone and to the RUF that journalists, as well as other members of civil society, must be allowed to perform their professional responsibilities without reprisal. ... To date, in 1999, at least seven journalists have been killed in Sierra Leone.

Members of the legal profession have also been intimidated for their professional work. Such intimidation seriously erodes the implementation of the rule of law and subsequent respect for human rights. If there is to be any future accountability for the massive human rights violations that have occurred in the country, there must be a strong and independent judiciary, and attorneys must be able to carry out their legal responsibilities in an environment that is free of intimidation. ...

4. Initiating Efforts to Curtail Diamond Smuggling that Sustains Human Rights Abuses

The League requests that you see that efforts under the appropriate UN agencies are initiated to curtail the diamond smuggling that finances the war and perpetuates human rights abuses in Sierra Leone. The United Nations Angolan Sanctions Committee has recently conducted a fact-finding mission to Angola to determine what can be done to improve the effectiveness of anti-smuggling measures in that war-torn country. We believe that the UN should consider the implementation of such measures in the case of Sierra Leone.

5. Discussing a UN role in Providing Specific Protections for Civilians

In order to protect civilians from killings, amputations, kidnapping, and sexual abuse -- a mandate the Sierra Leone government and the often under-equipped West African Peacekeeping Force has been unable to accomplish -- the League recommends that you discuss the possibility of a UN role in providing specific protections for civilians, possibly involving "safe zones." ... The United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has not been sufficiently equipped or mandated to protect civilians. ...

As a result of the Sierra Leone government's inability to protect its citizens, it has hired mercenaries. Although the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the effects of the use of mercenaries on the human rights and the rights of peoples to self-determination has criticized their use by the Sierra Leone government, the UN has not taken on the role of protecting civilians. The use of mercenaries -- who are often, ultimately, a destabilizing force -- is allowed to gain legitimacy by default.

While the UN has encouraged additional support for ECOMOG, at present, the peacekeeping force seems unable to secure human rights in the majority of the country. It is also unlikely the RUF would allow ECOMOG to take control of certain regions of the country for the purpose of protecting civilians. During the Lome negotiations, the Sierra Leone government and the RUF agreed to "guarantee safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need" and "to establish safe corridors for the provision of food and medical supplies to ECOMOG soldiers behind RUF lines, and to RUF combatants behind ECOMOG lines." However, this agreement does not assure us that the safety of noncombatants will be guaranteed. We ask that you discuss and explore the possibility of a greater UN role in protecting civilians from some of the worst human rights violations that are occurring in world right now.

Thank you for hearing our concerns. We wish you every success in your visit to Sierra Leone.


Kakuna Kerina
Director, Africa Program

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 21 73 54; Fax: +225 21 63 35

IRIN-WA Update 494 of events in West Africa (Friday 25 June 1999)

[This item is delivered in the "irin-english" service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information or free subscriptions, contact e-mail: or fax: +254 2 622129 or Web: If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

Sierra Leone: Urgent attention needed, Robinson says

ABIDJAN, 25 June (IRIN) - Sierra Leone requires urgent international attention if it is to overcome its recent history of horrendous human rights abuses, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said on Friday.

"Having seen the suffering of so many women and girls held as virtual sex slaves, of children and men young and old who have lost limbs as a result of a deliberate policy of amputation, I am more determined than ever to ensure that we focus international concern and attention on Sierra Leone," she said.

Ending a two-day visit to the war-torn country, Robinson said in Freetown she was "deeply shocked" by the extent and cruelty against civilians committed for the most part by members of the RUF during its January assault on the Sierra Leonean capital. Earlier, Robinson visited victims of that incursion and of other attacks carried out during the country's eight-year war.

She said that with peace talks in Lome at a crucial stage, international support to Sierra Leone was vital. Among the measures that could be taken in the short term, she said, were international help to document human rights violations in the country as a step towards establishing accountability, increasing the number of human rights monitors in the country, and working with the government and the society at large to create a "human rights infrastructure in the country".

Human rights manifesto

Robinson commended the stated intention of local authorities to build this infrastructure, as evidenced by the signing on Thursday yesterday of the "Human Rights Manifesto of Sierra Leone". This document reaffirms the government's commitment, and that of the country's civil society, "to the unwavering and non-discriminatory promotion of all human rights for present and future generations in Sierra Leone." It also contains provisions on the establishment of an independent national human rights institution and of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the manifesto the government reiterates its commitment to raise the age of recruitment into military service to 18 years and its intention to incorporate into national law the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Sierra Leone has received criticism for allowing the recruitment of children into the Kamajors, a militia of traditional hunters loyal to President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Many children have also been forcibly recruited into the RUF whose members are accused of committing atrocities.

Robinson was accompanied by a high-level delegation of African and international personalities, including Ketumile Masire, the former President of Botswana.

Ex AFRC soldiers demobilised

Sierra Leone demobilised 254 former members of its former army on Thursday at the start of an internationally-backed disarmament plan in the war-torn country.

"You now have the right to live with your people and contribute to nation-building," Vice President Albert Demby, quoted by Reuters, said.

A humanitarian source told IRIN that the soldiers had been billeted in a former four-star hotel in the west of the city, called the Mamy Yoko. The veterans - former loyalists of a military junta which ruled in alliance with rebels for nine months after a coup in May 1997 - were each given an undisclosed amount of money and discharged.

The government is negotiating with the RUF rebels for a comprehensive accord that would lead to the disarmament of other armed groups in Sierra Leone.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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