Sierra Leone: Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation, and Rape


In the early hours of January 6, l999, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) launched an offensive against the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, capturing it from government troops and the soldiers of the Nigerian-led peacekeeping force known as ECOMOG, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Cease-fire Monitoring Group. The battle for Freetown and the ensuing three week rebel occupation of the capital was characterized by the systematic and widespread perpetration of all classes of atrocities against the civilian population, of over one million inhabitants, and marked the most intensive and concentrated period of human rights violations in Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war.

As the rebels took control of street after street, they turned their weapons on the civilian population. By the end of January, both government and independent sources estimated that several thousands of civilians had been killed. The rebels dragged entire family units out of their homes and murdered them, hacked off the hands of children and adults, burned people alive in their houses, and rounded up hundreds of young women, took them to urban rebel bases, and sexually abused them. As the ECOMOG forces counterattacked and the RUF retreated through the capital, the rebels set fire to neighborhoods, leaving entire city blocks in ashes and over 51,000 people homeless.[1] And, while the RUF took with them almost no prisoners of war, they withdrew to the hills with thousands of abductees, mostly children and young women. This latest rebel offensive brought to the capital the same class of atrocities witnessed in Sierra Leone's rural provinces over the last eight years and is the latest cycle of violence in an armed conflict that has claimed an estimated 50,000 lives and caused the displacement of more than one million Sierra Leoneans. Since launching the rebellion in l991, the RUF has fought to overthrow successive governments it accuses of widespread corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement of the country's vast diamond and mineral resources. However, since its inception, the RUF has failed publicly and clearly to articulate an alternative political agenda and has consistently committed gross and large scale atrocities against civilians. In December l998, following the capture of the diamond rich Kono district and subsequently Makeni, Sierra Leone's fifth largest city, thousands of RUF fighters started moving towards the capital. By early January l999, they had reached the peninsula on which Freetown is located and gathered less than twenty miles west of the capital city. On January 6, the rebels broke through the highly stretched and poorly manned ECOMOG defenses, ill-prepared for a rebel offensive in force, and proceeded to march through the eastern suburbs and straight into the city center. Their efforts to capture the westernmost part of the capital, containing the ECOMOG headquarters, Wilberforce Military Barracks, and the suburbs housing the country's wealthy elite, were frustrated as ECOMOG launched a major counteroffensive and started pushing them eastward from where they came. While the rebels were only able to occupy the city center for less than one week, it took ECOMOG forces over three weeks to flush them from the three densely populated eastern suburbs of Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town. It was in these three suburbs, particularly towards the end of the occupation, that the vast majority of atrocities occurred. The rebels made little distinction between civilian and military targets. They repeatedly stated that they believed civilians should be punished for what they perceived to be their support for the existing government. While there was some targeting of particular groups, the vast majority of atrocities were committed by rebels who chose their victims apparently at random. The arbitrary nature of these attacks served to create an atmosphere of complete terror. While it is difficult to ascertain at what level the perpetration of human rights abuses was ordered by the RUF high command, many of the attacks seemed to be well organized, and some were clearly planned and premeditated. Victims and witnesses described widespread participation and very few accounts of individual combatants or commanders trying to halt the abuses. Operations to round up civilians for mutilation, rape, and execution are well documented, as is the existence of units specializing in the perpetration of particular forms of these atrocities. The RUF's incursion into Freetown was built around the use of civilian human shields. As they began their march, the rebels used gunfire to create panic and produce a mass civilian exodus westward towards the city center. The rebels then mixed in with and marched behind the thousands of civilians making up the human shield. The tactic was effective for the rebels, but proved frustrating for the ECOMOG soldiers, who were unable to see and properly engage their opponents; and deadly for civilians who were in the line of fire once the fighting began. Human shields were also used as defense against ECOMOG air power and during subsequent assaults on ECOMOG positions. Upon gaining control of a neighborhood or suburb, the rebels went on systematic looting raids in which families were hit by wave after wave of rebels demanding money and valuables. Those who didn't have what the rebels demanded were frequently murdered. Civilians were also executed for resisting rape or abduction, trying to flee, trying to protect a friend or family member, or for refusing to follow instructions. The largest number of killings took place within the context of attacks on civilians gathered in houses, compounds,[2] and places of refuge such as churches and mosques. A study carried out in Freetown's biggest hospital found that some 80 percent of all war-wounded were survivors of mass killings and massacres. Human Rights Watch took testimonies from scores of witnesses to such atrocities-including a January 6 attack on a family in which all but one of their seven children were killed; a January 19 attack on the church of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star in Wellington, in which twelve people were gunned down; a January 21 attack on a compound in Kissy in which seventeen people were murdered and later burned; and a January 22 attack on the Rogbalan Mosque in Kissy, in which sixty-six people were massacred. There were also frequent accounts of people being burned alive in their houses, often after having been wounded. Children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable. Witnesses described rebels throwing civilians, sometimes children, into burning houses and shooting at those trying to escape. Family members trying to rescue their children or other relatives from a burning house were threatened with death and forced to abandon them to the fire. The rebels carried out large numbers of mutilations, in particular amputation of hands, arms, legs, and other parts of the body-a horrific practice developed during offensives in the rural parts of Sierra Leone. In Freetown, several hundred people, mostly men, but also women and children, were killed and maimed in this way. Hospitals registered ninety-seven victims of hand and leg amputation, including twenty-six civilians both of whose hands were hacked off. Among those who had reached a hospital were a two-year-old toddler who had lost one arm, and at least twelve children under the age of eleven who had either lost a limb or suffered serious lacerations from these attacks. Throughout the occupation, the rebels perpetrated organized and widespread sexual violence against girls and women. The rebels launched operations in which they rounded up girls and women, brought them to rebel command centers, and then subjected them to individual and gang-rape. The sexual abuse was frequently characterized by extreme brutality. Young girls under seventeen, and particularly virgins, were specifically targeted, and hundreds of them were later abducted by the rebels. While most victims were seemingly chosen at random, the rebels directly targeted a few groups, namely Nigerian nationals, unarmed policemen, and journalists. At least sixty-three Nigerians, most of whom were traders or businessmen, were hunted down and murdered in particularly brutal ways. The rebels also killed at least eighty-five unarmed police officers, and several local and one international journalist. Witnesses described seeing rebels with lists containing the names of journalists who had criticized them in the past and of other pro-democracy and human rights activists. The Catholic archbishop, four Xavierian fathers, and six Sisters of Charity were abducted and held for over ten days. The rebels later killed four of the sisters and wounded one Xavierian father. As the rebels withdrew, they took with them thousands of civilians, mostly young people and particularly young women. The abductions were often violent, and family members attempting to resist the abductions were often beaten or killed. Families who had more than one child abducted were not uncommon, and there are several cases of entire family units being taken. By June l999, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children's Affairs had registered 573 adults who had either been abducted or gone missing, and UNICEF had classed as abducted some 1,500 children registered as having gone missing during the offensive. In March l999, rebels released fifty-one of the abductees; since then, hundreds more have managed to escape. The rebels ignored medical neutrality and threatened hospital personnel. Freetown's largest hospital was turned into a temporary rebel base for hundreds of combatants. There, and in other hospitals, rebels tortured, robbed, and removed patients from their beds, and, in at least one case, dragged a patient out of the hospital to be killed. They ordered hospital personnel at gunpoint not to treat civilians and threatened them with death if rebel commanders died. Hospitals and clinics were looted, ambulances were destroyed, and several medical facilities were set on fire. As the rebels withdrew from the capital they set entire city blocks and suburban streets on fire. Housing authorities registered the destruction of 5,788 homes and residential buildings within the greater Freetown area. Within the eastern suburb of Calaba Town, the authorities calculated some 80 percent of residential structures had been left in ashes, and within densely populated Kissy the estimate was over 65 percent. According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Transport, extensive damage to at least eight of Freetown's factories, set ablaze by retreating rebels, has resulted in the loss of over 5,000 jobs. Embassies, government buildings, churches, mosques, and historical landmarks were also targeted, including Freetown's Big Market, built in l802, and the Holy Trinity Church, built in l877. Witnesses and victims described the presence and participation of foreign mercenaries fighting with the RUF. Victims of arm amputations, killings, and massacres said some of their assailants were from Liberia and Burkina Faso. Others observed the presence of white mercenaries, believed to be from Ukraine, several of whom were seen giving orders and directing the battle during the ECOMOG assault on the temporary rebel headquarters at State House. 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. Members of the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force, 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. Human Rights Watch has documented over 180 of these executions. Most were carried out by ECOMOG forces. While the victims were mostly young men, witnesses confirm the execution of some women, and children as young as eight. Prisoners taken by ECOMOG, some of whom had surrendered and many of whom were wounded, were frequently executed on the spot. Suspected rebel collaborators and sympathizers were often killed with little or no effort to establish their guilt or innocence. Executions usually took place at checkpoints, or during small "mopping up" operations. Officers to the level of captain were present and sometimes participated in these executions. ECOMOG troops also violated medical neutrality during a January 11 operation in which they stormed a hospital, proceeded to drag wounded rebels from their beds, and executed them on the hospital grounds. At least twenty-eight rebels, including two children and a few who had already surrendered, were executed. In the aftermath of the offensive, civilian witnesses also complained of looting by members of the CDF during routine search missions and some excessive use of force by ECOMOG forces when passing through checkpoints. During the rebel incursion, children were both the victims of serious abuses committed by all parties to the conflict and, in some cases, the perpetrators of these abuses. RUF rebels raped girls as young as eight, singled out children for mutilation, and murdered children alone and with other family members. RUF child combatants, armed with pistols, rifles, and machetes, were witnessed actively participating in killings and amputations. Some of these child combatants captured by ECOMOG forces were later executed or beaten by members of the local community. Some children abducted by the rebels and taken to the bush have already been observed to be undergoing military training. The atrocities committed during the January RUF offensive follow a now painfully familiar pattern in Sierra Leone. Relatively protected from such abuses in the past, Freetown residents can now bear witness to the level of brutality and destruction which has threatened residents of the rural areas over the past eight years. In the capital city, the scale of these abuses-both in absolute numbers and in the percentage of the population affected-and the level of sheer brutality, was simply staggering. In Sierra Leone, a war is being waged against the civilian population, and particularly horrific and inhumane methods are being used to fight it. 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 protocol. In particular, parties to the conflict must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and desist from targeting civilians for attack. Although influencing the actions of the rebel forces in Sierra Leone is difficult, international pressure must be maintained to convince them to cease indiscriminate killings, rape, mutilation, the abduction of civilians-especially children for use as soldiers, laborers, sexual slaves, or other purposes-and other violations of the laws of war. In attempting to negotiate an end to the civil war, the international community and the Sierra Leonean government must insist on the need to bring the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses and war crimes to justice. RUF members suspected of having committed human rights abuses and former RUF collaborators must be given fair trials and punished according to national and international law. Allegations that members of the government's forces and Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces perpetrated abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law must be investigated and appropriate action must be taken.

The physical and psychological scars left by eight years of war in Sierra Leone are profound and far-reaching. In order to end the cycle of violence, there must be an analysis of the root causes of the conflict and a sincere effort on the part of the government and international community to address them. It is owed to the hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have already been torn apart by this war and essential for the future stability of both the country and the region.

Research for this report was conducted by Human Rights Watch during the months of April, May, and June 1999. Several hundred witnesses and victims were interviewed, within their homes and centers for the displaced, in hospitals and clinics, market places, churches, mosques, and places of work. Interviews were conducted with government and United Nations officials, journalists, human rights activists, social workers, and members of national and international nongovernmental organizations. The names of all witnesses and survivors, except where noted, have been changed in order to protect their identity and ensure their privacy. The conduct of all combatants in the Sierra Leonean conflict is governed by international humanitarian law also known as the laws of war; the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their two Protocols. A cardinal principle of humanitarian law is that civilian persons who are in the power of a party to the conflict are entitled to be treated humanely in all circumstances and to benefit from a series of fundamental guarantees without any discrimination. Under the laws of war the following acts in particular are prohibited under any pretext whatsoever:

a)violence to the life, health, and physical or mental well-being of persons, particularly murder, torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental, corporal punishment, and mutilation;

b)outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, enforced prostitution, rape, and any form of indecent assault;

c)the taking of hostages;

d)collective punishments;

e)threats to commit any of the foregoing acts.

Combatants have an obligation to distinguish at all times between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare the civilian population and property. Neither the civilian population as such nor civilian persons shall be the object of attack. Attacks shall be directed solely against military objectives, and the use of civilians as human shields is specifically banned. Medical personnel, establishments, transports, and equipment are also covered by the protection afforded by the laws of war. Members of the armed forces or rebel groups who are captured or placed hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. They must be protected and treated humanely without any adverse distinction. It is absolutely forbidden to kill or injure an enemy who surrenders or who is hors de combat. All these fundamental guarantees without exception, have been grossly and systematically violated during the RUFs offensive against Freetown and ECOMOG's counterattack. The unthinkable atrocities described in this report constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations:

To the RUF:

Human Rights Watch condemns in the strongest terms the conduct of RUF forces described in this report. We call on RUF forces to:

•Immediately refrain from inflicting torture or murder of any kind, including extrajudicial executions and mutilations, by forces under its command.

•Immediately release all civilian abductees in custody; grant full and ongoing access to detention centers to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organizations; and publish lists of all prisoners and abductees, their ages, where they were captured, where they are being detained, and other relevant details.

•Immediately cease the recruitment and training of child soldiers under the age of eighteen and demobilize and release those already enlisted.

•Allow for unfettered access and safe passage for humanitarian agencies trying to reach needy populations under RUF control.

•Observe the cease-fire agreement entered into on May 18, 1999, desist from all acts in violation of international humanitarian law, and enter into negotiations for the resolution of the conflict in good faith.

•In accordance with the commitment made to U.N. special representative Okelo, set up an internal investigation to investigate violations of international humanitarian law by members of RUF and allied forces, as described in this and other reports on the conflict in Sierra Leone.

•Provide education for all RUF combatants and commanders on the rules of war and standards of international humanitarian law.

•Follow through with the commitment made on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo, by Corporal Foday Sankoh, for the "immediate release of all prisoners of war and noncombatants."

•Follow through with the commitment made and signed on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo by Corporal Foday Sankoh to "guarantee safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need, establish safe corridors for the provision of food and medical supplies to ECOMOG soldiers behind RUF lines, and to RUF combatants behind ECOMOG lines."

•Permit full, unhampered international investigation of grave and widespread humanitarian law and human rights abuses in areas under RUF control by nongovernmental organizations and accredited journalists.

To the Government of Sierra Leone:

We call on the government of Sierra Leone to:

•Thoroughly investigate and prosecute in full compliance with international law, individuals responsible for grave breaches of humanitarian law. Where combatants have committed abuses against civilians, they should be held accountable in a court of law.

•Desist from the recruitment of child soldiers, particularly within the Civil Defense Forces, and to follow through on its commitments made to the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for children in armed conflict to stop the recruitment of children under eighteen and to create a joint task force to oversee the demobilization and reintegration of child combatants from all sides.

•Ensure that government soldiers and those forces allied with the government respect the human rights of civilians in areas of conflict.

•Ensure that all members of the new Sierra Leonean Army currently under formation receive formal education on the rules of war and standards of international humanitarian law.

•Promptly revise the criminal code to eliminate the death penalty and corporal punishment.

•Follow through with the commitment made and signed on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo, by President Kabbah for the "immediate release of all prisoners of war and noncombatants," while ensuring that reliable reports that individuals in custody have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity are investigated, and prosecutions instituted, as described above, if there is evidence to do so.

•Follow through with the commitment made and signed on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo by President Kabbah to "guarantee safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need, establish safe corridors for the provision of food and medical supplies to ECOMOG soldiers behind RUF lines, and to RUF soldiers behind ECOMOG lines."

•Follow through with the commitment announced by President Kabbah on April 27, l999 to establish a new Human Rights Commission for Sierra Leone.

•Create task forces to:

•develop a concrete plan for meeting the needs of abused women and deal specifically with violations inflicted on women during conflict, with the aim of improving the social, medical, and legal responses to women's needs.

•deal with the effects of war on children:child victims, witnesses, and perpetrators. A key function of this task-force would be the development of a concrete plan for meeting the long-term needs of those who were adversely affected by the war. This task force should determine how best to reintegrate children into their communities, provide education and vocational training suitable for older children, and rehabilitate children who have been victims of atrocities, have witnessed atrocities (sometimes against their own parents), or have themselves taken part in atrocities.

•address the special physical, psychological, and social needs of the thousands of victims of limb amputation and other mutilation.

•Initiate a widespread information and education campaign to inform communities of the special needs of all civilians who have been abducted or abused.

•Allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) unhindered and ongoing access to all detainees, including those who are currently being investigated but have not been charged with a crime.

•Permit full, unhampered international investigation of grave and widespread humanitarian law and human rights abuses in areas under government control by non-governmental organizations and accredited journalists.


Human Rights Watch urges ECOMOG and ECOWAS, as appropriate, to:

•Take steps to strengthen and make effective the Civil/Military Relations Committee formed to probe allegations of human rights abuses committed by some members of ECOMOG and the CDF.

•In particular, and in accordance with the commitment made to the U.N. secretary-general's special representative, Francis Okelo, and noted in the March 4, l999, Fifth Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone, investigate allegations of abuses having been committed during the January offensive and take corrective action as necessary.

•Follow through with the commitment made and signed on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo, for the "immediate release of all prisoners of war and noncombatants," while ensuring that reliable reports that individuals in custody have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity are investigated by the appropriate authorities, and prosecutions instituted if there is evidence to do so.

•Follow through with the commitment signed on May 18, l999 in Lomé, Togo, to "Guarantee safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need, establish safe corridors for the provision of food and medical supplies to RUF soldiers behind ECOMOG lines."

•Ensure that all ECOMOG officers and soldiers receive proper training in the rules of war and international humanitarian law.

To the International Community:

Human Rights Watch urges the international community generally, including the U.N., its member states, and agencies, to:

•Dramatically increase the level of attention and resources devoted to the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone and the establishment of respect for human rights and the rule of law, including by increasing the financial support given to UNOMSIL to enable an expansion of its human rights monitoring and peacekeeping activities.

•Oppose a general amnesty that would apply to those who have committed gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law and insist on the need for the cycle of impunity to be broken if peace is to be restored to Sierra Leone.

•Reinforce the flow of bilateral and multilateral aid to the government of Sierra Leone. This aid should focus on human rights and humanitarian needs, including restructuring of the army and police force, and initiatives focusing on such key areas as emergency relief, health, education, shelter, infrastructure, and the rule of law.

•In particular, provide assistance for the reconstruction of the system for the administration of justice, and for other initiatives aimed at the establishment of accountability for crimes under national and international law.

•Provide moral, financial, and technical support to civil society organizations to assist them in playing an active role in the transition toward a democratic society and in monitoring, lobbying, and campaigning for improved human rights standards.

•Insist that the government of Sierra Leone follow up on its commitments to stop the recruitment of children under the age of eighteen and to create a joint task force to oversee the demobilization and reintegration of child combatants from all sides.

•Insist with all parties upon the access for accredited journalists and nongovernmental organizations to all areas of conflict.


The Sierra Leonean civil war began in March 1991, when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) entered Sierra Leone from Liberia, launching a rebellion to overthrow the one-party rule of the All Peoples Congress (APC). The RUF accused the APC, which had been in power since 1967, of rampant corruption, nepotism, and fiscal mismanagement. Despite the fact that Sierra Leone is extremely resource-rich, with large deposits of diamonds, gold, rutile, and bauxite, it is estimated to be one of the poorest countries in the world. Under the leadership of Foday Sankoh, a corporal in the Sierra Leone Army who had been imprisoned in 1971 for his alleged involvement in an attempted coup against the APC, the RUF was originally made up 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).[3] The ideological component to the movement, however, was never clearly actualized, and the rebellion quickly developed into a campaign of violence whose principal aim appeared to be simply to gain access to the country's diamond and mineral wealth. From 1991 until the present, the RUF has fought with great brutality to overthrow the successive governments of both military and elected civilian regimes. Since the outbreak of the war, the country has been marked by instability. In 1992, APC President Joseph Momoh was overthrown in a military coup by Captain Valentine Strasser, whose National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) ruled until it was itself overthrown in 1996, by his deputy, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Later in 1996, however, multi-party elections were held and won by Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, head of the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), who pledged to bring about an end to the war. After coming to the negotiating table in Abidjan, the RUF and Kabbah's government signed a peace agreement in November 1996, the Abidjan Accord, which called for a cease-fire, disarmament, demobilization, and the withdrawal of all foreign forces. The cease-fire, however, was broken in January 1997 when serious fighting broke out in southern Moyamba District. In May 1997, fourteen months after assuming power, President Kabbah was himself overthrown in a coup led by army major Johnny Paul Koroma, heading the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), following his escape from prison, where he had been held following an earlier attempted coup in September 1996. Koroma cited the government's failure to implement the peace agreement as the reason for the coup. Upon taking over, the AFRC suspended the constitution, banned political parties, and announced rule by military decree. It also ushered in a period of political repression characterized by arbitrary arrests and detention. The AFRC had widespread support within the Sierra Leonean Army (SLA), which had become disillusioned by President Kabbah's decision to cut back support for the military. The SLA accused Kabbah of putting greater confidence for the country's defense in and giving more economic resources to a network of civilian militias, known as the Civil Defense Forces (CDF), the largest and most powerful of which are the Kamajors.[4] The Kabbah government had found the Kamajors very effective in fighting the RUF, and, unlike members of the army, they were not accused of collaboration with the RUF for the exploitation of the country's diamond resources.[5] Formalizing an alliance between the army and the rebels based on joint opposition to President Kabbah and the People's Party, the AFRC invited the RUF to join them in the new government. After the coup, which was widely condemned, President Kabbah and his government fled into exile in neighboring Guinea and began to mobilize international condemnation for and a response to the coup makers. In June 1997, Nigerian troops, claiming to act under a defense pact with the Sierra Leonean government, moved to reinforce colleagues from the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) already based at the Freetown airport to defend it from RUF rebels, where they remained based throughout the AFRC regime. In August, following the AFRC's announcement of a four-year program for elections and return to civilian rule, which represented a breakdown in negotiations, ECOWAS states put in place an almost total embargo against Sierra Leone. In October, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution imposing mandatory sanctions on Sierra Leone, including an embargo on arms and oil imports.[6] After negotiations in Guinea under the auspices of ECOWAS, the Kabbah government-in-exile and the AFRC/RUF signed an agreement on October 23, 1997 providing for the return to power of President Kabbah by April 1998. However, the AFRC/RUF undermined the implementation of the accord by stockpiling weapons and attacking ECOMOG positions. In February l998, ECOMOG forces working together with Kamajor militia launched an operation which drove the AFRC/RUF forces from Freetown. In March l998, President Kabbah was reinstated as president and over the next several months ECOMOG forces were able to establish control over roughly two-thirds of the country including all regional capitals. However, once expelled from the capital, the rebels tried to consolidate their own positions in other parts of the country and through a serious of offensives toward the end of l998, managed to gain control of the diamond-rich Kono district and several other strategic towns and areas.[7] The Kabbah government, which had negligible forces of its own, relied on ECOMOG to stay in power, yet declined to enter into any negotiations to bring the civil war to an end. By the end of l998, the rebels had gained the upper hand militarily and were in control of over half of the country, including all those areas housing the country's major economic assets. From this position, the RUF launched the January 1999 attack on Freetown.

The war in Sierra Leone has seen considerable involvement of both foreign governments and mercenary forces which have usually provided support in exchange for lucrative contracts and mining concessions. The assistance of Charles Taylor's NPFL and later Liberian government to the RUF is well documented, and has included training, personnel and considerable logistical support. The 1992-1996 military regime (Captain Strasser's National Provisional Ruling Council:NPRC) contracted the South African-based private security firm Executive Outcomes in 1995 to protect the major diamond mining areas. Executive Outcomes remained involved in Sierra Leone until President Kabbah terminated their contract in 1996 as a condition of the 1996 Abidjan Peace Accord. The involvement of Ukrainian arms and ammunition suppliers began under the NPRC and intensified under Brigadier Maada Bio's government. During the January 1999 RUF offensive, armed white men were observed fighting alongside and giving orders to RUF forces. In April 1999, the ECOMOG force commander Felix Mujakperuo publicly accused the presidents of Liberia and Burkina Faso of supplying arms to the RUF by using Ukrainian registered aircraft and crews.[8] The Sierra Leonean government has also contracted the services of several foreign soldiers and pilots, most of whom fly, man, and maintain the attack and transport helicopters currently being used by ECOMOG forces.

Since the January occupation of Freetown, there have been the first signs for several years of a possible negotiated resolution to the conflict in Sierra Leone. During March 1999, President Kabbah visited several key countries in the subregion, including Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo to discuss the situation in Sierra Leone and possible ways forward. In a radio address to the nation on March 14, President Kabbah expressed his appreciation for the assistance provided by those countries and reaffirmed his commitment to the "dual-track" approach developed by ECOWAS, which involves strengthening ECOMOG while preparing to talk to the RUF. At the same time, there was considerable diplomatic activity among a number of parties interested in the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone, including the current chairman of ECOWAS, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo; the ECOMOG troop-contributing countries, namely Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana, and Mali; the governments of the U.K. and the USA (the USA being represented by the United States presidential special envoy for the promotion of democracy in Africa, the Rev. Jesse Jackson); and the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Sierra Leone, Francis G. Okelo. On May 18, 1999, the Sierra Leonean government and the RUF signed a cease-fire agreement, which came into effect on May 24, 1999. Under the agreement, both parties were to maintain their respective positions and refrain from hostile or aggressive acts. Other provisions included the guarantee of safe and unhindered access by humanitarian organizations to all people in need; the immediate release of prisoners of war and noncombatants; and the deployment, subject to the authorization of the Security Council, of United Nations military observers to observe compliance with the cease-fire agreement. Talks between the Sierra Leonean government and the RUF opened in Lomé on May 25, 1999, guided by a facilitation committee chaired by the foreign minister of Togo, with the participation of ECOWAS, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the U.N. secretary-general's special representative. On June 2, 1999, the government and the RUF decided to ask UNOMSIL to establish a committee to effect the immediate release of prisoners of war and noncombatants in accordance with the May 18 cease-fire agreement. The committee, which is to be chaired by the UNOMSIL chief military observer, comprises representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), other United Nations agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.


Systematic Targeting of Civilians

The rebel occupation of Freetown was characterized by the systematic and widespread perpetration of all classes of gross human rights abuses against the civilian population. Civilians were gunned down within their houses, rounded up and massacred on the streets, thrown from the upper floors of buildings, used as human shields, and burned alive in cars and houses. They had their limbs hacked off with machetes, eyes gouged out with knives, hands smashed with hammers, and bodies burned with boiling water. Women and girls were systematically sexually abused, and children and young people abducted by the hundreds. The rebels made little distinction between civilian and military targets. They repeatedly stated that they believed civilians should be punished for what they perceived to be their support for the existing government. Thus, the rebels waged war against the civilian population through the perpetration of human rights abuses. While there was some targeting of particular groups, such as Nigerians, police officers, journalists, and church workers, the vast majority of atrocities were committed by rebels who chose their victims apparently at random. The arbitrary nature of these attacks served to create an atmosphere of complete terror. Some victims were attacked for resisting rape or abduction, trying to flee, trying to protect a friend or family member, or refusing to follow instructions to dance or make music on the streets, but most described being chosen for execution or mutilation at random, often without being asked a single question. It is difficult to ascertain the level of seniority within the RUF at which the perpetration of human rights abuses was ordered, though the widespread participation in abuses suggests that they must have been authorized at a high level within the RUF's command structures. Victims and witnesses frequently overheard commanders on the ground give orders to perpetrate atrocities, and there are very few accounts of individual combatants or commanders trying to halt the abuses. When witnesses reported that individual combatants did object and try to halt the abuses, those objecting were often met with death threats from their fellow rebels. The atrocities were often planned and premeditated. Victims and witnesses describe well-organized operations to round up civilians who were later executed, attacked with machetes, or raped. On several occasions rebels gave advance warning that atrocities were to be committed later. Witnesses describe the existence of distinct units known for committing particular crimes, like the "Burn House Unit," "Cut Hands Commando," and "Blood Shed Squad." Some of these squads had a trademark way of killing such as the "Kill Man No Blood" unit, whose method was to beat people to death without shedding blood, or the "Born Naked Squad," who stripped their victims before killing them. The closer ECOMOG forces got to rebel positions, the more these squads were mobilized and sent on operation. Upon gaining control of a neighborhood or suburb, the rebels went on systematic looting raids, in which families were hit by wave after wave of rebels demanding money and valuables. Those who didn't have what the rebels demanded were often murdered. While rape and abduction were widespread throughout the offensive, the pace of the executions, amputations and burning of property picked up dramatically as the rebels were forced to withdraw. The abuses committed in the last several days of rebel occupation of any given neighborhood were of staggering proportion. It is difficult to establish how many civilians were killed during the rebel incursion. The Senior Government Pathologist registered the burial of 7,335 corpses of people who were killed as a result of the January 6 rebel incursion. These include 4,245 which were either left in the city morgue or picked up off the street during the offensive and buried in mass graves, and 3,090 which were later exhumed and reburied after having been hastily disposed of during the fighting and rebel occupation.[9] While the number of combatants from both sides, either killed in battle or after capture or incapacitation by wounds, was thought to be high, human rights activists believe at least half of the dead were civilians. One local human rights group has already documented 2,215 civilian killings.[10] Freetown's three main hospitals reported treating 827 wounded, although hospital staff note that for the first several weeks of the offensive, precise records were not kept.[11] In all three hospitals, the majority of war related injuries resulted from gunshot wounds, followed by lacerations by machete, knife, or axe. One study done in Freetown's biggest hospital found that some 80 percent of all wounded were the victims of multiple killings or massacres.[12] The largest concentration of dead and wounded came from the three densely populated eastern suburbs of Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town. During the weeks of rebel occupation all three suburbs were cut off from the capital's main medical facilities, which are all located within the ECOMOG controlled west. Unable to cross the front lines, most wounded civilians sought medical attention from local nurses and small clinics. However, loathe to identify themselves for fear of abduction, medical personnel had frequently gone into hiding or fled the area. There was also a dearth of medicine and supplies to treat the wounded, as clinics and pharmacies were frequently targeted for looting by the rebels. It was not uncommon for wounded civilians to go for several days before receiving medical treatment or seeing a doctor. On June 14, 1999, Human Rights Watch spoke with Omraie Golley, official spokesperson and legal representative for the RUF. He denied that his troops had committed any atrocities against the civilian population during the January offensive He said that while they have received allegations, "I have yet to find firm evidence that points to individual soldiers or commanders responsible for committing any atrocities against the civilian population. We've heard a lot of stories, we've heard a lot of terrible things. These kinds of allegations are easy to make but difficult to prove. But, if any of our soldiers or commanders have been guilty of such atrocities they will be brought to book." Golley also stated that the RUF has not initiated any formal investigations or disciplinary proceedings against any individual soldier or commander. When asked about the mutilation and amputation of limbs, he said, "in July l997 firm instructions were issued about the use of machetes. They were banned as an implement of war and it was made clear to all our soldiers and commanders that any found guilty of these atrocities would be severely dealt with. The RUF has been fighting a war to protect people, not to destroy them. If any civilians were mutilated during the January offensive, they were not mutilated by the RUF. There were many other groups involved in the conflict during the time of occupation and all of them-the Civilian Defense Forces, The Kamajors, ECOMOG, and vigilante groups-should be investigated." About the use of human shields and reports of rape, he said, "we unreservedly deny the use of human shields. This is clearly against our war policy and our commanders are well aware of this. Rape is clearly against the RUF penal code and in the past men found guilty of this have been severely dealt with." In response to the allegations of atrocities committed in the last eight years of war, Golley said that in March 1999 the RUF asked the government of Sierra Leone to provide them with detailed allegations of such atrocities and set up "an independent commission made up of three RUF military personnel and three civilians to investigate various allegations of atrocities." Golley clarified, however, that, "the fact that we've set up a commission is not an admission of guilt, because as far as we're concerned we are not guilty of having committed atrocities against the people; rather it is in response to these persistent allegations."[13]

Massacres, Individual Murders, and Fire-Related Deaths

Human Rights Watch took testimonies from scores of survivors and witnesses to individual murders, group killings, and massacres. These killings began on the first day of the offensive and continued through the day the rebels abandoned the easternmost suburbs.

James Kajue and his family

In the early morning hours of January 6, as they were attempting to flee their home in the eastern suburb of Wellington, James Kajue and his family were stopped by advancing rebels and marched to a nearby side street. After being asked for money, a rebel opened fire on them, wounding both James and his wife Victoria and killing six of their children and their only grandson. One daughter, Frida, survived. James recounted what happened:

We went to bed on the night of January 5 and left the children watching videos. Around midnight I woke up and heard gunshots coming very close. I didn't hear any shelling from ECOMOG so I figured the rebels were on their way. I called a few friends who live further east and when they didn't answer I said, "Victoria, let's get out of here." So we put all the kids in the station wagon and left. As we drove down the main highway there were thousands of people on the roads and when we'd gone a few more miles the cars were stopped. At that moment someone lit a flare illuminating the area and when I looked back I saw that mixed in with the civilians were hundreds of rebel soldiers. It was then I realized the rebels were among us. There was a lot of gunfire so I told everyone to stay in the car and crouch down. I thought it was safer. Scores of rebels passed by without seeing us but then an eight-year-old rebel with an RPG[14] and who was small enough to see through the window noticed us and alerted the others. One of them ordered us out of the car and said, "you people have been deceived by ECOMOG, why are you fleeing towards them, we're your brothers." Victoria tried to calm him and told him we just wanted to go to someplace safe. He then walked us up a side street a few hundred yards away and told us to sit down. He wanted money so Victoria reached into her bag and gave him some. He said it was too little and as we were about to offer him more I noticed three or four more rebels moving up the road. As they approached I heard them shouting, "SLA on the thought we'd gone but we've come back." As one of them was approaching, I heard him say "why are you wasting time with these civilians...they've been supporting Tejan Kabbah and ECOMOG. We must teach them a lesson. I think we should just fire [kill] them." And as soon as he said this, he swung around the AK-47, cocked it and opened fire on my family. It wasn't even one minute from the time he walked up to the time he opened up on us. And then I heard one of them saying, "why did you have to do it" but the one who did it, who by that time was walking around to check if we were all dead, pulled Frida, who was alive, by the hair and said, "see, they're not all dead." And then he got to me and said, "I'll just pick up Pa's watch." I was hit on the hand which was resting on my chest so there was a lot of blood. I pretended to be dead so he just ripped off my watch and walked off with the others. And then the roll call - I couldn't do it. Victoria had to do it. Patrick, CiCi, Mary all died instantly. Ester was dying. At that moment only Frida replied. She was wounded but not gravely. There was a lot of gunfire so I got up and said, "I'm going for shelter...can anyone who can walk just please, please follow me." Victoria took my two year-old grandson who was crying and fatally wounded. We later dragged David who'd been hit in the spine and couldn't walk. And I could hear James calling, "I'm stuck against this wall and can't move." By now rebels were passing and we couldn't go to him. Later we thought that he must've been hit in the spine and to him it must've felt like he was pinned against a wall. He only called a few times more and then fell silent. Little Hassan died a few hours later; he was hit three times. And David, the last time I spoke to him I said, "can you promise me, promise me you'll survive this thing" and he said, "Dad I promise you" but he couldn't. He died later that day. He [the rebel] came from nowhere. I didn't have time. I would've stood up and offered myself in place of the kids. They didn't ask us any questions. If they were to accuse anyone it should've been me. I would have given myself. I had some money. I would've offered it to them but the one who killed us didn't come for money - he came to destroy our lives. He just opened up on my family without saying anything.[15] Several attacks and massacres were perpetrated against civilians seeking refuge within churches, mosques, and hospitals. These included the January 18 attack on the Kissy Mental Hospital in which some sixteen men were executed and six women attacked with machetes, the January 19 attack on the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star Church in Wellington in which twelve people, including at least three children, were taken out and executed, and the January 22 massacre within the Rogbalan Mosque in Kissy in which sixty-six people were gunned down.


According to numerous survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the massacre within the Rogbalan Mosque was an organized, premeditated operation involving two groups of rebels and lasting approximately forty-five minutes. Several survivors described how, a few days prior, rebels had given warning that a massacre was going to be committed. Ibrahim, forty-eight, described what he saw as he was hiding and how he later counted the dead: The mosque was packed full of both Muslims and Christians. The rebels had been coming in and out of the mosque; abducting young girls and harassing us, but things were getting so bad outside we thought it was still safer than in our houses. That day at around l0:00 a.m. I was inside the mosque when I saw at least four rebels burst into the courtyard. One of them had a gun, one had a pistol and two others, including a ten-year-old, had knives and machetes. They were all wearing black pants and black T-shirts. A sixteen-year-old boy sitting on the steps tried to warn the others that the rebels were coming so when they entered the courtyard, the first thing they did was tell the boy to open his mouth and then the one with the AK put his gun into his mouth and shot him through the head. Once inside, the one with the pistol started asking everyone for money. In the meantime, two of the other rebels, including the ten year old, moved to block the doors. Then, as the pistol man was walking around pointing his gun and robbing people, a few of the others started arguing over whether to burn us alive in the mosque or shoot us. One of the rebels then walked around the mosque sprinkling petrol on people and I heard one of them say, "you bastard civilians; you don't like us and we don't like you." Finally, o ne of the others raised his machete and screamed, "Our mission is to kill you and cut your hands." People then started screaming and begging and the one with the rifle just started firing. The mosque was very crowded. It was very confusing and people were running and trying to escape but the ten-year-old was standing by one of the doors and I saw him stab people as they tried to run past him. Sometimes the executioner would aim directly at one person and other times he'd just fire randomly. Then he walked back to the women's section and opened up on the people gathered there. Then he positioned himself in the passage leading out of the mosque and started picking people off as they tried to escape. It was here he killed a lot of people. His was the only way out, so as people made a run for it, he would shoot them. Some fifteen or so minutes into the thing, another group of rebels arrived to reinforce. They surrounded the place and several of them came around and hit the little Islamic school we have in the back. I think many of the children who died in the massacre were back there. Then at some point a whistle blew and the rebels rushed around searching for things to steal from the dead. And then left. Somehow a lot of people including myself managed to escape. I was hiding under a mattress in the courtyard and all I could think about was my daughter who was inside when the firing started. I prayed she was able to escape. After I was sure the rebels had gone, I crept out and started looking for her. That's how I came to know how many were killed. I went through the mosque, the women's section, the school, the courtyard, and the street looking for my daughter. I thank god I didn't find her among the dead. But I counted sixty-six bodies including seven little children.[16]


During the fighting and rebel occupation, civilians tended to concentrate in the larger or more fortified houses of their neighbors, friends, and family. Such concentrations of people often fell victim to brutal rebel attacks in which large numbers of civilians would be killed. Sometimes the men would be targeted and other times no one would be spared. The houses were frequently set on fire with the wounded civilians still inside. Adama, sixteen, was hiding in a closet with her two small cousins on January 21, while rebels walked room to room killing seventeen men, women, and children including several relatives. The house was later set on fire with one blind man and at least three of the wounded still inside. She recounted: At around 7:30 a.m. when we were just sitting down to breakfast, two rebels came into the compound and told everyone to get inside the house. They started screaming obscenities and then one of them said, "we're going to kill all of you" so we all ran upstairs. I hid with my two little cousins but I could see everything. As they were coming up the stairs I heard them shoot two men who'd sought refuge in our house. Then they came into our apartment and my sister's husband Mani started to plead saying, "please, I beg you, if it's money you want I'll give it to you" but they said, "we don't want money, we said we've come to kill you." Then they shot him in the chest. Then they turned on Mani's brother Tejan who was holding his nine-month-old baby. They shot him and he fell with the baby in his arms. Then they fired a friend of Tejan's. They said nothing, nothing, asked them nothing. The same rebel dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt and with dreadlocks was doing all the killing. When they'd finished in the parlor they went to the bedroom which I could still see from where I was. My sister Fatmata was on the bed with my three year old cousin Sia. They shot my sister two times, and then shot little Sia. Then I heard my twelve-year-old cousin Sahr scream, "mama, have you left me," and then they shot him. Then they shot a ten-year-old neighbor boy on the foot, then our friend Mr. Koroma and a fifteen-year-old neighbor named Aminata. Then they went to the next room. I couldn't see what happened but I heard three gunshots and later saw the bodies of three of our neighbors. There was a blind man who lived in that apartment with his seven-year-old boy. The blind man was the only one they didn't shoot and as they left the room I heard them say, "now, you be sure and take care good care of all these people." When they were in the third room, my little eight-year-old cousin crept out from behind the wardrobe and went to her father. She was crying and she stood in front of him and bowed down. He was dead and her uncle Tejan who was still alive said, "he's left us now...quick, you go hide." But, then she went to her mom and did the same thing. I think she was saying good-bye to them. Then I called her back to me. By this time we could smell smoke coming from downstairs. I guess the other rebels had set fire to the downstairs. The one who did the killing then sprayed petrol throughout our apartment and lit it on fire. Then I heard them go outside. By now there was a lot of smoke so I grabbed my cousins, went down the stairs and tried to leave but the rebels saw us. They told me to give them my cousins but I refused so two of them pointed their guns at me and said, "so it's there you're going to die - get back into that house and burn." They then closed the door from outside and leaned on it so I couldn't escape. I waited for several more minutes until I just couldn't stand it anymore and then tried the door again and this time managed to escape. By now the fire was really blazing. We could hear the screams of people upstairs and from the outside we could see the seven-year-old son of the blind man from the window, but his father was crying and he didn't want to leave him. We convinced him to jump by saying we'd rescue his father in a few minutes. We knew it wouldn't be possible but otherwise the boy wouldn't have come. The blind man and the others were burned alive. They kept crying but there was just nothing we could do. The second rebel told the bad one at least twice to stop the killing but the bad one said he'd kill him as well if he said anything else. I just don't know why he behaved that way. In a quiet moment I feel it too much.[17]


Abdul, twenty-eight, and his brother had sought refugee from the fighting in a large house in the business district of Freetown. He described how the rebels targeted only the men, leaving nine dead. We'd been up fleeing all night and were so tired so we sought refugee with about fifty people within a fenced compound which we thought would be safe. At around 7:00 a.m. a group of seven rebels dressed in full military uniform stormed in. Once of them said, "we're SLA soldiers. We've been gone for nine months but today we've come back." Then they started pointing their guns at us and screaming for us to give them money. A few minutes later the one who seemed like he was their commander said, "let's don't waste time, spray them all," at which point another rebel started shooting us one by one. The gunman was only two yards away from us. They shot my seventeen-year-old brother Isa and two of my friends. We begged them to spare us, we begged them to stop. He shot us deliberately, one after the other and only picking out the men. They said we didn't support them and after shooting us said, "now you see we're back if you people want us or not." I was so afraid to even look at them. It happened so fast; they were only there for five minutes. Our brothers have done such a bad thing to us. What did we ever do to them? We know nothing of their rebel ways. That day I just looked around me and started to cry.[18]


Victims and witnesses describe the rebels purposefully attempting to terrorize the civilian population by forcing them to watch atrocities being committed. They would then admonish them to "behave" or meet a similar fate. Civilians acting out of line by trying to escape or protect a family member were often killed in front of their family. Agnes, twenty-five, together with her family and neighbors, was lined up and forced to watch the brutal execution of three neighbors on January 9. She recounted: They [the rebels] ordered us out of our houses and then assigned a small rebel unit of six or eight to guard over each group of twenty or so civilians. It was very organized. They lined my family up with about twenty of my neighbors in a single file line on the street. They kept us standing for over one hour while they insulted us and others ransacked our houses. They got drunk on the alcohol we had left over from the Christmas holidays. Then, a few rebels called the first three civilians standing in the line; from the left. They were two men and one woman. They moved them about fifteen feet away and just opened up on them. They must have fired at least twenty shots into them. One of the rebels then turned to us and said, "you've seen the example - now if any of you dare move we'll do the same to you." And then we had to stand perfectly still for another one and one-half hours while our neighbors were lying dead on the street.[19]


Before commencing an attack on a compound, the rebels would frequently assemble everyone together and then select the ones they wanted to abduct. Most often those chosen for abduction were young girls, and boys of fighting age. Abductees were led away either before the attack began or after having to witness family members be killed. Memunatu, twenty-one, was one of eight young women abducted from their compound on January 23, immediately after the execution of seven family members. She recounted: I looked up and saw four rebels coming into the compound. Only one had a gun and the others were armed with axes and machetes. We were over forty in the compound and those that weren't able to escape were gathered together and told to sit down right outside the verandah. A few of us started singing, "we want peace" but one of the rebels said, "you shut your mouths. You're all hypocrites." They [the rebels] then picked out eight of us young girls and one seventeen-year-old neighbor boy. They ordered us to get up and stand to one side. And then the one they called "CO Blood" started the killing. He used a single barrel shotgun. He shot Alusine first, and then Hannah and Saphiatu who was nine months pregnant. Then they ran out of ammunition and set upon the rest with machetes and axes. They hit them on the neck and head. As we stood off in the corner we were begging them to stop but they kept insisting they'd leave no one alive. And then they forced us to go. We left our families bleeding and never knew who lived and who died. I was with them [the rebels] for eight days and when I finally escaped I found out that eight of my family and friends had been killed. In fact it was seven but because Saphiatu's baby was ready to be born, we count it as eight.[20]


Hasanatu, eighteen, and several female members of her family were attacked by the rebels as they were attempting to flee the eastern suburb of Wellington on January 23. She described how six family members were abducted before the remainder were lined up and shot. She said: The night before they'd burned our house so we decided the men should hide in the swamp and the women and children should try to hide in an abandoned house. So we left the men and the twelve of us took off down the road, but just as we were leaving our compound we were confronted by two rebels who asked us where we were going. We told him we were looking for a safer place. They ordered us to sit down and after looking us over picked out five young women and one ten-year-old boy. They were all my cousins. Then they pushed them and ordered them to go to the bush. The rest of us begged for our lives and then two of them started arguing over whether to kill us or not. I guess they decided because a few minutes later they ordered an old woman, a neighbor of ours, to stand up and as she did, they shot her. Then they told the rest of us to stand up and proceeded to shoot every one of us including my cousins Ramatu [four] and Jenneh [ten]. When they shot me in the shoulder I pretended I was dead. From the blood it looked like they'd got me in the heart. A few minutes later I heard the other rebels returning with all my cousins who'd been abducted who burst into tears when they saw all of us lying there. Then they [the rebels] said sarcastically "are you related to any of these because if you are we've just finished them off."[21]

Burning Alive

There were frequent accounts of the particularly sadistic practice of burning people alive. Children and the elderly seemed to be particularly vulnerable. There were a few documented cases of children being thrown into burning fires and many accounts of elderly people being left behind in a burning house as their children and grandchildren were forced to flee in haste. The pleas by other family members to retrieve their children or elderly parents were most often met with threats of death. One witness described an incident in which a thirteen-year-old boy who was "accused" of having washed the clothes and shined the boots of ECOMOG soldiers at a checkpoint was later recognized by one of the rebels and thrown into a burning fire in the business district. Another incident involved a businessman who was forced at gunpoint into his Mercedes Benz and burned alive.


Maria, a fifty-three year old retired nurse, suffered third degree burns and a fractured femur after jumping from the second story of the house in which her daughter and mother were burned alive. She recounted: In the early evening a group of about twenty rebels came near the house. As usual I sent my seventeen-year-old son to hide out back, and my five-year-old adopted daughter Titi upstairs to be with my elderly mother while I dealt with them. They [the rebels] asked for water so I got several gallons and gave them all as much as they wanted. I remember climbing the stairs and thanking God that this large group had left without doing anything to us. But just a few minutes later, another group came. The commander introduced himself as "Captain Blood" and started demanding that I hand over my daughters. I explained that I only have three sons but he accused me of lying. As I tried to convince him, he grabbed my kerosene lamp and proceeded to douse the sofa and set it alight. I begged him not to burn my house but he continued and pushed me towards the stairs, continuing to sprinkle kerosene as we went. The other two rebels guarded the entrances so no one could escape. Then he pushed me into my mother's room where she was lying in bed with Titi curled up, crying beside her. No sooner had he entered the room than he began pouring kerosene over the bed and said to my mother, "mommy, it's enough for you, now it's time for you to die." He then tossed a match on the bed which went up in flames and pushed me out the door and into the next room. I heard them screaming but I couldn't do anything. He then doused the bed in that room, threw in a match and quickly left the room. As I tried to follow him he pushed me violently and I crashed onto the burning bed and cut my head on the bedboard. I got up with my leg burning and tried to leave but "Captain Blood" was leaning against the door and shouting, "it's time for you to die, you're going to die there." I fell down on the floor with flames beginning to engulf the room and felt my chest tightening. I was bleeding from my head, my chest was filling up with smoke, my leg burning and I thought, "Titi is dead, my mother is dead. God, do you want me to die here? Is it here I'm going to meet my maker?" And, I just said no. I said no. I got up; burning my hand as I opened that door I rushed to the balcony where I saw a neighbor watching. I jumped from the second story of my house and felt my leg crack as I landed. I was dragged into the bushes where I waited with my other neighbors for the rebels to pass.[22]


Ibrahim, fifty-five, described how two of his nieces were burned alive as their father begged to remove them before the rebels set their house on fire: At around midnight, I was woken up by the sound of screaming and shouting near my cousins house. I saw four rebels standing outside his house. They screamed for him to open the door and then fired one shot after which everyone scattered, running out the back door into the bush. The rebels then started pouring kerosene on the house but in the meantime my cousin ran back and started screaming frantically, "my two children are still inside; my four-and six-year-olds are sleeping. I want to take my children!" to which the rebel replied, ‘If you dare enter I will kill you." By this time the house had taken fire. My cousin insisted again but the rebel became more aggressive, like he was going to shoot him so he had to run away. When he ran into the bush the first time his arms were full with his other children. He didn't mean to leave them. None of us ever thought the rebels would do something like that.[23]

The Use of Games to Maximize Terror

Atrocities were sometimes perpetrated within the context of games, in which the element of terror was maximized through the use of deception or teasing. Victims were sometimes given a choice as to how they wanted to be killed-"gunshot, machete, or burned alive,"-or were forced to listen to the rebels arguing over what atrocity to commit against them. Utilizing an old tactic they'd employed in past offensives, the rebels dressed up in ECOMOG uniforms, trying to illicit a favorable reaction, and would then "catch" the civilians who would later be "punished." After setting a house on fire, the rebels were witnessed positioning themselves near the entrances and then shooting at civilians as they tried to escape. Similarly, after killing civilians, the rebels were witnessed laying ambushes around the corpses, waiting for their relatives to retrieve them. There were numerous accounts of rebels who promised not to kill, rape or abduct an individual if the family would raise a given sum of money, but, upon receipt of the money, would commit the atrocity anyway.


Agnes, twenty, witnessed the killing of at least twenty people on January 15 after rebels dressed as ECOMOG soldiers and, imitating a Nigerian accent, trapped a group of civilians who had come out on the street to celebrate what they thought was the arrival of ECOMOG forces. She recounted: I was sitting in my house when I saw a group of about ten ECOMOG, or what I thought were ECOMOG, soldiers coming down the street. They were accompanied by a few women who were singing and dancing and saying, "ECOMOG has liberated us! It's over! Come out of your houses!" And then speaking with an accent like an Oga man [Nigerian] the soldiers said, "where are the RUF rebels, where are the SLA soldiers? We've come to liberate you from those people." As they moved down the street they collected more and more civilians who said, "tanke, tanke [thank you], we're so tired of these people. We're happy you've come. You don't know how we've suffered," and so on. The women accompanying the rebels clapped their hands and got the rest of them dancing and when they'd [the rebels] collected about thirty or so people, just started to laugh. And, a few moments later said, "oh, we see, so it's ECOMOG you want. We've really caught you now." The civilians started begging for forgiveness but the rebels, who had them surrounded by now, ordered them to lie on the ground and shot them one by one in the head and chest. There were men, women, and even a few children killed. I saw the rebels change the clips on their pistols until all of them were dead. I was watching this all from my window. Even if it had been ECOMOG, I wasn't in the mood to celebrate anything.[24]


Francis, thirty-six, was inside the unfinished Bashariah Mosque with scores of other civilians when a small boy waved a white flag at a patrol of what he thought were ECOMOG soldiers. The mosque was soon after attacked by rebel gunfire and rocket propelled grenades. He explained: A friend of ours who'd escaped from the rebels told us that they had ECOMOG uniforms. So that day in the mosque when we saw a patrol of soldiers in ECOMOG uniforms we didn't welcome them; we kept silent. But there was a boy who hadn't been warned and before we could stop him he was waving a white cloth out the window. They [the rebels] started shooting immediately and just a few minutes later we heard the first crash of what I think was an RPG [rocket propelled grenade]. The first one killed a boy named Mohamed. Then a minute later as we were trying to get down the stairs, the second one hit right near us, this time killing two children. Another boy died later.[25]


As Kaima, forty, was lying on the grounds of the Kissy Mental Hospital after having been hacked on the legs by the rebels, she watched as they shot at civilians trying to retrieve their dead and dying who'd been gunned down some hours earlier. She explained: We saw hundreds of them [the rebels] coming down from the hill behind Mental [the mental hospital]. We tried to run but they caught about twenty-five of us. They separated the men from the women and then right there on the grounds, lined up the men and shot them. I was attacked by machetes later on and as I lay there wounded throughout the night I counted them; there were sixteen and they shot them all. I don't know if all of them died. Then over the next several hours, their wives and families who had run into the bushes came back and tried to see about their people. I guess they wanted to take their bodies and maybe even save the few that might have still been alive. But when the rebels saw the women, they took up position and shot at them as they crept out to get their people. It was hard to see if any of them [the relatives] were wounded but after the first few times none of them came back to fetch their men.[26]


Alusine, thirty-nine, a civil servant, described the hours of terror he spent with his family as they were rounded up with other civilians, divided up to be held in rooms which they were told would each have different hours for execution. He explained: At around 7:30 p.m., a group of seven of them [rebels] rounded us up from our houses and walked us down to a big house on Kissy Bypass Road. We were about 200 and when we arrived, the commander divided us into groups of about sixty and then explained how he planned to kill us all. He said the first group was the 9:00 room, the second group, that was ours, the l0:00 room and the last group the ll:00 room. At 9:00 p.m. sharp he was going to kill all of those in the first room, l0:00 p.m. he was going to kill us and so on. Then they led us into the rooms. So sure enough at just 9:00 p.m. we heard them open the door of the room right next to us, the 9:00 p.m. room, and started shooting. I couldn't see but I heard people running and screaming "don't! It's the end of my life! They've killed my wife! They've taken my girl!" and like that. The shooting went on for about ten minutes. Within our room we started crying. Muslims and Christians; we were all praying together and I started thinking of my children, my mother, how I hadn't yet helped my parents, how I hadn't really enjoyed my education. At l0:00 p.m. sharp they came to our door but we'd locked it from the inside. They threatened to burn us alive so we decided to open the door thinking that at least some of us might be able to escape. When they opened the door the heat that hit them was so intense they said, "what kind of hell is that" and then ordered us out on the street for execution. As we were taken outside, another commander happened to pass by and when he saw what was happening ordered there to be no more killing. The commander apologized, saying they were RUF rag-tag boys. The next morning we buried four bodies from the "9:00 o'clock room" and we heard many, many were taken away wounded.[27]


Alpha, thirty-five, described how from his hiding place he saw a group of rebels gather up twenty-four civilians, put them in a room, set it ablaze and then position themselves so as to be able to shoot them as they ran out: As the killing was happening upstairs, the rebels gathered twenty-four of our neighbors who'd sought refuge in our house and put them under gunpoint in the back room. When the one called "Dave" came downstairs after having killed everyone, he asked for a lantern and said, "I'm not going to waste my bullets on these people - let me set this place alight." In fact, they'd already set the upstairs and part of the downstairs on fire. Then he sprayed kerosene on the civilians, closed the door and as he was leaning on it told them that those who paid 1,000 leones [U.S.50 cents] each to the rebel waiting at the window, would be set free. The civilians then started handing out the 1,000 leones to a few rebels waiting there. One girl came to the window and begged, saying she didn't have any money and the rebel collecting the money shot her in the face. Then, as the fire was really blazing, the rebels, announced they were leaving but instead positioned themselves around the back door with their guns pointed at the only exit and waited. However, the fire was too intense and those trapped inside were no longer able to move through the hall to get to the back door. By that time the people were really screaming and choking for air at the window. After about ten minutes the rebels finally left, thinking the people would burn to death, and my friend and I rushed to find an axe and break through the bars of the window and let everyone out.[28]

Targeting of Particular Groups

Nigerians, policemen, and journalists were those most directly targeted by the rebels during the January offensive. Foreign missionaries, members of the government and civil servants, human rights activists, successful business people, Lebanese and Indian nationals, and those vocal in their opposition to the AFRC junta during its nine month rule were also targeted, but to a lesser extent. A few witnesses saw rebels with lists of such people. Others were targeted by individual combatants settling old personal and political vendettas. While there were many prominent members of society killed by the rebels, it is difficult to say to what extent they were targeted because of their position or simply because they were caught up in the wave of violence. There does not appear to be any ethnic element involved in the choice of victims.


Nigerian nationals, most of whom are traders and business people in Sierra Leone, and some of whom are long time Sierra Leone residents, suffered considerably during the January offensive. The Nigerian High Commission registered the deaths of sixty-three Nigerian nationals and evacuated two victims of arm amputation. Nearly all of the victims were men. Their houses and business were burned and the Nigerian High Commission was looted and set on fire.[29] Nigeria has shown significant support for the government of Sierra Leone both militarily and politically. Nigerian troops make up the bulk of the 14,000 strong ECOMOG force, and Nigerian general Maxwell Khobe was last year seconded to the Sierra Leone army as chief of defense staff. Nigerians were hunted down in their hiding places and murdered in particularly brutal and sadistic ways. Their attackers frequently accused them of actively spying for and supporting ECOMOG, and of supporting President Tejan Kabbah's government. Sierra Leonean civilians who were married to, associated with, or happened to be in the same place as a Nigerian national who came under attack, were also frequently targeted.


Abdul, forty-six, witnessed the double amputation of limbs of two Nigerian businessmen and one Cameroonian, on January 21 in Kissy. One of the Nigerians and the Cameroonian were later killed. He recounted: A big group of rebels rounded up about fifty of us and brought us to Leadenhall Street where they separated us and made us form two lines; men on one side, women and children on the other. Then they went around inspecting each one of us. Among us were two Nigerians; Mr. Ben and Mr. Ben's brother, and one man from Cameroon. One of the rebels quickly noticed Mr. Ben's wedding ring; he was married to a woman named Zainab who was standing in the women's line. The rebel told Mr. Ben he had a really nice ring and asked him his name but Mr. Ben didn't answer him. I think he was afraid to talk for fear they'd find out he was a Nigerian. The commander asked the rest of us if he was a deaf-mute but none of us said anything. He then started threatening us and said, "We know there're Nigerians among you.¼ Tell us who they are or you all die. We don't want them in our country and we will kill them all." Some of them [the rebels] sprinkled petrol on us and threatened to set us on fire. Finally Ben told the commander that he was married to a Sierra Leonean and his wife Zainab stood up and said, "He is my husband but he is a businessman. I can show you the papers to prove it." The rebel responded that he didn't want to see any papers and as they pulled Mr. Ben out of the line, several of the rebels started arguing over whether to kill him, amputate his hands or set him on fire. When they'd decided to cut off his hands Mr. Ben started pleading saying he was a businessman, and shouted, "I beg you don't cut my hand, Oh Jesus, Jesus." Then the axe man said, "If Jesus himself comes here I'll amputate his hand as well." Then they ordered him at gunpoint to put his right hand face up on a table and they hacked it off with an axe. And then his left hand. The rebel then put his hands in Ben's blood and walked over to his wife, who was sobbing, and smeared it on her face. He told her if she continued crying he'd kill her. As this was happening Ben's brother started yelling, "God what have you done to my brother." So they pulled him out and cut off his two hands as well. Then they pulled out the third one who started screaming that he wasn't a Nigerian, but was from Cameroon, but they cut off his hands as well. Then they sprinkled more petrol on Ben's brother, I think he even had tribal markings, and set him on fire. His hands were hanging off his arms and he was on fire screaming "please don't kill me." They let him burn for five minutes before a commander let some us put the fire out with dust. Several of the rebels were dancing around the three of them saying, "now you go tell ECOMOG about your problem." A few days later in the hospital I saw Zainab and Ben's brother. That's how I found out Mr. Ben had been killed.[30]


Hawa, forty-three, a nurse in Good Shepherd Hospital in Wellington, described how on January 18 a Nigerian businessman who had several days earlier been admitted with a gunshot wound was dragged out of his hospital bed and killed by a group of rebels. On January 8, a thirty-five-year-old Nigerian businessman named Joseph was brought to me by passers-by who'd found him in Wellington. He'd been shot three times by the rebels. I admitted him and put him upstairs because I thought it would be safer. On January 18 I heard a large commotion and then a group of fifteen rebels stormed my hospital, put a gun to my head and demanded I show them "the ECOMOG lieutenant colonel you have hidden here." I told them I had no such person but in the meantime another ten of them, who'd run upstairs, found Joseph and proceeded to drag him down the stairs and out the door. As they passed me I heard him saying, "Jesus have mercy upon your servant, Jesus have mercy upon your servant." When they had him outside another ten rebels dragged him half a block up, surrounded him, beat him and proceeded to cut off both his arms, both his legs, his ears, cut his throat and then shoot him several times. They never asked Joseph to identify himself. It was so brutal the way they killed him. They danced around his body and those who weren't doing the killing were cheering. They continued to threaten me for having "harbored a Nigerian" and a day later I had to close my hospital and flee.[31]


Gbassay, fourteen, described the January 19 killing of twelve people, including two Nigerians, who had sought refuge within the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star Church in Wellington. Among the dead were a well-known journalist Paul Mansaray, his wife, and their three children. My auntie, uncle, and I went to the church that night as we'd been doing every night since the trouble began. We thought it was safer than sleeping at home. Shortly after arriving, five rebels with a lot of guns entered and said, "we know you people are hiding ECOMOG soldiers in here." I could see a few other people outside the door and we later thought they were probably collaborators who'd told the rebels about the two Nigerians. They started harassing us and asking for money so one of us said, "we just pray for you people, that you succeed in your mission." Many of the others were just pleading to be left alone. The rebels noticed that the Nigerians weren't talking and so eventually discovered their nationality. They then ordered us all outside the church but in the confusion and panic twelve of us got away. From where I was I could see them being walked at gunpoint with all the rebels pointing their guns at them and shouting, "captured live, captured live." Around this time a second group of rebels arrived and asked the others who the civilians were to which they answered, "These people are harboring Nigerians." The two groups started arguing over whether to just kill the Nigerians or to kill everyone. Then a few rebels ordered all twelve of them to lie face down on the ground and they started firing. The journalist tried to run with two of his children but they gunned them all down a few feet away.[32]

Police Officers

According to officials at the Sierra Leone Police Headquarters, eighty-five police officers, including two women, were killed during the January 6 rebel incursion.[33] Many officers were killed while on duty and within the police stations, which came under heavy attack by the rebels. Sierra Leonean police, except the Special Security Division (SSD) are traditionally unarmed, and since the February l998 ECOMOG intervention to oust the AFRC Junta, even the SSD have not been allowed to carry weapons.[34] Police officers interviewed believed they were targeted because they were seen by the ex-Sierra Leonean army members of the RUF as being traitors for not having fled with them when driven out of Freetown by ECOMOG forces in February l998 and for their role in investigating and preparing the cases against the twenty-four AFRC junta members accused of treason and later executed in October 1998. Police officers described being hunted by rebel forces and having their family members harassed and sometimes killed. Because of the past relationship under the AFRC junta, they were well known and recognized by the ex-SLA members of the rebel army.


Abu, fifty, described how he was wounded in an attempt to execute him, specifically because he was a police officer: On Wednesday morning I found out that Mr. D. of the SSD had been killed by the rebels as they advanced through Calaba Town. His wife described how the rebels knocked on his door as they passed and started screaming "he's an SSD man" and then stabbed him to death with knives. I started getting really worried. We fled to another house but in the meantime a commander calling himself Major S. took over my house, found out where I'd fled to and sent four other rebels to bring me to him. When I arrived the major told me he'd found police ID papers and announced that he'd made a vow to himself to kill any policeman or woman he encounters because, "the police betrayed us and joined ECOMOG." He said, "I don't mercy police officers." Then he ordered the other rebel boys to tie and beat me. Several of them gave me a severe beating in the face and abdomen and tied me with a wire. Major S. just sat there watching the whole thing and I noticed he was wearing a watch that had been given to me as a gift and that I only saved for special occasions. Then he put me in the corner of my house. He threw me on the ground so I was sitting, tied on the ground about a yard from Major S. and he said, "you think we should remain in the bush don't you, but the bush is made for animals." It was between 5:45 and 5:50 p.m. I started to beg and told him "but life is so very precious. Please, please don't kill me. I've been in the force for over thirty-four years and I'm not meant to die like this. When peace comes wouldn't you too want a government job?" Then Major S. pointed a pistol at me and said, "I've killed 213 people and you're going to make number 214." And then he shot me in the face. I fell down and put my tied hands in front of my face but he shot me again. I didn't know if I was in the world again until God woke me up late that night and I saw myself in a gutter. I had blood all over me and I felt my face to be huge. I dragged myself for some meters and hid until I was out of the road because there were still rebels around. When I felt it was safe I got myself to an ECOMOG checkpoint. As they were taking me to the hospital I saw so many corpses along that road. There must have been two hundred.[35]


According to local journalists, seven Sierra Leonean and one United States citizen reporter were killed by rebel forces during the January 6 rebel offensive. There were also three journalists abducted, one of whom has since been released. One journalist had one of his eyes gouged out with a knife and many journalists suffered significant personal property damage and loss. The building housing two newspapers, the Concord Times and the Standard Times, was looted and later burned. Many journalists who went into hiding were later told that groups of rebels had come to their residences asking for them and demanding their capture. While the atrocities committed against a few journalists resulted from arbitrary acts of violence, there is clear evidence to suggest that journalists were indeed sought after and targeted. Members of the independent press in Sierra Leonean have traditionally been vocal opponents of past military regimes, and have often worked in a climate of repression. The nine month rule of the AFRC/RUF Junta was no exception. Many pro-democracy newspapers continued to publish and were highly critical of the Junta, thus becoming deeply unpopular with them. When the RUF returned to Freetown in January, they had the names of and sought after many of the individual journalists and publishers who had in the past written unfavorably of them. The relatives of Phillip Neville, the managing editor of the pro-democracy Standard Times described how rebels came to his home in Kissy with a list of opponents, which included the names of Phillip and several other journalists. According to the relatives, the rebels showed them the list and said, "we've come to teach him a lesson. He's been writing negative things about us. We remember."[36]

Mustapha Sesay

Mustapha Sesay, twenty-nine, was captured as he was fleeing the fighting in the Eastern suburb of Calaba town. After a brief "trial" he was "accused" of being a journalist and sentenced to death. He was able to escape but in the process had his right eye gouged out. He recounted: On January 21 I saw a huge group of what looked like 5,000 civilians moving down the hills. We thought they were fleeing the rebels so my cousin and I, who had heard they [the rebels] had started chopping hands, thought we'd better flee with them. As we were running, I was all of a sudden fished out from this group. I felt someone seize me from behind and when I looked around I saw there were two men in rag-tag dress. I never thought they were rebels and one of them said they were taking me to ECOMOG. I asked them what I'd done and then started roughing me up and stole my watch and wallet. Then they said, "We know you're a journalist working for one of those pro-democracy newspapers. You're the people passing information to ECOMOG about our movements." It was then I realized I'd been captured by the rebels. Then they grabbed me and walked me several blocks to their hide-out where I saw two other rebels. They were all armed with knives and machetes. I didn't see any guns. One of the rebels, who I assumed to be the commander, then stood up and the two who'd brought me gave him my ID card. He studied it for a minute while I stood before him and then announced, "Mustapha Sesay. Journalist. Death Sentence." Then he reached into his shirt and pulled out a machete. A few moments later as the two who'd brought me held me tightly by my shorts, and their leader was in front, I felt something hit my eye and I realized I'd been hit. They had daggers and I thought maybe that was what hit my eye. They hit me four or five times on the head with a machete. I started fading. I was bleeding seriously and was very weak. I struggled with them for five minutes and finally fell on the ground and surrendered myself to death. But when I reached the ground I decided I had to escape. I struggled with them as they continued to strike me but eventually struggled my way out of their grip and ran for thirty meters. As I ran I could hear the commander saying, "you've allowed the bastard to escape - we'll shoot you if you don't stop running," but I didn't care. I preferred them killing me with a bullet to being hacked to death.[37]

Clergy Members

On January 12, Catholic Archbishop Joseph Henry Ganda, four Xavierian Fathers and six Sisters of Charity were abducted from their parish homes by RUF rebels. All but the Catholic archbishop were foreign nationals. For over ten days they were kept under the control of the RUF military police and moved from place to place. They were interrogated and a few of them, including Archbishop Ganda, suffered some form of physical abuse. As the rebels fled Kissy on January 20, Archbishop Ganda and three of the Xavierian fathers were able to escape. On January 22 while in the process of withdrawing from Freetown and fleeing into the surrounding hills, four Sisters of Charity were executed and one Italian father was shot. Since l991, many members of the Catholic clergy, almost always foreign nationals, have been abducted or come under attack by RUF rebels. While abducted, the church men and women, and thirteen Indian nationals working for the Shankerdas and Sons plastics factory who were abducted at around the same time, were being guarded by the RUF military police. Witnesses to the execution of the nuns and shooting of the priest described elements of the RUF arguing over whether the killing should take place. They felt the rebels' intention was to take them into the bush as hostages, and that the order to protect them had been overridden by a renegade solider or unit.


Beatrice, twenty, was abducted with her sister on January 21 and forced by the rebels to retreat to the hills with thousands of other abductees. On January 22 she witnessed the gunning down of seven foreigners, three Sisters or Charity, one Xavierian Priest, and three Indian factory workers. She described the killing, which took place in Allen Town: There were thousands of us from Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town who'd been taken away with them [the rebels]. Among us were seven foreigners; mostly Indians but also an African Sister of Charity they said was from Kenya and a white Priest. You could tell who were the sisters because they wore that white robe with blue trim. It was in the morning and they had us all seated on a street in Allen Town. There were hundreds of rebels all around the area. Many of the children were crying for their parents and the young women were crying and a few of them told us to "shut up" and that they were taking us into the bush. The rebels were drinking, laughing, and playing music. The foreigners were off to one side and we were seated about ten feet away. There was this rebel, and he had it out for the nuns. He said his name was Colonel Foday Bah and for the last day we'd heard him threatening to kill the nuns. Another rebel named Tina Musa, she was SAJ Musa's wife,[38] kept insisting that they be left alone and they argued about it. So that morning she had to go on a mission and no sooner had she climbed the hill behind Allen town, than Foday Bay started in again on the nuns. At around l0:00 a.m. he got out his pistol and started threatening, but seriously now. The nuns started crying and praying and we did as well, so he announced, "I am Colonel Foday Bah. I'm an SLA man. We came for peace but you people don't want it. You're the ones selling out our country." In the process he was hitting the nuns and others with a stick. Another rebel told him to leave them, but Foday threatened to kill him as well. When it became clear he was serious, the nuns started praying. And then he walked over to the black nun, and shot her with his pistol in the head. Then he shot a white man. And, then even as the others were begging and begging he shot a yellow [Asian] nun and then another yellow [Asian] one, and then the others. When he was finished he went over, removed their slippers and gave them to a few of the abductees. When Tina came back down the hill and saw the nuns had been killed she was furious and upset. She even cried for them.[39]

The Use of Civilians as Human Shields

According to interviews with witnesses, victims, and military personnel, the RUF's incursion plan into Freetown was built around the use of a massive human shield. In the early morning hours of January 6, thousands of rebels massed near the suburb of Calaba Town some eight miles east of Freetown and began to march westward, firing rapidly into the air. This served to frighten the civilian population of the densely populated east, provoking a mass exodus of people who fled in panic towards central Freetown. The rebels, many of whom were in civilian dress, then mixed in with the crowd. Other civilians were forced at gunpoint to join in with the crowd, which was by then massive. The majority of the rebel fighters, however, remained safely behind. Civilians described being totally confused as to what was happening and surprised to find the rebels mixed in among them. As the mass of humanity approached the first ECOMOG position, and the civilian-dressed rebels pulled out their guns, witnesses described the horror they felt as they realized they were being used as a human shield. This surprise proved both frustrating for the ECOMOG soldiers manning their positions and deadly for the civilians being used as a human shield. ECOMOG commanders and soldiers interviewed expressed their frustration at not being able to "effectively engage the enemy" and respond militarily because of the heavy civilian presence. According to witnesses, many people within the human shield, particularly those near the front, died in the crossfire once rebel soldiers, who'd mixed in with the human shield, and ECOMOG soldiers manning their positions began an exchange of fire. The tactic however, proved largely effective for the rebels. As the ECOMOG soldiers were forced to withdraw, both because they were overpowered and because they could not respond effectively, thousands of RUF rebels marched into Freetown and took up positions in and around the city center. The use of civilians to advance towards military targets was not limited to the rebel entry into Freetown. It was also used in defense against ECOMOG air power. As the rebels advanced through downtown Freetown on January 7, civilians were forced out of their homes and forbidden to take cover as an ECOMOG jet flew over and later bombed the area. According to witnesses at the scene, some thirty civilians were killed in this attack. Towards the end of the offensive, the rebels used thousands of abductees as human shields as they made a failed assault on the hills and peaks above Freetown and as they made their withdrawal from the capital. Again, escaped abductees describe scores of civilians, mostly young women, being killed by the ECOMOG mortar and artillery bombardment that ensued.

Corporal S.

Corporal S., an ECOMOG soldier who was stationed at a checkpoint near the entrance to the city, described seeing a mass of civilians moving towards them and the confusion that followed as fighting broke out with rebels they were not able to see: I was stationed at [X] position with another twenty-five soldiers and about twenty Kamajors. We were on the alert because we'd been told the rebels were on their way coming from Allen Town. We lined up, weapons ready, on the street at about l:15 a.m.. We heard a lot of noise; people shouting, civilians, children, the sound of people walking and saw what I estimated to be more than 2,000 civilians carrying things on their heads and backs. Suddenly we saw an armed man in the crowd and said, "who goes there." He refused to say anything and someone fired a shot and then the whole thing started. There was so much confusion, everyone was running helter skelter, boxes were flying, people were screaming and running everywhere, and people were falling and trying to run for safety. In the end I think many civilians were killed. The rebels later withdrew but regrouped and came back at us ten or fifteen minutes later. And the civilians kept coming. They were so many and we just didn't know who was among them. It was too difficult. It wasn't possible to hold that position.[40]


Inna, fifteen, was one of several hundred civilians rounded up from their homes on January 7, and forced by the rebels to walk through the street as an ECOMOG jet flew overhead. The group was later bombed and heavy civilian casualties ensued. She recounted: They ordered me and my friend Ami at gunpoint to join a group of people they'd gathered from our street. A few blocks later we were met by a group of about 150 civilians who were being forced from their houses. They threatened anyone who refused to come with them. We continued walking for another thirty minutes and they [the rebels] kept picking up people along the way. It was when we got to Regent Road that we first heard the Alpha pass over.[41] Between 1:50 and 2:00 p.m. it flew over us four times. Each time it passed the rebels would run and find safety wherever they could crying, "Jet cover, jet cover!" and running into phone booths, towards the sidewalks, into the cathedral. A few of them fired at the plane. We knew it was a bomber but we just didn't think it would do anything to us because we were civilians. But, anyway the rebels had their guns on us the whole time; there were at least five of them around me. By this time there were about two or three hundred of us, mostly women and children. And then the jet flew over again, there were a few explosions and I was knocked completely off my feet. I think three bombs dropped but I'm not sure. Most of the rebels were running away and there was dust everywhere. People were crying and screaming and there was blood everywhere. I was desperate to find Ami but I couldn't. The rebels started screaming, "you see what ECOMOG is doing; you see how they target civilians." I saw one child who'd been cut in two and so many people, maybe ten, had their limbs hanging off. I counted ten bodies but I'm sure there were more. I looked and looked for Ami and finally recognized her by her curly hair. Her belly had been split open and I think at that moment she was dying. I finally got away and rushed straight to her mom to tell her what'd happened.[42]


Victor, forty-five, was hiding in an upper floor of a downtown building as he witnessed the same bombing. He described seeing the rebels pointing their guns at civilians to stop them from taking cover. He said: The rebels were mixing in with the civilians in the front of the crowd but there was a much heavier concentration of them at the back. I was hiding, listening to my radio on the third floor of my building and at l:30 p.m. I heard a state announcement on 98.1 radio warning all civilians to go inside their houses because the ECOMOG jets would be searching for rebels. So at around 1:45 p.m. I heard the jets start to pass over. By this time the crowd was making its way down Wilberforce Street. Each time the jet passed by, the rebels moved to the side of the street to search for cover. But when the civilians tried to run as well, I saw the rebels pointing their guns towards the civilians to keep them in the middle of the street. And then it fell. I hit the floor, glass was breaking, people were screaming. And when the dust cleared about three minutes later I was able to see the carnage. They brought carts to take away the dead and wounded, and I counted about thirty bodies in the street. People were even cut in two.[43]


Saramba, twenty, was one of hundreds of abductees who were used as a human shield in late January during one of the rebels' final attempts to attack ECOMOG positions. She described how civilians were killed as they came under heavy ECOMOG mortar and artillery bombardment near Bathurst Hill. I was taken with my fifteen-year-old sister on January 20. My people cried but there was nothing they could do. They [the rebels] made us carry boxes and things they'd looted. As they were withdrawing through Calaba Town they were pulling lots of people from their houses. On the morning of January 25, the commanders ordered the other rebels to take us up the hills behind Calaba town and start moving towards Bathurst Hill. There were hundreds of us. We later heard them talk of how they were going to attack Wilberforce Barracks. But, as we were climbing the hill, at around 2:00 p.m., the bombardment started. It was terrifying. There was a whistling sound and then huge explosions. It went on for three hours and I saw about thirty people, civilians like me, dead or badly hurt. The pieces of the bombs cut you. I saw one beautiful fair-skinned girl who'd been cut up so badly and died right there. The rebels seemed to know when they were coming and knew how to take cover. They just weren't getting hit as much as we were. But of course there were a lot more of us.[44]


Another abductee, Christiana, twenty-one, described being part of an abducted group during a rebel assault on Leicester Peak. She described seeing about one hundred corpses of people who were killed in the bombardment: At around l0:00 p.m. on either January 28 or 29, they [the rebels] told all the abductees to start moving. There were thousands of us, mostly young women. As we walked it became clear they were headed for Leicester Peak and from there Wilberforce and it was obvious what they were using us for. They made some of us carry water and ammunition on our heads and we walked for hours and hours. They kept getting lost and didn't seem to know where they were going. When we arrived at Leicester Peak on around January 29, the ECOMOG gunship started shelling. I was so frightened. The bombs were coming from everywhere. They shelled us by air and from Wilberforce Barracks. It went on for hours and there was a terrible confusion. I ran and tried to take cover and people keep falling around me. People were dropping their boxes and diving for cover. There were so many dead; more than one hundred. I kept stepping on them as I was running and it seemed like most of them were the abductees. The rebels were in a panic and there was very little return fire. I ran and ran and because the rebels were fleeing, I was able to escape. That's how I was finally able to make it back to my family.[45]

The Use of Drugs by the RUF and Forced Drugging of Civilians

Most victims and witnesses describe widespread usage by the rebels of drugs, marijuana, and alcohol and believe most of the atrocities were committed while under the influence of these substances. Witnesses describe rebels self-administering drugs by cutting small incisions around their temples, cheeks, and other places on their faces in which a brown or white powder was inserted and then covered with "plasters" or adhesive tape. The rebels spoke of this drug as being "cocaine." Others observed rebels cutting the undersides of their arms with a razor blade and injecting themselves, and of taking small blue pills. Abductees who managed to escape reported having been forcibly injected with drugs, or being given food and drink laced with drugs. One father whose sixteen-year-old girl was abducted by the rebels saw her a few days later being led away with "those plasters" on her face and describing her behavior as "drugged and out of it." One abductee asked a nine-year-old rebel about the drugs they were using and was told, "it's a medicine they give us which makes us to have no respect for anybody; whatever we think to do, we just do it." Another rebel added, "it gives us power and makes us fear nobody," and yet another said, "It makes us feel so tall and you people [civilians] look so small."


Lynette, sixteen, was abducted on January 21 and held by the rebels for several days during which time she was given drugs in her food, and witnessed other abductees being lined up and injected with drugs. She recounted: From the first day they drugged us. They showed me some powder and said it was cocaine and was called brown-brown. I saw them put it in the food and after eating I felt dizzy. I felt crazy. One day I saw a group of rebels bring out about twenty boys - all abductees - between fifteen and twenty years old. They had them lined up under gunpoint and one by one called them forward to be injected in their arms with a needle. The boys begged them not to use needles but the rebels said it would give them power. About twenty minutes later the boys started screaming like they were crazy and some of them even passed out. Two of the rebels instructed the boys to scream, "I want kill, I want kill" and gave a few of them kerosene to take with them on one of their "burn house" raids.[46]


Joseph described how he was abducted and brought to State House where he and several other civilians were held at gunpoint and injected with a brown substance: They had me in a room in State House where they put a gun to my head and forced me to take that thing. They said, "You take this so you won't feel afraid." It was a liquid and after some minutes I felt like I was flying and my head ached. It took me two weeks to get over that thing; my head felt heavy and confused."[47]


Abdul, twenty, another abductee held at State House, described large groups of rebels being called forward to receive pills and the distribution of drugs by rebel commanders and, on a few occasions, white mercenaries. He said: There were hundreds of rebels in State House because it was their base. They were always drinking, smoking jamba [marijuana], sneezing a white powder, and some of them took these bright blue tablets. I was held there for three days and at least once a day one of the commanders would call people together saying, "it's time for your medicine" and give out those pills. I even saw two of the Ukrainians [white mercenaries] walking around distributing what I thought was probably cocaine from a small sugar box.[48]

Mutilation and Amputation

The practice of mutilation and, in particular, amputation of hands, arms, legs and other parts of the body was also widespread during the January RUF offensive. The rebels used axes, machetes, and knives to kill and maim hundreds of people, mostly men but also women and children. During the month of January, Freetown's three main hospitals-Connaught, Brookfield, and Netland Hospital-treated ninety-seven victims of amputations resulting from attacks with axes and machetes. The majority of amputations were of the hands and arms, including twenty-six double amputations. One hospital treated over forty cases of "attempted amputations," serious lacerations to the arms and legs, where medical staff were able to save the extremity or extremities.[49] In these cases medical personnel note that the damage to the nerves, tendons, muscles, and bones frequently leads to some degree of decreased functioning.[50] Wounds from lacerations to the head, neck, and other areas were also numerous. What will never be known is the number of victims who died before being able to receive medical attention. Many people reported seeing corpses on the streets of Freetown with both hands dangling or missing. Public health workers and mortuary attendants responsible for the collection of corpses and burial within mass graves, also observed many bodies with missing limbs and lacerations.[51] The main hospitals, which were located in western Freetown and under ECOMOG control, were inaccessible to the majority of victims in the east where the vast majority of amputations took place. Unable to cross front lines, victims frequently reported going two to three days before receiving medical attention.


Lansana, twenty-four, was one of three brothers each to have one of their hands hacked off as they were attempting to flee towards an ECOMOG position on January 18. He described how one brother died near the site of the amputation: The closer ECOMOG moved to our area, the more they [the rebels] started committing atrocities. At 9:00 a.m. me and my brothers Amara, seventeen, and Brima, twenty, decided to flee. We packed up a few things and then took off. About a quarter mile from our house, we rounded a bend and ran straight into a group of about fifty rebels. They argued about whether or not to kill us and then one of them said "let's send them to ECOMOG," which is their way of saying our arms should be cut. They told us to lie down in the road, face down-they had their guns to our heads. The first to be cut was Brima; they cut his left hand with an axe. Then my left hand was hacked off and then Amara's right hand. They didn't ask us any questions or accuse of us anything. There was a lot of gunfire all around. The battle for the place was really on. We were all bleeding so much. Brima tried to get up a few times, but he stumbled and fell. The last time he only made it a few yards and then collapsed. He couldn't move, he fell down right there. I think he lost too much blood or just couldn't take the shock. It was so tense; the bullets were flying and me and Amara had no other choice. We had to leave our brother right there on the street. After we got out of the hospital we went back to the place where it happened. The people there told us Brima had been buried later that day in a common grave, right near where he fell.[52]


Alpha, a victim of a machete wound to the head, described seeing two victims of limb amputations die on January 22 during the battle for the eastern suburb of Calaba Town: As I ran towards the ECOMOG position, blood was gushing from my head. The rebels had whacked me three times with a machete. The ECOMOGs had their guns on me but when they saw I was bleeding, I heard them say, "this man isn't a rebel; he's one of your brothers. Come and help him." They brought me to the back of a house and lay me down next to three other badly wounded civilians; a woman with a gunshot and two men with their hands cut off. One man forced me to drink water and then I passed out. When I woke up some hours later I saw that all three of the civilians had died. I wanted to leave that place and go home. I didn't want to die there.[53] Civilians were often mutilated in pairs or groups of up to eight, during small rebel operations in which victims were rounded up, made to form a line and their limbs amputated one after the other. Other amputations were done as punishment for having resisted the abduction of a family member or for fleeing from a rebel patrol. In other cases the rebels choose their victims randomly, frequently without asking a single question.


Ramatu, fifteen, and five other neighbors rounded up by the rebels, had their hands or arms amputated near the Kissy Mental Home where dozens of amputations were witnessed. She described how they hacked off her left arm: Ten rebels broke into our house and started demanding money. Then they ordered us outside and grouped us together with about thirty other people from the area. They held us at gunpoint in a circle, and started pointing, "you, you, you," and telling us to follow them. They didn't ask us any questions. I don't know why they chose me, or the others. We were three men and three women. A few of them were young like me. They then marched us at gunpoint to the hill near Kissy Mental. They didn't say why they were taking us but we knew. When we arrived they ordered us to lay face down and started cutting us. They dragged us, they had us get down on our knees and put our arms on a concrete slab. They had others standing over us and holding us from behind. One rebel did all the cutting. A few had both hands cut off; others just one. And then they walked away. I couldn't even bury my arm. And now I don't think I'll ever find someone to marry me.[54]


Osman, forty-two, and a neighbor had both of their hands amputated in Kissy on January 25 when they were caught hiding in the banana trees behind their house. He recounted: At around midnight, they [the rebels] started firing at our house and ordered us to come outside. I fled into the bush with my wife and four children. We found our neighbor and his family there and remained hiding throughout the night. Early the next morning we saw another group of rebels passing by but the neighbor's baby started to cry and gave away our position. We started running but they were too fast. They ordered me and the other man forward. They cursed and insulted us and without asking any questions pushed my friend to the ground and cut off both his hands with an axe. When they called me forward I begged them and offered them all my money. But, they did it anyway. The rebel who cut my hands had a white T-shirt with "Captain 2 Hands" written in what looked like blood. My four-year-old son was screaming, "Don't cut my papa's hand."[55]

The rebels would often single out one or two family members for amputation before massacring an entire compound, or amputate limbs of the survivors. Sometimes the men would be killed and the women attacked with machetes. The, by then mutilated, survivors were then instructed to take a verbal message to ECOMOG or members of the government.


Mani, forty-eight, watched as a commander ordered the execution of seven civilians and then singled him out for amputation on January 21. He said: A group of thirteen rebels came to my house, poured kerosene on the furniture and then set it ablaze. I stumbled out of my house and started running up the street but was immediately caught by a group of ten rebels. The ordered me to join a group of seven other people from my neighborhood. The commander, who introduced himself as a Liberian, then ordered everyone but me to stand to one side and said, "I'm going to kill you all, so say good-bye to the world." He kept them there begging for three minutes and then at 7:03 p.m.-I looked at my watch-ordered another rebel to open fire on them. Then, the same Liberian said, "I'm ordered and paid by Sam Bockerie not to spare anyone and that is why I have killed. You saw it with your own eyes. But now I am ordering your hand to be cut." He ordered me to lay face down in the road and called forward a rebel with an axe who then hacked off my hand. It was hanging off limp and bleeding and when I saw it I started to cry. The rebels just walked away.[56]


After massacring his neighbors in Kissy on January 20, Amadu, forty, described how the rebels hacked off his arms: I was hiding in my house with my wife and family, when at around 9:30 p.m. we started hearing shouts and screams. Several minutes later we heard our neighbors begging, "don't kill me, I beg," and then I heard gunfire. I peeked out but one of them [rebels] saw me and screamed for me to come out. I ran back into my house but after a few minutes they doused it with kerosene and set it on fire. When the heat was too much we fled out the back but they caught me and marched me to my neighbor's compound. It was then I saw over what had happened to my neighbors; I saw at least twenty of them lying on the ground and I screamed, "you've killed my people there." One of them called for the man with the axe to come and hack off my arms and they did it right there in that compound. When they were done they said, "you go to Pa Kabbah and ask him for a new set of arms."[57]


Kaima, forty, was captured with a group of civilians seeking refuge in the Kissy Mental Home. The rebels separated them-gunning down the men and attacking the women with machetes. She received severe lacerations on both legs and, unable to walk, spent over three days without any medical attention. Due to the severity of the injury and degree of infection, both legs had to be amputated above the knee. She recounted: They ordered us out of the building at gunpoint. There was a lot of confusion and we took off running. They caught about twenty-five of us and put the men on one side of the grounds and the women on the other. As they fired the men [shot them] I again took off running with my infant son on my back. But, I fell in a ditch and as I struggled to get up they had me surrounded. There were five of them and they started hacking at my legs. I guess they attacked my legs because I tried to run. As they were striking me with machetes, my baby was lying on the ground next to me. One of my attackers then raised his machete to strike my baby but I blocked the blow with my right hand and screamed, "it's enough now-you have cut my legs and now you want to kill my baby-it is enough." They then set upon the five other women with machetes; cutting the hand off one, the fingers off another and striking the head of yet another.[58] The majority of amputations were done shortly before the rebels were forced to retreat from neighborhoods under their control. Victims and witnesses describe the rebels often mobilizing special "cut hand" squads which were then sent on operation. The leaders of some of these infamous squads introduced themselves to their victims as "Captain 2 Hands," "Betty Cut Hands," "OC Cut Hands," and "Adama Cut Hands." After being captured, the victims were sometimes made to wait until the "cut hands" unit arrived. Several of the commanders and members of these units were adolescents or women.


Tejan, a forty-three year old driver, described the brutal way in which a fifteen-year-old combatant from one of these units named "Commander Cut Hands" hacked off his two hands in Kissy on January 20: After they set fire to my house they caught me trying to escape out the back door. They then brought me to the compound next door where I saw they'd captured two of my neighbors. They started arguing over whether to kill me or cut my hands. Then the one who seemed to be in charge gave the order to amputate both my hands and called forward a fifteen-year-old boy they called "Commander Cut Hands." I refused to lie down. They beat me and it took several of them to hold me. They tripped me and when I fell to the ground three of them had to sit on my legs and back and another few had to hold my arms. Then they took out that axe. I was crying and after they'd hacked off both of my hands I screamed, "just kill me, kill me." They also cut off the hands of my two neighbors. I feared they might attack me because I was a driver for the SLPP [Sierra Leone People's Party], the President's party, but they never found that out. They knew nothing about me.[59]


The particularly macabre practice of filling up bags with amputated hands and fingers was witnessed by several people interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Another witness hiding within a house in Calaba Town on January 24 witnessed a commander calling himself "Dr. Blood" summon five rebels and order them to begin a "cut hands" operation. He then said, "I want a bag of hands from Kissy, one from Wellington, and one from Calaba Town." [60] Allieu, fifty, a civil servant with the customs department, described seeing a bloody rice bag full of hands during the brutal amputation of both of his arms in Kissy on January 21: They surrounded my family and one of them said, "Since Pa Kabbah won't give us peace, we have come to cut your hands." I begged them not to harm my wife and children so they fired their guns in the air and told them to run away. They then marched me up the hill to the grounds of St. Patrick's Catholic Church where I saw over one hundred rebels. They ordered me to put my left arm on a tree truck and then they swung the axe from behind and hacked it off. They kept talking about President Kabbah and as they ordered me to put my other hand. I screamed, "but I don't know anything about politics" and one of them answered, "but you voted for Kabbah." Then he hacked off my remaining hand. Blood was spurting out of my arms. I was weak and kept falling as I tried to get up. They started laughing at me and I shouted, "just kill me, kill me, look at how you've left me." They spit on me and started pounding me and then several of them took a hammer, held me down and started knocking out my teeth. I left four of them [teeth] in the dirt. They danced around me and said, "we've really got you now, here you will die." As I lay there bleeding in the church courtyard I saw them amputate the hands of two other men. And, then a rebel walked by with a white rice bag, with blood dripping out the bottom, and said - pointing to the hands lying on the ground-"put those things in here."[61] Children and in some cases even toddlers were not immune from attack. In one case, children were even singled out. The youngest known amputation victim from January l999 was a boy aged just one year and eight months. One small clinic in Kissy during January l999 treated twenty-one children from three to fifteen years old for laceration wounds, mutilation, and amputation. Five of these children were from three to five years old.[62]


Lucia, ten, described how on January 13 she and two of her friends were chosen out of a large group, taken away, and had both of their arms amputated: At around 4:00 in the afternoon I was sitting under the big mango tree in front of my house with all of my family and neighbors when we saw a group of four rebels coming down the road. We got up and ran inside. When they arrived they ordered us all outside. They had a container of petrol and asked for matches. We thought they were going to burn our house but instead they started pointing at several of us; me, my cousin Miata who is twelve, and my friend Finda who is fifteen. They marched us up the hill where we were joined by another rebel and two more adult men. And, then they started hacking off our arms. When it was my turn they pushed me to the ground and told me to put my right hand on a big stone. One rebel held me down, one put his foot on my arm while the one they called "Blood" hacked it off with a big axe. Then they did the same thing with my left hand. They hit each hand one time each. We couldn't run; they had their guns on us the whole time. It was so fast; the whole thing only took about ten minutes. They then walked us back down the hill and back to our compound. When my mother saw me, with my hands dangling from my arms and blood spurting everywhere she screamed and burst out crying. When they were cutting me, I heard one of them say, "now you will know the rebels; now you will know the bitterness of the war."[63]

Rape and Sexual Assault

Throughout the January offensive RUF forces perpetrated systematic, organized, and widespread sexual violence against girls and women including individual and gang-rape, sexual assault with objects such as sticks and firewood, and sexual slavery. These sexual crimes were most often characterized by extraordinary brutality and frequently preceded or followed by violent acts against other family members. Human Rights Watch took testimonies from over fifty girls and women who were sexually abused by the rebels during the January incursion. And, while it is impossible to determine the precise number of victims, doctors and counselors report having treated several hundred girls and women for the physical and psychological effects of sexual abuse perpetrated by the rebels during this time. One Sierra Leonean human rights group registered 255 cases of rape, but believes this number to be a serious underestimation given cultural factors which lead to underreporting.[64] A doctor working within a camp for those displaced by the January fighting said he treated at least twenty-five women for vaginal bleeding resulting from rape, most of whom were girls between the ages of twelve and fifteen, and scores of other rape victims.[65] While some of the victims interviewed were raped within their homes, most report having been rounded together up with other girls at gunpoint and taken to houses and buildings which, during the occupation, served as rebel bases and command centers. The girls and women were rounded up from their homes, as they were fleeing, and from centers of refuge such as mosques, churches, and camps for displaced people. Once with the rebels in these bases, nearly all victims described witnessing the sexual abuse of other girls and young women also being held there. Following the abuse, some victims were allowed to go home, but ordered to report back to the rebel base the following day or be murdered. Once captive the victims were frequently "shared" and "divided" among the combatants who would rape them on a daily basis for anywhere from one day to several weeks. Of the victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch, over half reported being raped by more than one combatant. The victims often reported being kept locked up in a room with many other girls and taken out only to cook, do laundry, and fetch water. The rebels frequently told the victims they would be taken to the bush and made into a "rebel wife" and indeed young girls and women made up the majority of the hundreds of civilians witnessed to have been later abducted as the rebels retreated out of Freetown. It is difficult to know what percentage of girls and women abducted by the rebels are sexually abused while being held behind rebel lines. However, several girls who've managed to escape say the percentage is very high. Those who remain within the rebel ranks most often become attached to one rebel who then refers to her as his "rebel wife." Many become pregnant, have children and remain with the rebels for years. Several girls and women abducted during January described pairing up and attaching themselves to one rebel so as to avoid gang-rape, be given a degree of protection, and be subjected to less hardship.[66] The organized way in which victims frequently described being rounded up and taken, and the number of rebels participating in these abductions, suggests an element of premeditation and planning on the part of the RUF command. Victims frequently described being taken by rebel patrols of from two to seven combatants who clearly stated their intent to sexually abuse them. That some of these patrols were being led by rebels referring to themselves as "commanders," that victims often described being sexually abused by or in the presence of men referred to as "commanders," and that some victims were told they had been selected specifically to be given to a "commander," suggests some of the sexual abuse was indeed perpetrated under the direction of and with the consent of members of the RUF hierarchy. Human Rights Watch was able to document only one instance of a rebel commander stopping a rape, which occurred within a hospital when a combatant attempted to rape a female nurse.[67]


Marie, sixteen, was fleeing the fighting in central Freetown with three other girls on January 7 when she ran into a patrol of five heavily armed rebels. She and her companions were then abducted and taken to a "rebel house" where they were gang-raped for three days. She said: The rebels put us in a room and told us to wait. A few minutes later they took out my friend and then four of them came back in the room. They were all big men, at least twenty-five or thirty. They told me to undress. I refused and told them I was a virgin, that it was not right in the eyes of God to rape a virgin and that it would effect me for the rest of my life. One of them slapped me hard on the face while the others hit me with their guns. One said, "shut up. We don't care if you're a virgin. We've already done so many, why should you be an exception." Then another one said, "if she refuses let's just bring her out naked and put her under a firing squad." I started crying and crying; I was so frightened. Then while a few of them started ripping my clothes off, another one went behind me and bit me leaving a huge wound on my back. I was then pushed down to the ground. I was still crying so the one who'd slapped me took a rag and tied my mouth. I could hardly breath. Then the first one forced open my legs and raped me. The four of them spent two hours with me and each raped me at least twice. I was so ashamed. I was bleeding so much and when they finally undid my mouth I begged them to leave me but they told me to "shut up" and that they would use me until they were satisfied. I spent three days in that house.[68]


Rebels rounded up seven girls from their street in the evening of January 13 and brought them to a command center in Kissy. All of the girls reported being raped. One of them, Saramba, thirteen, described what happened:

We were hiding under the bed when they came but they eventually found us. They ordered me, my sister Sarah and friend Sia to follow them to a truck. A few minutes later we picked up four more girls being held by another group of rebels. They took us to a big house a few miles away. When we arrived we saw over one hundred rebels gathered there and as we were led into the house they started cheering and I heard a few of them say "well done, you've brought us more women. When we were in the bush it was only ECOMOG enjoying you. Now it is our turn."[69]


Beatrice, twenty-five, went out briefly on January 21 to look for a few cups of rice from a little store half a block from her house in Wellington. On the way back she and another woman were confronted by a group of ten rebels who sexually assaulted them with burning firewood. She recounted: They asked us for money but we said we didn't have any so they ordered us to take off our clothes, putting a gun to our throats to make sure we did. We begged them to leave us but they ordered us to lie down on the dirt ground, face up, and open our legs. At least four of them had their guns to our throats and stomachs to make sure we obeyed. The rest of them surrounded us and then a big rebel went to the kitchen of a near-by house and took a piece of burning firewood from the fire. He then squatted down and with his two hands forced it in and out of my vagina one or two times. Then he returned to the fire and got another piece and then a third. I felt as if I was being stabbed inside and nearly fainted from the pain. Then they did the same thing to the woman laying next to me. While doing this to both of us I heard them say, "This is the way we're going to fuck you. You hypocrites; as soon as you see ECOMOG you start pointing fingers at us." And then they left and I dragged myself home, blood flowing from my vagina.[70]


Sophie, twenty-four, was in her house in Kissy when on January 21, a group of three rebels burst in demanding money and killed her husband. She was then abducted and gang-raped. She said: They kept asking for money and my husband kept begging them for forgiveness for not having any. We are poor and the other groups of rebels had already taken all we had. They started waving their guns and then the one named "Abdul" killed him. Right in front of my children. I burst into tears and tried to run to my husband but they pulled me back and put a gun to me saying that if I didn't go with them they'd kill me as well. He was bleeding, my children were crying and then they forced me at gunpoint to walk out that door and follow them. We walked all the way to the Sierra Leone Brewery in Wellington which seemed like an HQ for them. By this time we were three women and ten rebels. When we arrived they put us in a dirty room and then used the three of us at the same time for the entire night. They were so rough; they slapped me and tore my clothes. Four of them used me-it was twelve times altogether-it went on the entire night. And that Abdul, the same rebel who killed my man and stole everything from my family, raped me all night long.[71]


Sahr, twenty, was rounded up on January 8 with some ninety other civilians from Central Freetown and taken at gunpoint by a group of eighteen rebels to State House which was at that time functioning as the RUF command center for the operation to take Freetown. He described seeing scores of young women raped: As we approached State House I saw hundreds of other civilians, most of them women, being kept under guard on the lawn and as we entered I saw even more inside. There were rebels armed with machine guns and RPGs everywhere. They then divided us into smaller groups and put us into different rooms and offices. There were twenty people in my cell, fifteen of which were young women. Every night most of the women in my cell were brought out by armed rebels at around l0:00 p.m. and brought back again at around 3:00 a.m. When they returned they were crying and many of them were bleeding down below. They told me they'd been raped, some of them by two or three men. I had a good view from my window and every night could see at least fifteen girls being raped on the grounds, under trees and on the walkways of State House.[72] Particularly vulnerable were young women between fourteen and eighteen who were sought after and targeted for being virgins. The rebels often entered houses and compounds asking specifically for "virgin girls" and would reject all women who had children, were over a certain age, or who they believed to have already had sex. There are documented cases of girls as young as eight being sexually abused.


Samretta, fifteen, was inside a mosque with hundreds of other people seeking refuge when, on January 20, two rebels entered and abducted four young girls, including Samretta and her eighteen year old sister, who has yet to be released. She explained: It was at night and dark in the mosque. My mother tried to hide me under her skirt but they walked around with a flashlight shining their lights on everyone. They said, "we've come for your young girls; for your virgins. Even if they tie their heads like grandmothers we'll find them." They said that if our parents didn't give us up they would kill everyone. They shone their light on my mother and asked her what she was hiding. That's how they found me and my sister Fatmata. They took four of us that night. They held me for two days in a house in Calaba town where one of them raped me four times. He said my mother had taken good care of me. I escaped two days later when an ECOMOG jet flew over, but my sister was taken with them to the bush.[73]


Fatmata, thirty-eight, witnessed young girls being given an examination to determine if they were virgins or not. She recounted: There was a lot of gunfire and I was trying to escape with my family when we were stopped by a rebel checkpoint. Inside the compound of the house next to where we were being searched, I saw five young girls between thirteen and sixteen, lying completely naked on the ground with one or two rebels holding each one by the arms, another two holding the legs apart and a female commander named Rose putting her fingers inside the vagina of each one to determine if she was a virgin or not. The girls were crying and struggling and I saw a few of the rebels slap them and rough them up. After finishing with each girl, Commander Rose would announce to the others whether she was or was not a virgin. She was very crude and after checking one small girl said, "this one is a sweet popo [papaya]; she'll do well for the commander." After the girls had been checked, they put the virgins to one side and the nonvirgins to the other. As the rebels let us pass through I heard them saying to each other "we don't want this lot, let them go, they're too old."[74]


After being abducted with six other girls in Wellington on January 13, Zainab, twenty, described how those the rebels deemed to be virgins and nonvirgins were separated. The women designated virgins were then "given" to the younger fighters. She explained: When we arrived they lined us up and the commander, "Ibrahim," asked each of us if we were or were not a virgin. There were four nonvirgins and three virgins, including myself. He then told a group of five older rebels to take the nonvirgins and told the three younger ones to take us into a bedroom next to the parlor. A few minutes later Ibrahim entered that room and ordered us at gunpoint to take off our shirts and then began to fondle and pinch our breasts and examine our feet. I don't know what he expected to tell from our feet. The other two rebels just stood and watched. After ten minutes he announced that we were indeed virgins and then proceeded to assign each of us to a rebel. I resisted and Ibrahim slapped me, put a gun to my throat and said, "if you don't allow that man to satisfy himself I'll kill you."[75]


Girls as young as eight were raped. Hawa, twenty-two, described seeing a twelve-year-old bleed to death after being gang-raped by six men: I was abducted from my home with several other neighbor women on January 8 and made to carry looted goods all the way to Waterloo. I spent over a month with the rebels and during that time was raped countless times. In our rebel camp there were scores of other abductees from Freetown including a young girl named Mariatu. She was just beginning to get breasts and I estimated her to be no more than twelve. One afternoon in later January as we were both being raped in the bush, I saw six men use her; one after the other. She was screaming and crying in pain and I could see she was bleeding. After the second or third man she went silent and I thought she had passed out. After they'd finished with both of us I brought her water and said, "Mariatu, you must drink" but she wouldn't wake up. I think she was dying. There was too much blood. After a few hours they came, picked up her little body and carried it into the bush. I never saw her again.[76] Rapes committed in the home were often in the presence of family members and neighbors who were forced at gunpoint to watch. Family members frequently reported attempting to pay for their daughters not to be raped or having to choose between having their daughters taken or the entire family executed.


Osman, thirty-eight, and several other fathers were forced at gunpoint to watch the rape of their daughters on January 8. He recounted: At round 4:00 p.m. five juntas [RUF rebels] stormed into my house where my family and neighbors were gathered. They picked out my fifteen-year-old Aminata and four other young women and then locked us [the parents] into another room. They told us they wanted all our money or they would kill our daughters. As we were collecting what little money we had, I heard the girls start to scream. I peeked through the crack in the door and could see them slapping my daughter and pushing her onto the bed. A few minutes later one of them opened the door and asked, "Who are the fathers of these girls?". As we walked out of the room I could see a rebel named "Blood" raping my daughter and "Sneak" using her friend Marie. They lined us up in front of the bed and said, "Don't you want to see what we're doing with your daughters?" There was a rebel with a gun pointed at us the entire time and two more by the door. Aminata was crying so "Blood" covered her mouth with her shirt. When those two finished, two more took their place. We begged them but the "Blood" said, "Shut up or we'll burn this house and kill every one of you." I was shaking. I was scared. I was angry but what could I do? After twenty minutes "Blood" ordered the girls to get dressed and then abducted them all plus my eight-year-old daughter.[77] The rapes were usually accompanied by other physical abuse and death threats to the victim and often her family. Numerous witnesses and victims described seeing girls who had resisted rape being executed. Medical staff from one hospital reported treating two women who received gunshots to their vaginas. Both women, an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-five-year-old woman who was five months pregnant, died of their injuries.[78]


Sahr, twenty, the man who was abducted and kept in a cell with fifteen young women in State House, described how two of his friends were executed after resisting sexual assault: On January 9, around midnight a group of rebels came to our cell and ordered two girls from my neighborhood, Hana, fifteen, and Majah, twenty, to come out. They had been raped the right before; Hana by one rebel and Majah by four. They started screaming but were eventually dragged out by three rebels. Some minutes later I heard them both yelling and arguing with the rebels and refusing to lie down. The rebels were screaming obscenities and I heard the sound of struggle and slapping. A few minutes later I heard several shots. Hana and Maja didn't return that night and I cried for those girls because I knew the rebels had shot them. When I was able to escape two days later I saw the corpses of both girls lying on the State House lawn.[79]


On January 7, Joy, seventeen, witnessed five girls who attempted to escape a rebel base in which they had all been raped, being killed. She said: I was captured in the morning with five other girls about my age and taken to a house full of rebels in Kissy. They took me into a room, pointed a pistol at my head, and told me it I didn't submit to them I would be shot. They were all high on drugs and drinking beer. Five of them used me that day. At around 6:00 p.m. the one who'd captured me took me out on the verandah and there I found the five others who were crying and I could see at least two of them were bleeding. They said it had happened to them as well but we couldn't really talk because there was a rebel with a gun next to us. Some minutes later our guard left to get something and the girls got up and ran but the rebels saw them and opened up on them. There was gunfire all around and I crouched in the corner crying. I was so afraid they would kill me as well. I ran to the rebel who had captured me, told him I'd not run away and begged him to protect me. They fell just a few meters from the house. I saw their bodies. I don't know why they ran that day.[80] The health repercussions of the sexual abuse are many. Most victims under twenty reported considerable bleeding during and after the rape, something gynecologists treating them attribute in part to complications produced by the practice of female genital cutting which is widespread in Sierra Leone.[81] One gynecologist reported treating every victim aged between eight to twelve for some degree of vaginal tearing.[82] According to medical personnel and testimonies taken by Human Rights Watch, at least fourteen girls and young women, including one thirteen-year-old, became pregnant from the sexual assault. Health practitioners treating the victims also report a high percentage of them diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Yet another medical implication involves the spread of HIV-AIDS. One twenty-two-year-old woman who was abducted in early January and gang-raped and sodomized repeatedly over a period of two months, was during her captivity already suffering from full blown AIDS, and has since died of AIDS-related illness.[83] Victims of sexual abuse frequently reported female rebels having taken part in rounding up operations and often singling out girls and women for their commanders. Once in captivity, girls frequently reported appealing to female rebels for help. However their pleas were ignored and often met with threats of violence. One sixteen-year-old victim described how a female commander entered the room in which she was being raped and said, "why are you hollering. These are my boys and you will not refuse them."[84] Human Rights Watch took testimony from one sixteen-year-old girl who described sexual abuse by a female rebel, who forced her and another sixteen-year-old girl to undress, and then tied them up and proceeded to insert her fingers into their vaginas.[85] The motive of the attackers, according to what they told the victims, was both to be rewarded for having endured hardship in the bush and to punish their victims for supporting the current government or having sexually accommodated ECOMOG soldiers. The abuses are consistent with a long-standing pattern of RUF use of rape as one of many weapons to intimidate, terrorize, and ultimately control the civilian population. The rebels sought not only to control and degrade their victims but also to undermine and degrade the authority of the family and community. The victims described feeling terror, humiliation, and shame, and their parents, husbands, and community elders described feeling powerless at their inability to protect them.


Josephine, sixteen, described the terror she felt when she was brought in to witness the rape in progress of the friend with whom she had been abducted and brought to a command post: They kept me in a room but I could hear Susan crying and crying. Five minutes later one of them ordered me to go into the room where I saw she was being held down by one rebel and raped by another. This rebel then told me, "look at this-this is what we're going to do to you-once we're finished with that one it will be your turn." I could only weep.[86]


Fabian, twenty-one, and eight other women were brought into a room on January 21 and forced to strip naked in front of eleven rebels after a picture of President Tejan Kabbah was found in the parlor. She described how they were terrorized and humiliated for over two hours: As soon as the commander summoned us to the room he said, "so you are Kabbah's children; the ones calling in the jets to bomb us." He then ordered us to strip naked and stand in a line in front of him with our legs spread two feet apart. I begged him to leave me as I had my three-month-old infant in my arms but he tore the baby from my arms and threw him against a wall. The other rebels formed a circle around us and got out their pistols and machetes. He then ordered another rebel to sprinkle kerosene on us and threatened to burn us. That rebel then gathered up our clothes and set them on fire in the corner of the room. The one with the machete circled around us, threatening to cut off our hands. The commander then took out a flashlight and inspected our private parts-slowly, one after the other-making crude comments about how ugly, dirty, and disgusting we were. They fondled and pinched our breasts and ordered us to turn around and bend down, laughing and insulting us the whole time. And the whole time my baby was crying in the corner. Every time I think about that day I cry bitterly. I cry for how my baby was treated. I cry when I think of how they treated my sisters. I cry for my husband who was later abducted. And I keep asking myself, what did we ever do to them?[87]


Kadi, forty-two, described the horror she felt at having to listen to her sixteen-year-old daughter Binti being raped on January 11. Three of them came to our house at midnight and ordered us to line up outside. They demanded money and one of them put a knife to Binti's throat. Just then the rebels' attention was diverted by a civilian they saw running around the corner and I ordered my family to scatter. There was shooting and confusion and in the end all but Binti were able to escape. I ran with my one-year-old grandson on my back and hid in an abandoned house. Some minutes later I started hearing the screams and sobs of my Binti. It went on for over an hour and I knew what was happening. She was only 200 yards away but I couldn't do anything. Towards the end I even got up to go to her but I forced myself back to my hiding place until the early morning hours when I found her weeping in an abandoned shop.[88]


Jenneh, fourteen, was beaten, raped, and left near unconscious in the street. Several months after the incident, her right eye was still swollen and teeth marks on her back were visible. She recounted: When my mother saw him coming towards our house she yelled at me to get inside and hide. From under the bed I could hear him threatening to kill us both so I came outside. As he dragged me away my mother ran after us, pleading with him to release me but he turned around, pointed his gun at her and said he'd open up if she took one more step. He tore the clothes from my body. He bit me. He punched me in the face. He knocked my kneecaps with his gun and forced himself upon me. I knew nothing about this thing. I'm only fourteen. After the first time he forced me, sobbing, to say "thank you," and by the fourth time I could barely move. When he was finished he picked me up, putting his fingers inside my vagina and threw me in a gutter. Then he walked off. I was almost unconscious and couldn't remember everything, but that much I remember; he threw me in a gutter. The next morning my little sister found me there. She cried when she saw me and ran to get my mother.[89] These crimes, and other forms of sexual violence, are explicitly condemned under international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions of August 12, l949 and the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions prohibit rape in both international and internal conflicts.[90] Likewise, rape, when committed on a mass scale, constitutes a crime against humanity. The Convention of the Child further protects children from "all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse."[91]


As the rebels withdrew from Freetown they took with them thousands of civilians; mostly young people, and particularly young women. Abduction has become the principal method the rebels use to augment their ranks, to provide a pool of rebel fighters a work force, and "wives" or sexual partners for male combatants. While it is difficult to ascertain the number of civilians abducted in January, both residents who witnessed the rebel exodus from the capital, and abductees who've since managed to escape, confirm the number to be over one thousand and the greatest percentage to be young women. The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children's Affairs has registered 573 adults who have either been abducted or gone missing since the January 6 incursion.[92] Of the 3,700 children UNICEF registered as missing as of June, l997, 40 percent, or approximately 1,500 have been classed as victims of abductions. Of those abducted, 680 or 46 percent were from fifteen to seventeen years old, and 260, or 18 percent, were children under eleven.[93] The figures for both the adults and children show the majority of abductees to be female. As in past offensives, the process of abduction was usually violent and traumatic. Those attempting to resist the abduction of a family member were often beaten, maimed, or killed. They were also often forced to make painful choices between allowing a loved one to be taken or having one or several family members killed. Families who had more than one child abducted were not uncommon, and there are several cases of entire family units being taken. Rebels frequently went to houses and compounds and selected all the young men or women of a certain age. Reports of several residents from a single compound being abducted were not uncommon. The rebels began abducting people shortly after the offensive began, using them to carry looted goods back to their bases further east. However, the numbers increased dramatically towards the end of the RUF's occupation of Freetown. Residents of Calaba Town, near the easternmost end of Freetown, described rebels going from house to house, hurriedly pulling several people from each house as they fled into the hills. As has already been discussed, abductees were also used as porters and human shields in some of the final battles of the offensive. Young men and boys abducted during January were witnessed by escaped abductees to be undergoing military training just weeks after their capture. Most were made to carry heavy loads and subjected to forced labor and sometimes physical abuse. One escaped abductee described seeing abductees being trained in February, l999 by Caucasian soldiers.[94]


Eldred, forty, another abductee who was captured on January 22 and spent two months with the rebels, described seeing abductees taken during the January offensive being divided up by age and trained by rebel soldiers. He recounted: They [the rebels] gathered the abductees together and had them march up and down in the bush; left, right, left, right and so on and then divided them up into groups. They had the small boys from six to ten years old, then those from twelve to fifteen and finally those from fifteen to eighteen. For the older boys, the training was compulsory for all of them. I saw them doing physical exercises, teaching them how to dismantle and clean all kinds of guns, explaining them how many cartridges are in a clip, and all that. But they didn't trust the new recruits to hold onto the guns for long. They really watched them at first; afraid they would turn the weapons on them and escape. They [the rebels] said if the peace talks failed, they'd come back to Freetown with a vengeance. And that this time they'd go to the west where all the rich people live. They said it'd be called "Operation Westside."[95]


Lansana, forty-two, described how on January 20 the rebels abducted two of his three daughters as they swept through their neighborhood. The eleven-year-old has since been released but was raped during her captivity. He recounted: They usually came at night, when it was easier to hide our three daughters, Jennah, sixteen, Mansa, fourteen, and Sally, eleven, but that day they came in the afternoon. First they fired their guns into our house and then they crashed in and forced us to line up outside. The girls were huddled around my wife. ECOMOG had started bombarding the hills and they seemed frantic; in a hurry. They went to my wife and told her to give up the girls. One man put a gun to her throat and a few more started pulling the girls. Mansa was able to run but they pulled Jennah and Sally from my wife who was crying and pleading to leave them. The girls were screaming and the rebels just said, "you move, move, move." As they walked away, dragging the girls, my wife followed them up the street, but they told her they'd kill her and one said, "If I look around one more time and see you following me, you're all dead." She broke down when she came back to the house. And at 8:00 p.m. another group came back. This time I was holding Mansa and I screamed at them "you can beat me, you can kill me but I'm not giving this girl to you." A few of them started hitting me and forced her from me. But, Mansa was really determined; as they took her out the door she somehow squirmed out of their grip and ran to the banana patch.[96]


Josiah, forty-one, was shot at as he begged for his sixteen year-old daughter not to be abducted on January 21. He recounted: Seven of them came asking for money but we didn't have anything left; there was nothing left to loot. We were all in the parlor and they had their guns on us, when one of them looked at my first-born Aminata and said, "if you don't have any money then, we'll take your daughter." I started shouting and said, "no, no, don't take my daughter, I beg you. If I had money I'd give you. I'd give you anything." Then the same rebel turned towards me, raised his gun and shot at me. He missed and then Aminata, who was crying by this time said, "pa, let me go with them, so that they don't kill you, let me go with them." As they pulled her away I cried bitterly, I cried and the one who shot me said, "why are you crying, You can always get another child." They walked out and that was the last time I saw my daughter.[97]


Miata, fourteen, was abducted on January 9 but escaped several weeks later as the rebels withdrew to the hills. She was sexually abused by the rebel who abducted her. She described how she was taken after her grandfather couldn't raise the sum of money the rebels demanded: A rebel came to the house and said he was going to burn it. Then he started searching for hidden Kamajor fighters and lifted all the cushions on the sofa. He struck a match and tried to set the parlor on fire and then went from room to room using abusive language against my grandpa and my mother and President Tejan Kabbah's mother and then he entered the room where me and my cousins were hiding. So he looked for the smallest one, that was me, and told my grandpa that if he didn't give him 30,000 leones (U.S.$15) he was taking me to the bush. My mom and grandpa started pleading because they didn't have that money. So he took me away. But before he did he went to the back and took two chickens and told me to hold them. He said if he saw my people following us he would damage them. And then he pulled out a big sword and I started crying. He said if I cried he would kill me with it.[98]


Augustine, thirty-nine, was abducted on January 23 with his wife and seven-year-old son. He spent several weeks with the rebels before managing to escape during an ECOMOG bombardment. His wife and child are still missing. He said: We were hiding in an abandoned house but the rebels caught us...The column was massive and went on for miles; there were thousand of rebels and captives fleeing into the hills. When they saw us they pulled us into the mass and one of them gave me a heavy pipe, one of those used to fire a mortar bomb, and told me if I dropped it he would shoot me. They ordered my wife and son to walk with the women's group, and I was put in the "G4 group," responsible for taking arms, ammunition, and such. That thing was really heavy. There were many other captives; young men and even children in my group as well. Along the way I saw four dead people who the rebels said were killed for dropping their loads. They don't go along any trails; they go straight through the bush. We reached Waterloo two days later and for another day the people were still coming; women, pregnant women, children being carried by abductees. It was when we came under heavy bombardment a few weeks later that I was able to escape and make it back to Freetown. I try not to think about Sahr; he is my only son. As long as we were in the bush we slept together and he'd tell me he missed his sisters and wanted to go home. But when I had the opportunity to escape, I just had to and now I haven't heard or seen him for over two months.[99]

Treatment of Prisoners

There are several accounts of RUF forces executing captured ECOMOG soldiers and members of the Civil Defense Forces, mainly Kamajors; some after they had clearly attempted to surrender. Some of the prisoners were killed on the spot, and some were executed after having been humiliated and tortured. A few were taken as prisoners and remain under rebel control.


Mariatu, forty-six, described the January 6 execution of three ECOMOG prisoners captured hiding within a storeroom in the "Clay Factory" displaced camp. She recounted: There was a contingent of ECOMOG soldiers living next to our camp within the Safecon Factory. They were all Nigerians and had their girlfriends in the camp so we got to know them quite well. On the morning of the attack they tried, but the rebels were too many and when they knew they were being overpowered, they stripped off their uniforms and went into hiding. Many of them fled down to the waterside, hoping to get a boat, some of them ran up the hills and some stripped off their uniforms and went into hiding. At around 2:00 am or so, about a hundred rebels stormed the camp, and asked us where they [ECOMOG soldiers] were hiding. They hit and slapped us, and took a few of us around as hostages as they searched every corner of the camp. A few hours later they finally found three of them hiding among the bags in the storeroom. They all had tribal markings so it was obvious. They were Sgt. Hassan Orgg, RSM Haruna, and Staff Sergeant Amedu. When the rebels caught them the Nigerians put up their hands and said, "We want to surrender, take us, we want to surrender!" but the commander said, "Oh fuck off, when our brothers came to you people to surrender you killed them, so now that's what we're going to do to you." They opened fire on Sgt. Orgg and the Staff Sergeant Amedu right there near the store. But RSM Haruna, who they knew was operating the AA machine gun, they really treated him badly; they tied his hands, beat him horribly, put a pistol in his mouth and shot him through the head. Then they dragged his body out to the middle of the highway and ran over his head with a hi-lux. The rebels had by this time found the ECOMOG uniforms in the store and put them on. Then a girlfriend of one of the ECOMOG soldiers started pointing out where the others, including her own boyfriend, were hiding and then pointed out the houses of all the girlfriends of the other Nigerians. I guess she was working as a rebel spy because after her ECOMOG boyfriend was killed down by the water, she went into town with the rebels.[100]


Aaron, forty-eight, witnessed the killing of one ECOMOG soldier, and the brutalization and torture of another on January 6 in central Freetown. He recounted: On January 9, I saw an ECOMOG prisoner, bloody, stripped naked and with a rope around his waist and his private parts, being led up Pademba Road by a group of rebels. They were pushing him and ordering civilians to touch his privates. When they reached a rebel checkpoint, they brought out another ECOMOG soldier who was also naked and looked like he'd been horribly beaten up. Then they lay both of them on the ground and some of the rebels started kicking and beating them. Then, a few of them took a machete and started cutting off the head of the second soldier. It took them about ten minutes and when they were finished, they started dancing around and brought it around to show the other soldier. I felt sick. By this time there was a lot of gunfire and it seemed like the rebels were going really mad. They pushed the other prisoner down and grabbed a long stick and started shoving it up his backside; sodomizing him. They kept doing it for about thirty minutes. The soldier was screaming and crying and eventually just passed out. And then they shot him and just left him in the gutter. He was very bloody and everyone thought he was dead. But, several hours later he regained consciousness and called people to come and help him.[101]

Violations of Medical Neutrality

There are many accounts of RUF forces storming and occupying both public and private hospitals in which they threatened hospital staff, looted and destroyed hospital property, and in a few cases mutilated and executed patients. Sierra Leone's biggest public hospital, Connaught Hospital, suffered most from these violations. Doctors, nurses, and patients describe how the hospital was stormed by RUF fighters on January 6, and turned into a rebel base. They described how the hospital filled up with hundreds of rebel fighters who then used the premises for cooking, washing, and cleaning their weapons. The hospital was looted and both ambulances destroyed. Patients were removed from their hospital beds and were then replaced with wounded rebels. Patients' possessions were looted and as wounded civilians entered the hospital they were robbed by rebel fighters. While most medical personnel ran away, the few doctors and nurses who remained on duty were threatened with death if rebel commanders died, and forced to work long hours under unsanitary conditions. When they tried to rest they were sought after and brought back to work under gunpoint. When wounded civilians entered the hospital, doctors were ordered at gunpoint not to treat them. Most of these patients died. Nurses describe how on January 6, in the Curney Barnes Memorial Hospital, rebels violently shook the leg of a patient whose fractured leg had just been operated on, whilst accusing him of being an ECOMOG soldier. Five nursing staff were kept at gunpoint while they looted shoes, radios, jewelry, and money from the patients, stole medicines and instruments from the hospital and set the outpatient ward on fire. The hospital closed down the next day.[102] In Good Shepherd Hospital in Kissy, after removing and executing one Nigerian patient from the hospital on January 18, rebels forced all ambulatory patients, staff members, and other civilians to a nearby wall and then shot some fifteen of them. At least one nurse and a few relatives of the patients were wounded and several others died. Later the same day a fourteen-year-old rebel walked around the wards threatening patients with a hand-grenade. The hospital closed down the following day after rebels threatened to burn it and kill all staff.[103] In the Summertime Clinic in Kissy, nurses described patients belongings and medicines being looted by the rebels on several occasions. One nurse said, "over the course of a week, we lost seven patients, simply for lack of medicine. They needed antibiotics but the rebels had stolen what we needed to help keep our patients alive."[104] In the Kissy Mental Home, rebel forces killed five patients and attacked several others, including one man whose legs they attempted to amputate with a machete. They also looted and burned part of the hospital.[105]


Paul, a doctor at Connaught Hospital, described how the rebels threatened to kill him if their wounded commanders died of their injuries or if he treated the civilian wounded: On January 6 we received the first wounded rebel at around 5:30 a.m.; several rebels brought him in. They told me at gunpoint he was a very important commander and, "if he dies, you too will die because this man is far more important than you are." By 6:30 I'd received three more rebels with gunshot wounds. By this time there was heavy gunfire all around. Again they threatened me saying they'd kill me if any of them died; that they didn't care how I did it. Over the next few days the hospital was turned into a command center. The rebels were bringing in bags of rice and cooking, drinking beer, and smoking pot, doing their laundry, coming and going. I saw them telling patients to vacate their beds on wards three, five, and seven, replacing them with their own wounded. They looted from the patients and even stole from the wounded civilians and their families as they entered the hospital. In the morning hours I also received about ten wounded civilians; all gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. The rebels threatened me, again at gunpoint, not to give medicine to or treat any civilians. And I lost them one after the other-they all died. By 16:00 I was exhausted. I'd been working non-stop; the conditions were terrible and unsanitary, there was blood everywhere, I had no gloves, it was filthy. By 20:00 we received the heaviest causalities; three wood carts loaded with over sixty wounded, all of them civilians. Of these I can tell you only fifteen survived. Most of the wounded were head and abdomen injuries but the operating theater wasn't working, no nurse, no medicines. All we could do was stop the bleeding. By the next day there were over 200 corpses in the morgue.[106]


Summary Executions

Human Rights Watch has taken the testimonies of witnesses to over 180 summary executions of rebel prisoners and their suspected collaborators, mostly by ECOMOG forces but also by members of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF), and the Special Security Division (SSD) of the Sierra Leonean Police (who when on combat operations are under ECOMOG command). While the victims were overwhelmingly young men, witnesses confirm the execution of some women, and children as young as eight. It is difficult to ascertain the level at which the ECOMOG, CDF and SLA high command were aware of or sanctioned these killings. As they were often carried out in highly public places and in front of very large groups of people, it is highly unlikely that knowledge of the executions did not reach the highest levels of command. According to witnesses and survivors, the executions were done with the consent and sometimes participation of ECOMOG officers to the level of captain. ECOMOG soldiers deployed in Sierra Leone have operated under extremely difficult conditions, and many have been traumatized by what they have seen of rebel atrocities. As one ECOMOG soldier participating in an operation in which executions took place said, "we have a proper code of conduct. We know about the Geneva Conventions and have taken prisoners in the past, but this time was different. The things these people do. This time my unit took very few prisoners."[107] Another soldier added, "In many ways we felt we were doing it for the people. Sometimes we wonder if these rebels are human. After everything they've done, it was best to eliminate them."[108] Most Nigerian soldiers, the largest component of ECOMOG, have been deployed in Sierra Leone for at least one year without respite, or visits home Some soldiers, particularly those that were deployed in Sierra Leone after previously serving in the ECOMOG forces in Liberia, have not been back to Nigeria for over two years. What with the difficulty in communicating through phone or mail, many soldiers complain of losing touch with their families. The soldiers are supposed to be paid a special U.S.$150 per month allowance in addition to their wages while they are on active duty in ECOMOG, but until recently there have often been delays of up to three months in receiving this money. Commanders cite these difficulties as contributing to problems with low morale among their troops. These difficulties do not excuse abuses by ECOMOG, and serve rather to reinforce the need for ECOMOG's senior command to improve discipline and morale among their soldiers. Moreover, under international law, abuses by one side in a conflict, however appalling, can never excuse retaliatory abuses by opposing forces. Prisoners, some of whom had surrendered and many of whom were wounded, were frequently executed on the spot. Suspected rebel collaborators or sympathizers were often killed with little or no effort to establish their guilt or innocence. Some of the victims were rounded up during small "mopping up operations," and many were executed at ECOMOG checkpoints after being found with weapons, determined to have improper identification, or denounced by the local population. Scores of executions by ECOMOG and to a lesser extent CDF and SSD forces took place on the Aberdeen Bridge in western Freetown, which during the rebel incursion was under the command of an ECOMOG captain who during this time earned the name of "Captain Evil Spirit" among the local population.[109] Human Rights Watch took testimonies from witnesses who saw at least ninety-eight executions on this bridge from January 7 through January 29. According to these witnesses, small groups of young men were brought to the entrance to the bridge in trucks and cars, and arrived usually stripped down to their underwear and often with their hands tied. They were then marched onto the bridge where they were executed and thrown into the bay. While ECOMOG soldiers, and sometimes "Captain Evil Spirit," did most of the killing, CDF-Kamajors also took part. Members of the SSD were often present and have been seen throwing the bodies into the water. One witness, who saw scores of executions on the bridge, was told by a soldier that most of the victims had been captured during military operations and at checkpoints in other parts of the capital, and were then handed over by ECOMOG soldiers, CDF-Kamajors, or civil defense unit members to the captain for execution. Another witness said many of those executed formed part of an informal organization of the sons of former SLA soldiers, many of whom lived within either the Murray Town Barracks or Wilberforce Barracks.[110] Witnesses said most of the executions on the bridge were done by the same ten soldiers who fell directly under "Captain Evil Spirit's" command. Several witnesses described the ECOMOG execution of over fifty rebels in and around Connaught Hospital on January 11, in violation of the laws of war protecting those no longer capable of fighting. Wounded rebels were dragged from their beds and executed within the hospital grounds, or shot directly in their beds or as they tried to flee on crutches and in wheelchairs. Others were executed in the morgue where they were caught trying to hide among the corpses. Another incident involved the January 19 killing of seven civilians who had sought refuge within the Jami Ul-Masjid mosque. Witnesses also saw executions taking place on the wharves around Susan's Bay, in the National Stadium, and near Ferry Junction. Witnesses saw several people, particularly women, executed after trying to smuggle pistols and cartridges in their hair or hidden underneath children strapped to their backs. There were also reports of freshly severed heads being displayed near a CDF-Kamajor base in the Brookfields neighborhood. The high degree of rebel infiltration into the capital in the months prior to the January 6 incursion heightened the sense of suspicion among the local population. When ECOMOG regained control of the city, anyone unknown to a given neighborhood became suspect. As Freetown residents went out in search of food, to check on relatives, to bury friends, and the like, they were obliged to pass through numerous ECOMOG checkpoints. It was at these checkpoints that young men who were unknown to the local residents were often denounced as rebel collaborators and subsequently executed. Some victims and witnesses describe going through a brief "trial," either on the street or at a checkpoint during which an alibi was checked out and someone able to verify the suspect's identity was sent for. The "judgment" was then pronounced by an ECOMOG officer, and the execution then carried out by ECOMOG soldiers, or members of the CDF or SSD. Others were given no time to explain themselves and simply executed on the spot. The local population exploited the tense situation to settle personal vendettas against individuals and families by denouncing debtors, love rivals, or those with whom they'd had an argument. The executions often took place within the context of joint operations usually involving ECOMOG and CDF-Kamajor forces. After ECOMOG identified suspected rebels or collaborators, they were frequently handed over to and executed by the CDF-Kamajors. Also, members of local, unarmed, civil defense units (CDUs), who during the offensive and its aftermath helped to man checkpoints around the city, frequently played a part in identifying rebels and their collaborators.


Dwight, twenty-five, lived underneath the Aberdeen Bridge and described witnessing scores of executions, mostly of young men, by ECOMOG soldiers. He recounted: From where I lived you could see everything. The first time I ever saw a public execution was on January 7, between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. I saw Captain Evil Spirit and his boys [soldiers] marching seven young men in their underwear down to the bridge and then as they got closer I recognized several of them to be people from the neighborhood. I saw my friend Ismael and several more. Some of them were the sons of former SLA soldiers and had been living in Murray Town Barracks. Evil did the firing and then the SSD men threw the bodies over the bridge. On January 8, around l0:00 am, I saw them killing fifteen prisoners. Captain Evil was there and killed some of them this time as well. On January 9 I saw them kill two people and on January l0 I saw them kill a man who had a bullet in his foot. I heard later he was accused of being a rebel and had been brought to Captain Evil by one of the CDU people manning checkpoints in town.[111] On January 11, we buried sixteen corpses which we fished out of the water underneath the bridge. On January 14 at around 3:00 p.m. the ECOMOG soldiers brought a big group of prisoners; they were eighteen in number. I saw them [the prisoners] get down from a truck and walk them down to the bridge where the same ten soldiers executed them and threw them over. We were later told they were rebels who'd been captured in the east [of Freetown]. Every day they [the soldiers] killed people-two, three, four a day. We feared that man, Evil. He never gave anybody a chance to explain... some people even called him "Captain No Explain." There was a man from our neighborhood who was caught by him. I was told the other ECOMOGs tried to convince Evil that he was a boy from the neighborhood but he wouldn't listen and killed him anyway. The boy was an only child and his mother went crazy. A few times we saw her go to Evil's house and ask to see him. She started screaming, "You, I want you to kill me too... you've killed my only son. You show me where you've buried my boy."[112]


Hassan, twenty-nine, who also lived underneath Aberdeen Bridge, witnessed both ECOMOG soldiers and CDF-Kamajor militias killing suspected rebels. He recounted: The first time I saw the executions was on January 7 at around 3:00 p.m. I saw eight people being brought down from the guardroom [a checkpoint near the bridge] with their hands tied behind them. They were marched down by two ECOMOGs, Captain Evil Spirit, and another one. But it was Evil who did the firing. Over the next several weeks I saw them kill at least forty people. And there were a lot more done at night that I couldn't see. It was always the same thing; you'd hear people screaming and begging "no don't kill me, I beg," and then in less than five minutes you'd hear shots and then the splash as they threw them into the bay. And then we'd see their bodies floating in the water the next morning. I buried at least nineteen bodies between January 8 to 22. I also saw about eight Kamajors execute people on three different days. The first time they killed two people, the second time five people, and the third time ten people. A few ECOMOGs were with them but it was the Kamajors who were in charge of the executions.[113]


Tamba, forty-five, described witnessing the execution of at least fifty rebels, some wounded, when ECOMOG soldiers stormed Connaught Hospital on January 11. The rebels, who had been occupying the hospital since they entered the city on January 6, were largely caught by surprise. Tamba described how the rebels tried frantically to escape, how hospital personnel were made to identify their rebel patients, and how all those they identified were later executed: There was a lot of gunfire, and as the rumors about ECOMOG started flying the rebels in the hospital started panicking. Both the wounded ones and the others who'd been hiding in the hospital striped off their fatigues and tried to get away. A group of about twenty started demanding gauze and tape and then wrapped their arms and feet to try to make it look like they were wounded. Then they slipped out the back entrance to the hospital. After walking a block up Liverpool Street they ran straight into a group of advancing ECOMOG troops who opened up on them; right on the spot. At about the same time I saw a rebel "wife" searching frantically for a wheelchair to move her wounded rebel boyfriend; they got it as well, not far from the first group. Then, as this was going on, another group of about fifteen-they were hiding near the stairwell under ward ten-started putting white cotton into their noses, and then slipped through the back door and went into the morgue to hide among the corpses. A few minutes later, I think it was around ll:30 a.m., the ECOMOG soldiers rushed into the hospital from several directions. They had their guns out and were pointing and asking all of us to identify ourselves. Someone alerted them about the group that had gone into the morgue and three of them rushed in and started shooting and screaming, "so you're dead- well now you're going to be dead twice." By this time the ECOMOGs had identified who the hospital staff were and told them they had information there were rebels hiding among the patients and they told them [the hospital workers] to identify which were rebels and which were real patients. So three ECOMOGs, and a few CDUs [civil defense unit members], went from ward to ward, telling the hospital workers to identify the rebels. Most of the patients weren't killed in their beds; they had the CDUs pull the patients from their beds and drag them to the entrance to the outpatient ward. That's where they killed them. They dragged out one rebel from ward one, four from ward three, four from ward five, and four from the OPD [outpatient department]. And then they shot all thirteen of them. All of the ECOMOG soldiers took part in the killing. They even killed a small rebel who looked to be about eight and another one who was about thirteen. A few of them tried to surrender. I heard one rebel scream, "I beg you, don't shoot me wait, I'll talk." but they killed them anyway. They even killed some behind the wards and in front of the entrance to the hospital. Anyway, there were a lot of dead rebels that day. I watched as they kept bringing all the bodies into the morgue. I must have counted at least sixty. Even some of the patients were telling the ECOMOGs where the rebels were hiding.[114]


Moses, thirty-two, saw a husband and wife pulled out of a line at a checkpoint and executed, after a civilian accused them of being rebels. He recounted: On January 25, I was waiting in line at a checkpoint near the Congo Cross Bridge with about 200 other people. I was about forty yards back when all of a sudden this woman coming from the other direction starts pointing her finger at another woman, who I later recognized as a friend of mine named Ami, and started screaming, "She's a rebel, I know her, I saw her armed, she's a rebel." The ECOMOG soldiers then pulled Ami out of the line, who by this time was denying the accusation. But the accuser continued screaming very convincingly that she'd seen Ami armed in Kissy earlier in the month. And then at about this time Ami's husband walked from the back of the line and tried to defend his wife saying it was all a misunderstanding. But the ECOMOG soldiers just pushed both of them to one side and started slapping them. They asked them a few questions, but that woman was accusing them the whole time. Then about ten minutes after the accusation was made, the ECOMOG officer, he had three stripes [a sergeant rank], gave the command that Ami and her husband should be executed. When they heard this, they started crying and begging, but the soldiers pulled them away from the line, pulled their clothes off, took them to the side of the bridge and shot them. The one who'd ordered it didn't kill them. He just watched. And then he ordered them buried right there. We heard later from Ami's father who was also in the line, that the accuser had been an old girlfriend of one of Ami's past boyfriends and that they'd never liked each other. Ami's father complained to the ECOMOG people, but by then it was too late.[115]


Bintu, twenty-nine, was nearly executed on January 22 after being unable to verify her identity. She recounted: I was walking home with my four children when I was stopped and searched at the checkpoint near the Aberdeen Bridge. They asked me where I was coming from and I told them the truth, that I'd been living with a friend of my husband's named Isaac. So, they sent a soldier to check out my story and he came back a few minutes later with Isaac who denied that he knew me. I think he was so traumatized by everything and was just afraid. The soldiers at the checkpoint then took me to see "Captain Evil Spirit." The soldiers handed him my ID, explained the case and asked Isaac if he knew me, to which he replied, "no" and then Evil said, "well, take this lady for execution." The "trial" lasted three minutes and that was it. I started screaming, my children started screaming, I begged for my life saying there was no one to take care of my children, I told them it was a mistake, that it wasn't fair and then one of the ECOMOG soldiers hit me on the head with his gun and I started bleeding. And then they started leading me down to the bridge. A few minutes later one of the ECOMOGs suddenly ran down after us shouting, "leave her, one of her children confirmed the story, don't shoot her." Then the other soldier walked me back up and as I was gathering up my things, another soldier tied up Isaac and shoved him in the back of a pickup. As I was fleeing we heard shots and they saw his body floating in the bay the next day. Whenever I see Isaac's family I don't know what to say. It wasn't my fault. I don't know why he denied he knew me. I think about it every day and feel broken inside.[116]


Abu, eleven, witnessed his mother being executed by an armed SSD policeman after a neighbor with whom they had a business dispute accused her of being a rebel. He recounted: A few days before it happened my mom had a terrible argument with a guy named Francis over some goods that had gone missing. He accused my mom and our friend Foday of having taken the goods. At noon on the day it happened, an SSD man and an ECOMOG soldier came and arrested Foday and my mom, and accusing all of us, even me, of being a rebel. Francis was there the whole time, accusing us as well. The SSD man started threatening us and saying "today your life is over, even you small boy; small boys like you even kill our officers." The community chief tried to help us but an hour later the SSD man and an ECOMOG man took Foday away to the wharf and I saw from a distance I saw the SSD man shot him. The chief finally convinced them to release my mom but as we were walking back I saw Francis and the SSD man talking secretly and then the SSD man said he wanted my mom to walk towards the wharf. My mom got scared and started to run away from them and the SSD man just shot her. Three times he shot her. That man came back here a few weeks ago and I started yelling at him and said "you, you're the one who killed my mother." He slapped me and told me to "shut up." He's training to be in the new Sierra Leonean army now, so we haven't seen him.[117]


Helen, nineteen, witnessed the killing of her friend by a CDF-Kamajor on January 24. She said: Early in the morning six of us, including my friend Fatmata, went in search of firewood. The situation was still very tense. About thirty minutes later we were stopped by a checkpoint manned by two Sierra Leonean soldiers and two Kamajors. They started accusing us of being rebels and ordered us at gunpoint to lie face down on the ground. They started insulting us and gave us a real beating. They hardly asked us any questions and just had it in their mind that we were rebels. Then the Sierra Leonean soldier told Ali, the one man in our group, that they were going to kill him, and fired a shot near his legs. We started begging and telling them we were innocent and then Fati just jumped up and ran to hide in a house about twenty yards away. One of the Kamajors followed her to the house and ordered her to come out. He threatened to kill her and I guess the lady inside convinced Fati to come out. But as soon as she did the Kamajor just opened up on her. As I was lying on the ground I watched as he just fired and fired and fired. He shot her more than ten times.[118]


Daniel, forty-one, witnessed the killing of seven civilians inside the Jami Ul-Masjid mosque, after an ECOMOG officer ordered their execution. He explained:

On Monday January 18, ECOMOG came to liberate the area. They told the eighty or so civilians inside to leave which all but about ten of us did. It was still very tense. The advancing troops had left eight ECOMOG soldiers in the mosque and they deployed up the tower and around the grounds. At 6:15 a.m. the next morning, one of the soldiers deployed downstairs went upstairs and as he did there was the sound of a shot. Everyone ran to see what happened and found him lying slumped on the stairs. The stairs were very narrow and blocked with peoples' bags, and the other soldiers surmised that his gun had accidentally gone off as he was climbing up. The other soldiers pulled him down and got on the radio to inform their superiors what'd happened. Shortly before 9:00 a.m., a lieutenant and captain entered; I could tell by the marks on their uniform. They asked for an explanation and both the soldiers and a few of the civilians told them and showed them the cartridge which they'd found under the stairs. The officers went to inspect the site to see if anyone could've shot him but since the place is in a stairwell surrounded by thick walls, the lieutenant concluded "it must've been the gun that went off," and everybody agreed. Then they left. And then, not eight minutes later, another officer accompanied by at least eighty soldiers came in and deployed everywhere. By this time all the civilians, there were nine of them, were sitting near where Muslims wash their feet. So the officer in charge-I couldn't see what rank he was because he was wearing green overalls, but he was about forty, had a walkie-talkie and was obviously the man in charge-asked angrily who the soldiers deployed there were. Several of the new soldiers started accusing the civilians of having killed the soldier and the soldiers who were deployed there started saying, "no, it was an accident." Then the big man ordered that the original lot be disarmed and said, "why are you protecting these people and hiding their act," and as they were being disarmed turned to the civilians and said "we're going to kill all of these people." He then ordered the first one to stand and told a soldier to shoot him. They he told everyone else to lie down which they did. I could hear them praying to Mohammed, to Jesus. They didn't ask for an explanation and blocked the entrance so no one could run and then they shot every one of them. It wasn't five minutes from the time that officer came into the mosque until he ordered them to die. He stormed out taking the disarmed soldiers with him. It was so unfair. I don't know what was wrong with that man. A few minutes later a few ECOMOG soldiers from the first group came back. They were really upset. I heard them say, "why did he do this-we didn't come to Sierra Leone to kill innocent people."[119]

ECOMOG military officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they took between 200 and 300 RUF rebels as prisoners of war during the January 1999 offensive, and that throughout the offensive they strictly followed the procedures established in the Geneva Conventions and acted in accordance with international humanitarian law on the taking of prisoners and other military conduct of war.[120]

According to Lt. Col. Chris Olukolade, the chief military information officer of ECOMOG, no soldiers or officers have been formally investigated or court martialed as a result of their conduct during the January offensive. He said, "within ECOMOG there is an internal mechanism set up for the investigation of violations of international humanitarian law, and although we've heard of individual complaints, none have been sufficient enough to activate this mechanism."[121] Colonel Buhari Musa, the commander of the Freetown garrison under whose jurisdiction most of Freetown, including the Aberdeen Bridge, falls, said there have been a few lower level investigations of executions following complaints by members of the public, but that the allegations were proven to be baseless and subsequently dropped. He said, "I heard about the allegations of executions and I took it up. There have been a few investigations into accusations of summary executions having been committed by soldiers under my command, which have been conducted at the brigade level, but we didn't find anything substantial. There have been no formal inquiries or disciplinary actions taken against any soldier or officers under my command as a result of the what took place during the January rebel offensive."[122] Following a United Nations report in February 1999 which expressed concern about summary executions, the ECOMOG high command indicated to the U.N. secretary-general's special representative in Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, "their intention to investigate these allegations and to take corrective action as necessary."[123] In April, the ECOMOG force commander Felix Mujakperuo established a Civil/Military Relations Committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations against individual members of ECOMOG and CDF and recommend appropriate action to the high authorities.[124] However, the start date for complaints to be investigated is April 1, thus none of the executions committed in January and February will be eligible for investigation under this committee.

Looting and Brutality

Witnesses, particularly from the eastern suburbs of Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town observed CDF-Kamajor fighters looting property from the homes of civilians who had fled to get away from the fighting. Thousands of civilians had fled from the eastern areas to take shelter in the homes of relatives and in camps of displaced people, leaving entire neighborhoods largely unoccupied. Witnesses described the CDF-Kamajors going into these areas ostensibly to search and secure them, but then leaving with bundles of clothes, electrical items, radios, and other items. Once civilians reoccupied their homes, the looting decreased significantly. ECOMOG, CDF-Kamajors, and SSD police in charge of manning the many checkpoints in Freetown were accused of using extreme brutality against the civilian population. Witnesses described people being slapped, pushed, humiliated, and forced to do painful physical exercises as "punishment" for such insignificant "offenses" such as not waiting one's turn in line, not answering questions in sufficient detail, or riding a bike through a checkpoint. There were reports of mistreatment by ECOMOG soldiers of members of some international nongovernmental organizations, particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who were accused of being rebel collaborators. Members of ECOMOG confiscated property, including vehicles and radios, and several ICRC expatriate staff were deported after being detained and interrogated.


Social workers for local humanitarian organizations have documented the mistreatment of suspected child rebels while in the custody of both ECOMOG and CDF-Kamajors. One international NGO received reports of "several" children being beaten while in ECOMOG's Wilberforce Barracks during the months of January and February. A local NGO documented the physical abuse of over thirty street children suspected of being rebel collaborators, both during capture by ECOMOG and Sierra Leonean Police and while in detention in Wilberforce Barracks. Local social workers also expressed concern about the periodic detention of children and adults by the Kamajor Civil Defense Forces. The Kamajors don't have an official barracks or military headquarters, and have adopted a local hotel as their base, the Bookfields Hotel in central Freetown. It is within this hotel that several witnesses reported to Human Rights Watch seeing detainees held by the Kamajors. As the detentions are not officially acknowledged, they are not subject to governmental regulations and monitoring. They are also illegal.

Execution of a Journalist

There is a highly reliable report of the killing by ECOMOG forces of a journalist named Abdul Jumah Jalloh, who at the time worked for an independent newspaper, the African Champion. According to an investigation carried out by the Sierra Leonean Union of Journalists, Mr. Jalloh was publicly accused of being an RUF rebel by a member of a civil defense unit, who then alerted a patrol of ECOMOG soldiers. Mr. Jalloh identified himself as a journalist and produced his press identification card, but was later taken to a checkpoint near State House and subsequently executed. His death, which occurred in the last week of January, was denounced by his editor, Mohamed Koroma, who was with him at the time of his detention, and who has since left the country. Human Rights Watch has been unable to find a direct witness to this killing.

Failure to Minimize Civilian Casualties


Civilians making up part of a human shield often described feeling surprised when ECOMOG either opened fire on them or bombed them from the air. Joseph, a thirty-five-year-old man, who on January 7 was forced by the RUF rebels to walk down Wilberforce Street as part of a human shield, described his confusion when they were later bombed by an ECOMOG jet: I was one of several hundred civilians; we'd all been ordered out of our houses at gunpoint and forced to join in a march. They made us put white bands around our heads and told us to shout "we want peace, we want peace" as we walked down the street. The rebels really wanted to infiltrate the west of the city and I later thought their plan had been to use the big "peace march" to break into the west. When the jets passed over of course we saw them, of course we heard them, but we just never, never thought they would drop those bombs. There were so many of us and even though they were flying fast, they passed at least three times and it must've been obvious we were civilians. When the rebels ran for cover I thought it was because they didn't want ECOMOG to see them. I just didn't think it was because they were going to bomb us.[125] Brig.-Gen. Maxwell Khobe, a Nigerian seconded to be the Sierra Leonean chief of defense staff, stated to journalists on February 2, 1999 that rebels had managed to enter Freetown in January only because they had used civilians as human shields. He said, "from hindsight, I believe it would have been better to kill all those that have come, even if they were civilians, in order save the majority. That was not done, and that was what was responsible for the entire thing that took place in Freetown." He said that in the future ECOMOG commanders have issued new "shoot the shields" orders and that, "if they try it again, we'll kill everything from the opposite direction."[126] Colonel Buhari Musa, commander of the Freetown garrison described the difficulty his soldiers faced when fighting an "unorthodox force" who often don't wear uniforms or have any special markings to distinguish them from the civilian population. He said "it's difficult for us to say what are the criteria for identification; both males and females, young and old are combatants. It is difficult and unfortunate. But sometimes you just have to fight and in such situations you will see that some lives are lost. It is unfortunate for whoever is the victim. But we tell our soldiers that everybody, even they have a right to their lives."[127] International humanitarian law forbids the use of human shields, but also requires that combatants minimize civilian casualties at all times, even if the civilian population is being used as a shield. Attacks on legitimate military targets are limited by the principle of proportionality as set out in Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, article 51. The attacker must choose a means of attack that avoids or minimizes damage to civilians, and in particular should refrain from launching an attack if the expected civilian causalities would outweigh the importance of the military target to the attackers.


During the January rebel incursion children were the victims of serious abuses committed by all parties to the conflict. They were not spared from any class of abuse and were, in some cases, purposefully targeted because of their age. Some of the atrocities committed by the RUF rebels were unthinkable. Infants and children were thrown into burning houses, the hands of toddlers as young as two were severed with machetes, girls as young as eight were sexually abused, and hundreds of children of all ages were traumatically separated from their communities and forced to walk into the hills with strangers whom they had seen kill their family members. In some cases children, many of them originally abuductees, participated in the perpetration of these abuses. Child combatants armed with pistols, rifles, and machetes actively participated in killings and massacres, severed the arms of other children, and beat and humiliated men old enough to be their grandfathers. Often under the influence of drugs, they were known and feared for their impetuosity, lack of control, and brutality. In some cases, ECOMOG and government forces summarily executed rebel child combatants and suspected collaborators they had captured; other children suffered physical abuse while in detention. Some child soldiers were beaten to death after being caught by members of local communities. As children abducted by the rebels in January have been released or managed to escape, they have described the process of psychological and physical formation used to turn victim into perpetrator. They described a life of physical hardship, forced labor, substance abuse, and military training. In Freetown, parents speak of their frustration and guilt at their inability to protect their children. For those hundreds of children who witnessed family members murdered in front of them, were forced to watch as a mother or sister was raped, or had to leave a wounded relative behind in a burning house, the events of January 1999 have no doubt produced deep psychological scars they will live with for the rest of their lives. Two civilians, Adama and Zainab, expressed the ambivalence civilians have about the role of child combatants. On the one hand they are feared and misunderstood, and on the other, pitied as victims themselves.


Adama, a forty-two year old secretary, described the horror and fear adults felt at seeing children carry out terrible atrocities: We feared them. They were cruel and hard hearted; even more than the adults. They don't know what is sympathy; what is good and bad. If you beg an older one you may convince him to spare you, but the younger ones, they don't know what is sympathy, what is mercy. Those who have been rebels for so long have never learned it. Once, a rebel, a small boy in full combats, he couldn't have been more than twelve, called everyone out of the house across the street. The papa of the family, Pa Kamara, said, "please my son, leave my family," but the boy said, "listen, we can do anything we want in Freetown. We don't have mothers, we don't have fathers. We can do anything we wanna do." And that is how Pa Kamara died; the rebel boy shot him, in front of his wife, his children, his grandchildren. They are wicked, those boy soldiers. They spare no human life.[128]


Zainab, a twenty-four old market vendor, on the other hand, found that she could pity a child exhausted by combat: Late one evening, a ten-year-old with a pistol came, alone, into our house. He told my husband his commander was hungry and wanted one of our chickens. While my husband was catching the hen, that boy sat down to wait. He was thin and exhausted. I brought him a biscuit and water. He said he was tired and weak and as he left with the chicken turned to me and said, "thank you, mam." Later my neighbors criticized me for giving him that biscuit. I said I didn't care if he was a rebel or not. He's still somebody's child. Maybe he was abducted. God knows what they've done to him. I wanted to hide that boy and take him with us as we fled and just knew he would've come with us if he'd had the chance. I could see he wasn't happy.[129]


Since the beginning of the conflict in 1991, the plight of civilians in Sierra Leone has had to compete with the other refugee-related emergencies on the African continent and elsewhere for the attention of the international community. Insofar as Sierra Leone has attracted international interest, attention has focused on the humanitarian needs of the displaced-or on the protection of mining concerns in Sierra Leone's diamond fields. As one human rights worker observed in 1998, "half the battle [has been] keeping Sierra Leone on the world's radar screen."[130] The January 1999 RUF occupation of Freetown brought more condemnation from the international community, but little more action. Only Sierra Leone's West African neighbors, in particular Nigeria, have put substantial resources into an attempt to keep the peace and restore respect for human rights and the rule of law.[131] It is to be hoped that the visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to Sierra Leone in June 1999 will contribute to a reversal of this neglect.

ECOWAS, ECOMOG, and the Organization of African Unity (OAU)

In accordance with bilateral security accords, Nigerian and Guinean forces from ECOMOG have been stationed in Sierra Leone since 1995 to help the NPRC and, later, the Kabbah government fight the RUF rebels. After the May 25, 1997 military coup of the AFRC, and its establishment of a coalition government with RUF rebels, hundreds of additional Nigerian soldiers assigned to ECOMOG in Liberia moved to Sierra Leone to defend the Freetown airport from attack. The Nigerian troops attempted to take Freetown itself, but were forced to withdraw. On June 26, 1997, ministers of foreign affairs from ECOWAS countries, supported by the OAU, demanded the reinstatement of the elected government of President Tejan Kabbah and formed a ministerial committee to monitor the situation in Sierra Leone. When negotiations with the new rulers in Sierra Leone collapsed, ECOWAS imposed an almost total embargo on Sierra Leone, enforced by the Nigerian navy, which was later reinforced by an October 1997 U.N. Security Council global arms and oil embargo and restrictions on international travel by families of the rebel leaders.[132] With the failure of diplomatic efforts for the restoration of peace and the reinstatement of the Kabbah government, ECOMOG's mandate was changed from sanction enforcement to actual military intervention to oust the rebel government. In February 1998, ECOMOG drove the AFRC/RUF forces away from the capital city of Freetown and reinstated President Kabbah, though it could not reestablish government control over the whole country; thus allowing the RUF resurgence and attack on Freetown in January 1999. ECOMOG now maintains security in and around Freetown, and has been able to expand its control to some other areas, although the rebels maintain their grip on much of the country. Presently the ECOMOG contingent in Sierra Leone is led by Nigerian Major-General Felix Mujakperuo (who assumed command in March 1999) and is composed of approximately 14,000 troops, predominantly Nigerian, with Ghanian, Malian, and Guinean support. The cost of maintaining the troops is being borne mostly by Nigeria (which is allegedly spending approximately U.S.$1 million daily) and the other states that have contributed troops.[133] In addition to its peacekeeping role, ECOMOG's mandate also includes the implementation of a program for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants (the DDR program), and training the new Sierra Leone army. Although ECOMOG has stated that the new army will be ethnically and regionally balanced,[134] there is also a need to underscore the importance for UNOMSIL to provide assistance and closely monitor the disarmament, demobilization, and training processes to assure that the new army is founded upon principles of respect for international humanitarian law. On the humanitarian front, ECOWAS and the OAU have been consistent in their condemnation of the atrocities of the rebels. For example, in December 1998, the ECOWAS Ministerial Committee on Sierra Leone issued a communiqué deploring the torture, mutilations, amputations, and mass killings of innocent civilians. In March 1999, Salim Ahmed Salim, the secretary-general of the OAU, delivered a report to a session of the Council of Ministers, in which he condemned the January offensive on Freetown by the rebels. The OAU also reaffirmed its absolute support for the efforts of ECOWAS and ECOMOG. ECOWAS has played an important role in facilitating peace negotiations between the RUF leaders and representatives of the government of President Kabbah, which are taking place in Togo, whose president is the current chair of ECOWAS.

The United Nations

The United Nations' initial reaction to the 1997 military coup by the Armed Forces Ruling Council was to condemn it and to place sanctions against the government formed by the rebels. The United Nations Security Council commended ECOWAS on its efforts to restore the ousted government of President Tejan Kabbah and urged member states to assist ECOMOG with financial and logistical support. It also condemned the atrocities perpetrated by the rebels, in particular against women and children.[135] The Security Council also made the determination that the crisis in Sierra Leone constituted a threat to international peace and security in the region under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, and that it would remain actively seized of the matter. In July 1998, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to establish the United Nations Observer Mission to Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), increasing the United Nations' military observer presence already in the country from approximately ten to seventy officers, along with civilian support and medical staff. UNOMSIL's mandate includes responsibility for monitoring and helping ECOMOG with the implementation of a program for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of combatants (the DDR program); reporting on the security situation; monitoring respect for international humanitarian law, including at disarmament and demobilization sites; and advising the government of Sierra Leone and local police officials on police practice, training, re-equipment, and recruitment, in particular on the need to respect internationally accepted standards of policing in democratic societies.[136] As RUF forces approached Freetown in late December 1998, the U.N. and other international agencies and foreign governments began withdrawing their staff from the country. On January 6, as the rebels entered the city, UNOMSIL completed its evacuation.[137] The relocation to Conakry, the capital of neighboring Guinea, was followed by a substantial reduction in the number of staff, in particular military and civilian police. On March 3, the decision was made to allow the return of a limited number of staff to Freetown.[138] On June 4, 1999, the U.N. secretary-general released his sixth report on UNOMSIL. The report noted a resurgence in rebel atrocities against civilians in recent months; the secretary-general's fifth report, issued in March, described similar atrocities committed during the rebel invasion and occupation of Freetown in January. Both reports also noted serious allegations that members of ECOMOG and the CDF had carried out summary executions of suspected rebels. The secretary-general described the worsening of an already desperate humanitarian situation across much of the country, noting that 2.6 million Sierra Leoneans, nearly half the population, were out of reach of humanitarian agencies, and that even where there was access, humanitarian efforts were still unable to reach all those in need. The secretary-general also noted that ECOMOG had confirmed the involvement of the governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso in the shipment and delivery of arms to the forces of the RUF. Accordingly, the secretary-general had proposed the deployment of ECOMOG troops and U.N. personnel along the Sierra Leone border. Welcoming the proposal in principle, the executive secretary of ECOWAS had responded that U.N. logistical support would be necessary, including helicopters, communications, and ground transportation. As of June 4, 1999, UNOMSIL consisted of twenty-four military observers, including two medical personnel, as well as twenty-nine international and twenty-four national staff members. The secretary-general's sixth report stated that it was planned to deploy additional observers up to the maximum of seventy set by U.N. Security Council resolution 1181 of July 13, 1998, to increase the civilian staff by two political officers, and to restore the human rights section to its previous staffing level of five persons. The secretary-general drew the attention of the Security Council to the fact that, depending on the progress of the peace talks, it might well be necessary to deploy "a sizeable number of infantry and other observers, along with the necessary equipment and military logistical support," if the U.N. were to deploy effectively to assist in the implementation of an eventual peace agreement.[139] The secretary-general also "envisage[d] a significant expansion of the civilian personnel, including those engaged in political, human rights and logistical support functions."[140] On June 11, 1999, the Security Council extended the mission of UNOMSIL for a further six months, until December 13, 1999.[141]

The Sierra Leone Contact Group

In July 1998, a Sierra Leone Contact Group was established, following a special conference on Sierra Leone held at U.N. headquarters in New York. The first meeting of the Contact Group, chaired by the United Kingdom, took place on November 5, 1998, with objectives "to build up support for Sierra Leone's efforts to restore peace, democracy and human rights; to encourage further assistance to ECOMOG and contributions to the United Nations Trust Fund for Sierra Leone; to try to match specific ECOMOG requirements to donor offers; and to encourage the Government of Sierra Leone to develop political dialogue and national reconciliation beyond the programme for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and to encourage participation in it."[142] The meeting expressed strong support for a "dual track" approach endorsed by the ECOWAS summit held in October, "by which efforts to strengthen ECOMOG would be accompanied by the opening of dialogue to achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation."[143] On April 4, 1999, the Contact Group held its second meeting, attended by representatives of twenty-two countries, the U.N., ECOWAS, ECOMOG, the European Commission, the Commonwealth, the World Bank and IMF, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and once again reaffirmed support for the "dual track" approach and for the 1996 Abidjan Accord as a framework for a negotiated settlement. The group condemned atrocities committed by the rebels, called on all sides to investigate abuses, and expressed concern at support coming to the RUF through Liberia and Burkina Faso.[144]

The United Kingdom, European Union, and United States

The United Kingdom has provided more assistance to the ECOMOG and Sierra Leonean government forces than any other government from outside the region, and has also been the largest national donor to Sierra Leone of reconstruction aid and humanitarian assistance, committing more than £30 million in total to Sierra Leone since the restoration of President Kabbah in March 1998.[145] The assistance the U.K. has provided has included training and equipment for a new Sierra Leonean army. The U.K.'s record on Sierra Leone has been tarnished by the government's handling of contacts between the government of President Kabbah and a U.K.-based private security company, Sandline International, during 1997 and 1998, which included the supply of a shipment of arms to Sierra Leone in late February 1998 in breach of the U.N. arms embargo (which applied to government as well as rebel forces). In February 1999, the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs issued a report, itself based on an investigation ordered by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and carried out by Sir Thomas Legg Q.C. Both the Legg report and the Foreign Affairs Committee were highly critical of both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the foreign secretary, though they concluded that the violation of the embargo was due to incompetence and mismanagement rather than intent.

According to the U.S., its policy towards the crisis in Sierra Leone is designed to achieve four goals:increase international support for ECOMOG; help ECOWAS leaders coordinate a negotiated settlement; curtail external support for the rebel forces; and provide humanitarian relief. To that end, the U.S. provided U.S.$3.9 million in equipment and logistical support to ECOMOG, and contributed over U.S.$55 million in humanitarian assistance in 1998. In 1999 it committed U.S.$5 million for logistical support and medical supplies and planned to seek approval for a further U.S.$5.8 million from Congress.[146] In May 1999, the U.S. government promised to double its commitments to assist ECOMOG and the Sierra Leonean Government.[147] The U.S. has also condemned external support for the rebels from Liberia. However, in a letter dated February 4, 1999 sent by seven members of the U.S. Congress to President Clinton, the members expressed dismay by the limited U.S. support for the efforts of ECOMOG.[148]

Through the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the E.U. has been an important donor of non-food humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone, having contributed over 20 million ECUs (over U.S.$22 million) by 1998, mostly to support the activities of international humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In November 1998, the E.U. made a grant of 860,000 ECU to the OAU partly to support any post-conflict reconstruction that it undertakes in Sierra Leone. In April 1999, the E.U. approved Euro 5 million to cover emergency aid for displaced persons in Sierra Leone (and Guinea). The E.U. states that it has given Sierra Leone more than 111 million ECUs (U.S. $140 million) in emergency aid and for reconstruction of infrastructure and rehabilitation of victims of the war.[149]

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), formed in November 1995 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Auckland, New Zealand, has consistently followed the situation in Sierra Leone, condemning the 1997 military coup and suspending the right of the junta to participate in Commonwealth debates until the restoration of President Kabbah. CMAG has also denounced atrocities committed against civilians by the rebels. Since the restoration of President Kabbah, the Commonwealth has assisted with the reorganization and training of the Sierra Leone police force, together with UNOMSIL civilian police advisers.


This report was written and researched by Corinne Dufka, Sierra Leone researcher. Chinedu Ezetah of Davis Polk Wardwell contributed to the writing of the international legal aspects of the report. The report was edited by Bronwen Manby, legal counsel to the Africa Division; Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division; Mike McClintock, deputy program director; Wilder Taylor, general counsel; and LaShawn Jefferson and Regan Ralph of the Women's Rights Division. Production assistance was provided by Zachary Freeman, associate for the Africa division; Patrick Minges, publications director; and Fitzroy Hepkins, mail manager. Research for this report was conducted by Human Rights Watch during the months of April, May, and June 1999. Several hundred witnesses and victims were interviewed, within their homes and centers for the displaced, in hospitals and clinics, market places, churches, mosques, and places of work. Interviews were conducted with government and United Nations officials, journalists, human rights activists, social workers, and members of national and international nongovernmental organizations. The names of all witnesses and survivors, except where noted, have been changed in order to protect their identity and ensure their privacy. We would also like to thank several people and organizations in Sierra Leone for their assistance given to Human Rights Watch; Helen Bash Taki from the Council of Churches of Sierra Leone (CCSL), Francis Kai-Kai from the Pioneers for Development and Sanitation (PIDESU), Beatrice Parkinson from the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), Isaac Lapia from Amnesty International, Muctarr Jalloh from Murray Town Camp, The National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights (NCDHR), Network Movement for Justice and Development, Médecins Sans Frontières, UNOMSIL, particularly the members of the Human Rights Section, UNICEF, Handicap International, the staff at Connaught Hospital, the members of the Sierra Leone Human Rights Committee, and lastly, and especially to so many people who were willing to relive their pain to tell their story.

Human Rights Watch

Africa Division

Human Rights Watch is dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.

We stand with victims and activists to bring offenders to justice, to prevent discrimination, to uphold political freedom and to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime.

We investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.

We challenge governments and those holding power to end abusive practices and respect international human rights law.

We enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all.

The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director; Michele Alexander, development director; Reed Brody, advocacy director; Carroll Bogert, communications director; Cynthia Brown, program director; Barbara Guglielmo, finance and administration director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Patrick Minges, publications director; Susan Osnos, associate director; Jemera Rone, counsel; Wilder Tayler, general counsel; and Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative. Jonathan Fanton is the chair of the board. Robert L. Bernstein is the founding chair.

Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Peter Takirambudde is the executive director; Janet Fleischman is the Washington director; Suliman Ali Baldo is the senior researcher; Alex Vines is the research associate; Bronwen Manby and Binaifer Nowrojee are counsels; Zachary Freeman is the administrative associate; Alison DesForges is a consultant; and Peter Bouckaert is the Orville Schell Fellow. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee.

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[1]Human Rights Watch interview, United Nations Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU), Freetown, May 18, l999.

[2]A collection of rooms or small dwellings, often behind one wall, which houses members of an extended family or several families and which share cooking, washing, and toilet facilities.

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

[4]The Kamajors are traditional hunters from the Mende ethnic group in the southern and eastern regions of Sierra Leone who believe in supernatural and ancestral powers. The Mende is Sierra Leone's largest tribe comprising some 30 percent of the population.

[5]Since the NPRC regime, Sierra Leonean Army soldiers and officers had been accused of colluding with the rebels to exploit the country's diamond reserves. The army was accused of exchanging weapons for diamonds from the RUF, giving them military information, and withdrawing from bases so as to allow rebels to take over diamond rich areas. Such allegations led to a loss of faith in the country's military and the subsequent creation of civil defense forces, like the Kamajors.

[6]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 (A), October 1997 for a discussion of the Nigerian intervention in Sierra Leone.

[7]See Human Rights Watch, "Sowing Terror:Atrocities against Civilians in Sierra Leone," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.10, no.3 (A).

[8]ECOMOG Press Statement, issued Freetown, April 8, 1999.

[9]Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Arthur C. Williams, Freetown, April 20, l999.

[10]Human Rights Watch interview, Moses Sahr Lamine, Network Movement for Justice and Development, May 31, l999.

[11]Freetown's three main hospitals are Connaught Hospital, Brookfields Community Hospital, and Netland Hospital.

[12]Human Rights Watch interview, Martha Carey, Médecins Sans Frontières, May 27, l999. Study was done in Connaught Hospital on February 14, l999.

[13]Human Rights Watch phone interview, Omraie Golley, RUF spokesperson, Lomé, Togo, June 14, l999.

[14]A hand held Rocket Propelled Grenade, usually fired while resting on the shoulder.

[15]Human Rights Watch interview with James Kajue, Freetown, May 18, l999. Real names used.

[16]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, June 1, l999.

[17]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 15, l999.

[18]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 10, l999.

[19]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[20]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[21]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[22]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 16, l999.

[23]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 15, l999.

[24]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 28, l999.

[25]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[26]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 20, l999.

[27]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 13, l999.

[28]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 1, l999.

[29]Human Rights Watch interview, Alhaji M.C. Abubakar, Nigerian High Commissioner, Freetown, April 4, l999.

[30]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 8, l999.

[31]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[32]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[33]Human Rights Watch interview, Julius J. Momoh, Staff Officer of Sierra Leone Police, Freetown, May 18, l999.

[34]SSD officers were ordered to surrender their weapons by ECOMOG during the February l998 intervention which ousted the AFRC/RUF from the capital and subsequently reinstated democratically elected President Tejan Kabbah. Since then, SSD officers were only allowed to carry weapons when called to go to the war front on military operations.

[35]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 23, 1999.

[36]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[37]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[38]"SAJ" Solomon Musa, was an ex-SLA officer and under NPRC government was vice-chairman and secretary of state. In l997 he was appointed secretary of state with the AFRC/RUF Junta. He was killed in December l998, allegedly by an accidental explosion.

[39]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 2, 1999.

[40]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 17, l999.

[41]Alpha jet, used by Nigerian Air Force members of ECOMOG Nigerian contingent.

[42]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 29, l999.

[43]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 29, l999.

[44]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 2, l999.

[45]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[46]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 10, l999.

[47]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 12, l999.

[48]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 12, l999.

[49]Human Rights Watch interview, Medécins Sans Frontières, Freetown, May 6, l999. The cases of unsuccessful amputations were treated by MSF medical staff at Connaught Hospital.

[50]Human Rights Watch interviews, MSF, Freetown, May 6, 1999.

[51]Human Rights Watch interview, Morgue Attendants Connaught Hospital, Freetown, May 5, l999.

[52]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 12, l999.

[53]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[54]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[55]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 11, l999.

[56]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[57]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 11, l999.

[58]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 20, l999.

[59]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 11, l999.

[60]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 23, l999.

[61]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[62]Human Rights Watch interview, Nurse Ibrahim Conteh, Kissy Summertime Clinic, May 6, l999. The clinic also treated seven children between six to ten years old, and nine children between eleven to fifteen years old for injuries related to lacerations with axes, knives, and machetes.

[63]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[64]Human Rights Watch interview, Moses Sahr Lamine, Network Movement for Justice and Development, Freetown, May 31, l999.

[65]Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Kagbo Lebour, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[66]Human Rights Watch interviews, Freetown, May 4, May 8, and May 22, l999.

[67]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[68]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 18, l999.

[69]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 15, l999.

[70]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999. Human Rights Watch also interviewed clinic workers who had treated both women for serious injuries, including removing splinters from their vaginas.

[71]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 1, l999.

[72]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 12, l999.

[73]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 12, l999.

[74]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 24, 1999.

[75]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 15, l999.

[76]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 27, l999.

[77]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[78]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, Connaught Hospital Nurse, May 20, l999.

[79]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 12, l999.

[80]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 21, l999.

[81]Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Olayinka Koso-Thomas, Freetown, May 24, l999. Some 80 percent of females in Sierra Leone undergo female genital cutting. In Sierra Leone, the type of female genital cutting performed is excision; removal of the clitoris and labia minora, and when the wound heals there is a tightening of the vaginal tissue and resulting scar tissue which frequently leads to painful intercourse and possible bleeding.

[82]Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Olayinka Koso-Thomas, Freetown, May 25, 1999.

[83]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 27, l999. Human Rights Watch interview, Social Worker, Freetown, June 2, l999.

[84]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 23, l999.

[85]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 18, 1999.

[86]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 18, l999.

[87]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 20, l999.

[88]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 14, l999.

[89]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 21, l999.

[90]Rape in internal armed conflict is prohibited under Article 3, subparagraphs (a) and (c), common to the four Geneva Conventions of l949 and by Article 2(e) of Protocol II. For international armed conflict, this is established in the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, August 12, l949 (Fourth Geneva Convention), Arts. 27 and 147, 75 U.N.T.S. 287.

[91]Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 34.

[92]Human Rights Watch interview, Mrs. Jackson-Smith, Freetown, May 31, l999.

[93]Human Rights Watch interview, Roisin De Burca UNICEF, Freetown, June 7, l999.

[94]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 27, l999.

[95]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[96]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, June 1, l999.

[97]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 8, l999.

[98]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 27, l999.

[99]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 7, l999.

[100]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May ll, l999.

[101]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 17, 1999.

[102]Human Rights Watch interview, nurse, Curney Barnes Hospital, Freetown, May l0, l999.

[103]Human Rights Watch interview, nurse, Good Shephard Hospital, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[104]Human Rights Watch interview, nurse, Summertime Clinic, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[105]Human Rights Watch interview, nurse, Kissy Mental Hospital, May 6, l999.

[106]Human Rights Watch interview, doctor, Connaught Hospital, Freetown, May 3, l999.

[107]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, 1999.

[108]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 30, l999.

[109]The name of this ECOMOG captain was provided to Human Rights Watch but has been withheld.

[110]Many of the SLA soldiers had taken part in the l997 AFRC/RUF coup, and fled to the bush when ECOMOG expelled them from the capital. Their families, many of whom continued to live within the military barracks in the capital, were often accused of collaboration with ECOMOG.

[111]The civil defense units are unarmed units made up of local civilians. The CDUs were set up following the ECOMOG intervention of February l998 which ousted the AFRC/RUF junta and restored elected President Tejan Kabbah to power.

[112]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, June 7, l999.

[113]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[114]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 6, l999.

[115]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[116]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 21, l999.

[117]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 14, l999.

[118]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 19, l999.

[119]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 20, l999.

[120]Human Rights Watch interview, Colonel Buhari Musa, commander Freetown garrison, Freetown, June 11, 1999.

[121]Human Rights Watch phone interview, Lt. Colonel Chris Olukolade, Freetown, June ll, 1999.

[122]Human Rights Watch interview, Colonel Buhari Musa, commander Freetown garrison, Freetown, June 11, 1999.

[123]Fifth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York:United Nations, March 4, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/237, p.7.

[124]The membership in the committee includes representatives of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights, the Bar Association , the police, the media, civil society and the governments. UNOMSIL participates in an observer capacity.

[125]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 28, 1999.

[126]Nigerian newspaper report posted to "Sierra Leone Web," February 3,1999. Available at .

[127]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, June 11, 1999.

[128]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, May 20, l999.

[129]Human Rights Watch interview, Freetown, April 14, l999.

[130]Human Rights Watch interview, relief organization representative, Freetown, June 24, 1998.

[131]Nigerian support, through ECOMOG, for President Tejan Kabbah was perhaps motivated partly by domestic politics and by the desire of former military ruler Gen. Sani Abacha to gain credit on the international stage in the face of condemnation of his own dictatorial regime. Nevertheless, and although the ECOMOG intervention has been neither as effective nor as respectful for human rights on its own account as Sierra Leoneans would wish, it is undoubtedly true that the situation for many Sierra Leoneans has been significantly ameliorated by the presence of the ECOMOG forces.

[132]See Human Rights Watch/Africa, "Transition or Travesty," pp.38-41, for a discussion of the Nigerian role in the ECOMOG intervention in Sierra Leone.

[133]InterPress Service, May 31, 1999.

[134]Press conference led by Brig. Gen. Maxwell Khobe, Wilberforce military base, June 25, 1998, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

[135]United Nations Security Council Resolution 1132, October 8, 1997, U.N. document S/RES/1132 (1997).

[136]United Nations Security Council Resolution 1181, July 13, 1998, U.N. document S/RES/1181 (1998) (sponsored by the U.K.).

[137]Special Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York:United Nations, January 7, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/20, section II.

[138]Fifth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York:United Nations, March 4, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/237, paragraph 6.

[139]Sixth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York:United Nations, June 4, 1999), U.N. document S/1999/645, paragraph 55.

[140]Ibid., paragraph 57.

[141]United Nations Security Council Resolution 1245, June 11, 1999, U.N. document [S/RES/1245(1999)].

[142]Third Progress Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (New York:United Nations, December 16, 1998), U.N. document S/1998/1176, paragraph 8.

[143]Ibid., paragraph 9.

[144]Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sierra Leone Contact Group Meeting:Chairman's Concluding Statement (London, April 19, 1999).

[145]Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Statement on Sierra Leone (Private Notice Question Answered by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Robin Cook, House of Commons, London January 1, 1999), and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cook Welcomes Nigerian Support for Peace in Sierra Leone (Edited transcript of Press Conference by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, Nigerian Head of State General Abubakar and President Kabbah of Sierra Leone, Abuja, Nigeria, March 9, 1999).

[146]U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Susan E. Rice speech to the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives, March 23, 1999.

[147]The U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, made this pledge to the Nigerian President on May 5, 1999.

[148]The letter was signed by Alcee L. Hastings, Cynthia Mckinney, Eva M Clayton, Amo Houghton, Vernon Ehlers, Albert Wynn, and Tom Lantos.

[149]DG VIII Press Releases. Confirmed by Ms. Hals (DGVIII) on May 19, 1999.

This sixty-page report 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. Human Rights Watch documents 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.

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