abuses by AFRC and RUF forces since February 1998
Since their removal from power the AFRC and RUF have wreaked a campaign of
terror against unarmed civilians and human rights abuses have reached
unprecedented levels. Several thousand civilians have been brutally killed or
mutilated. Hundreds of others have been abducted from their villages and forced
to join their attackers. Members of the AFRC and the RUF again inflicted on
unarmed civilians the atrocities which they had endured throughout Sierra
Leone's internal armed conflict but now on a much greater scale .
The abuses perpetrated by rebel forces of the AFRC and RUF constitute the most
egregious violations of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions
of 1949 which apply to international conflicts - wars between nations - also
contain provisions which apply to internal armed conflicts. Article 3, common to
all four Conventions, extends to "armed conflict not of an international
character" fundamental rules for the protection of non-combatants which each
party to the conflict is "bound to apply, as a minimum". Under the terms of
common Article 3, people who take no active part or who have ceased to take an
active part in hostilities must be treated humanely in all circumstances. Common
Article 3 specifically prohibits: violence to life and person, in particular
murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; the taking of
hostages; and outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and
degrading treatment. This prohibition applies not only to government forces but
to all parties to internal armed conflicts including armed political groups.
Article 4 of the Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
relating to the protection of victims of internal armed conflicts prohibits
violence to life, health and physical well-being, in particular murder as well
as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation or any form of corporal
punishment, of all those not taking a direct part in hostilities or who have
ceased to take part in hostilities. 
In the days immediately after their removal from power by ECOMOG, AFRC and RUF
forces indiscriminately killed unarmed civilians, looted and burned houses, both
in Freetown and other towns. As the rebel forces were pursued eastwards by
ECOMOG forces through towns such as Bo in Southern Province, Kenema and Koidu in
Eastern Province and Makeni in Northern Province during February, March and
April 1998, they were responsible for widespread killings, torture and
ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual assault, and abduction.
Villages and towns were burnt to the ground, destroying thousands of homes.
Koidu, a major town in the diamond-rich Kono District, was almost totally
destroyed by AFRC and RUF forces and villages between Njaiama-Sewafe and Koidu
were repeatedly attacked.
Several foreign nationals were captured by RUF forces in mid-February 1998. They
included Spanish, Italian and Austrian religious brothers working at St Joseph's
Hospital in Lunsar, Port Loko District, Northern Province, who were abducted on
14 February 1998. Eldred Collins, a prominent RUF member, was reported to have
demanded the release of Foday Sankoh, at that time still detained in Nigeria, in
exchange for the release of the hostages. They were, however, released on 27
February 1998. Two staff of the humanitarian organization Médecins Sans
Frontières (MSF), a Canadian and a French national, were also abducted
around 14 February 1998 at Rogberi while driving between Port Loko and Lunsar.
They were also released after two weeks.
Those perceived to be opposed to the AFRC and the RUF were particularly targeted
by rebel forces. They included Catholic priests. As almost all other sectors of
Sierra Leonean society, the Catholic Church in Sierra Leone had condemned the
military coup. Catholic priests were specifically sought by AFRC and RUF forces
after February 1998 and some narrowly escaped death. Their homes were looted and
destroyed. Traditional leaders, known as Paramount Chiefs, were also singled
out; 44 Paramount Chiefs were reported to have been killed in the months
following February 1998.
"Operation no living thing"
An even more grotesque pattern of killing, rape and mutilation became evident in
April 1998 and the number of victims increased dramatically. Rebel forces called
their campaign of terror against civilians
"Operation no living thing". As fighting continued between ECOMOG and
rebel forces around Koidu attacks on civilians in villages in the area persisted
and then spread west and north. Later in April and into May 1998 Alikalia, Yifin
and other villages in Koinadugu District, Northern Province, were attacked.
Unarmed civilians who were taking no active part in the conflict were killed,
their homes burned and their villages destroyed.
Although the exact number of those killed is unknown, it is likely to be several
thousand. Most survivors of attacks described hundreds of bodies lying in the
bush where they had fled and of several members of their families and
communities being killed. More than 200 people were killed during an attack on
one village, Yifin, in Koinadugu District, in late April 1998. More than 650
bodies, many of them women and children, were reported to have been buried
following fighting in the area around Koidu in mid-June 1998.
With these attacks came reports of mutilations. The arms, hands, legs, ears and
lips of victims were deliberately cut off. By early May 1998 some 120 victims of
severe mutilations had been admitted to Connaught Hospital in the centre of
Freetown; about 60 were admitted on one day alone, 26 April 1998. Four had both
arms cut off, another 23 had one arm cut off, and others had deep lacerations on
their lower arms, severed tendons or broken bones in their arms after being
attacked with machetes. Some had a complete hand, several fingers or ears
missing. They were all civilians: farmers, housewives, traders, miners, school
students. These numbers swelled in the weeks and months which followed as more
victims arrived at Connaught Hospital and other hospitals in the north of the
country, including in Makeni and Magburaka. Some of these hospitals lacked the
equipment needed to perform war surgery. Connaught Hospital in the centre of
Freetown, which had the necessary facilities, struggled to cope with the
influx of patients. Between 6 April 1998 and 27 July 1998 an MSF surgical team
treated almost 300 patients with amputations, severe mutilations or gunshot
wounds at the hospital. The majority of the cases treated were lacerations to
the head or neck or amputations of arms, hands, fingers, ears or lips. About a
fifth of these victims were children, one aged 18 months. This number
represented, however, only a fraction of the number of such victims, many of
whom never reached medical help. Between 25 May 1998 and 12 June 1998
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegates evacuated 23 people
from the north of the country with gunshot wounds, deep lacerations and
amputated limbs requiring urgent reconstructive surgery. A helicopter was used
to reach areas inaccessible by road because of insecurity and fear of attack by
armed groups. Evacuation of wounded civilians continued throughout the
following months. According to humanitarian agencies in Freetown, only about one
in four victims of mutilations by rebel forces
survived their injuries. In June 1998 the ICRC rehabilitated Netland Hospital in
Freetown for the surgical treatment of victims of amputations. By the end of
September 1998, some 400 victims of amputations were reported to have undergone
surgery at Netland Hospital. By October 1998 estimates of the number of victims
of mutilations since February 1998 were put as high as 4,000.
Among the thousands of refugees arriving from Eastern and Northern Provinces
into Guinea to escape attacks were civilians with similar mutilations. Between
April and June 1998 some one hundred refugees were reported to have arrived in
Guinea with serious injuries; half of them had suffered deliberate mutilation.
By September 1998 a regional representative of the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 400 refugees in a camp at Kissidougou
in Guinea had hands, limbs or ears cut off or were suffering other injuries.
Many of the survivors provided accounts of the violence inflicted upon them.
Groups of armed men arrived in their villages, claiming to be ECOMOG, that they
had come to liberate the villagers and that they were safe. Forced out of their
homes, they realised that they were not ECOMOG troops. Civilians were rounded
up, in groups or in lines, and then taken individually to a pounding block in
the village where their hands, arms or legs were cut with a machete. In some
villages, after the civilians were rounded up, they were stripped naked. Men
were then ordered to rape members of their own family. If they refused, their
arms were cut off and the women were raped by rebel forces, often in front of
their husbands. As well as rape, women and girls also suffered other forms of
sexual assault such as having foreign objects inserted into their vaginas.
Victims of these atrocities also reported women and children being rounded up,
locked into houses which were then set alight.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Vieira de Mello,
following a visit to Sierra Leone, said on 15 June 1998 that the brutal
treatment of civilians by AFRC and RUF forces was unlike anything he had seen in
29 years of humanitarian work. Describing the pattern of amputations,
lacerations and maiming of civilians, including of children, he said that "hands
are cut off and ears and noses are amputated ... there are no words to condemn
this sort of practice ...".
Villagers from Kondeya, Kono District, fled into the bush when they heard that
rebel forces were approaching their village in early April 1998. On 9 April 1998
a group of about 50 rebel forces found them and captured about 120. One of the
men was strangled. A baby who was crying was pulled from its mother's back and
thrown into a river. They were forced to return to the village where all the
houses were burned. Twenty-seven of the captured villagers were then attacked
with machetes; some were decapitated, others had their throats cut or their eyes
Survivors were often taunted by rebel forces to go to ECOMOG and tell them that
the AFRC and RUF were there or to go to President Kabbah to ask for a new limb.
One was given a letter and told to deliver it to President Kabbah. Victims who
had one or both ears cut off were told that without their ears they could no
longer listen to the government or ECOMOG.
In some cases it took victims days or weeks to reach medical assistance. One man
who had both arms cut off in April 1998 walked for several weeks from village to
village until he was able to find a vehicle to take him to Freetown. Many more,
unable to reach a medical centre in time, died as a result of their injuries.
Some spent weeks in the bush either attempting to walk to safety or waiting
until it was safe to return to their homes. The fate of several thousand people
who fled into the bush during attacks on villages remains unknown. Many of those
wounded have died in the bush.
An Amnesty International delegation which visited Sierra Leone in May 1998 met
some of the victims of these atrocities at Connaught Hospital. One, a farmer
aged 40 from the village of Badala, in Koinadugu District, had both hands cut
off when the village was attacked on 3 May 1998. Hearing reports of advancing
attacks, including those on Yifin and Alikalia, he had previously sent his
family to safety in Kabala. At the time of the attack he was preparing food in
his compound. Up to 400 men, armed with machetes, AK 47 guns and rocket
propelled grenades entered the village. They caught him and asked him where
ECOMOG was. When he said that he did not know, he was hit on the head with an AK
47. He was then forced to lie down and both arms were cut off. He was also
beaten on his legs. He begged to be killed. The men who attacked him wrote three
letters and put them in the pockets of his trousers. He was then told to go to
tell President Kabbah that they were coming to Freetown, adding "No AFRC, no
peace". He lay injured for three days in Badala and arrived at Connaught
Hospital four days later. He had no news of his wife and three children. Other
villagers, of all ages, from Badala were also mutilated and killed; they
included a woman who was raped and then cut with machetes.
Another of the victims, a 15-year-old schoolboy from Koidu who had arrived at
Connaught Hospital on 10 May 1998, had suffered severe lacerations to his right
ankle in an attempted amputation. He and his family - his parents and six
brothers and sisters - had been hiding in the bush for more than two months
after being driven from Koidu after it was attacked by rebel forces. They had no
food throughout that time other than bananas. On 1 May 1998 the family had heard
reports that ECOMOG had arrived in Koidu and they went to enter the eastern part
of the town. They and those with them were attacked by rebel forces who accused
them of supporting President Kabbah. Almost 50 people were killed. The young boy
stayed for four days in a house without food or treatment for his severely
injured leg. He was taken first to Makeni by ECOMOG forces and then brought to
Connaught Hospital. He did not know what had happened to his family.
Three young women survived an attack on the village of Boima in Bombali
District, Northern Province, on 7 May 1998; one had a deep cut to her arm, the
other two had been beaten all over their bodies. One of the women had witnessed
the killing of several members of her family, including her children. Twelve
people, including three of her children, died when their house was set alight.
Another child, a girl aged three, was pulled from her back and cut with
There were many atrocities in villages around Karina, between Makeni and Fadugu,
in Northern Province, which were attacked on 7 May 1998. All those who were
unable to run away were killed; others had limbs amputated.
In an incident which occurred on 7 May 1998 in Northern Province, a woman
survivor recounted that one of her sisters had been killed by having her throat
cut and two others were covered in kerosene and burned. Other victims, including
children, were wrapped in a foam mattress which was then set alight.
The village of Tumbodu, north of Koidu, was attacked repeatedly during April and
May 1998. During one of these attacks, on 11 May 1998, a woman aged in her
twenties who was hiding in the bush outside the town was caught and asked for
rice, which she did not have. She was forced to carry a heavy load; when she
faltered she was beaten. When she reached Tumbodu she was forced to place her
legs on a stone which were then cut in an attempted amputation. She suffered
deep laceration to both legs and also to her arms. She arrived in Connaught
Hospital on 15 May 1998. Her 10-year-old son was abducted by the rebels.
Massenbendu, a village close to Tumbodu, was also attacked on 11 May 1998. One
of the victims, a farmer, was in his house when the door was broken down by
rebel forces who demanded money; he said that he had none. Rebel forces told him
that they were going to kill him because he supported President Kabbah. He
sustained deep lacerations to his neck, head and arms. He was taken first to an
ECOMOG base at Masingbi and was then transferred to Freetown. Three members of
his family - two men and a small boy -were abducted.
Human rights abuses by rebel forces since July 1998
Atrocities declined significantly during July and August 1998 as the rainy
season advanced. Despite this decreased level of atrocities concerns remained
that rebel forces could mount future attacks against unarmed civilians. In his
First Progress Report on UNOMSIL, the UN Secretary-General said that he remained
"deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians in the country, who
may still be suffering the depredations of the rebel forces or at risk from
Incidents of killing and mutilations continued to be reported. On 27 July
1998 rebel forces, after feigning surrender, attacked Kabala was held by ECOMOG.
Rebel forces threatened to use civilians as human shields. No mutilations were
reported but a large number of civilians, including children and young people,
were reported to have been abducted. Rebel forces held Kabala for about four
days before it was retaken by ECOMOG. Some 200 houses had been destroyed,
property was looted and money extorted from civilians. All relief goods, medical
supplies and logistics for humanitarian efforts had been looted or destroyed. At
about the same time, rebel forces attacked a bus carrying civilians about 10
kilometres south of Kabala, killing seven people. Three young boys were also
reported to have been abducted.
During attacks on villages in the area of Gbinti, Port Loko District, in early
August 1998 victims of killings and mutilations included three women and a
two-year-old child who were subsequently admitted to hospital with gunshot
wounds, either to the backs of their bodies or their head. Three men were also
admitted to hospital with deep lacerations apparently inflicted in attempted
In late August and during September 1998 an escalation of attacks was reported
in Northern Province. Reports began to be received of victims having the
initials "AFRC" carved into their foreheads and backs. Around 24 August 1998
there were attacks on villages, including Thawuya and Masunthu, in Kambia
District. Several civilians were subsequently admitted to the Government
Hospital in the town of Kambia with amputated limbs or severe lacerations. Three
had both hands and ears amputated; others had deep wounds to their arms,
shoulders and faces. One of the victims was a three-month-old baby with
lacerations to the nape of its neck. On 6 September 1998 the town of Kamalu,
near Kamakwie, in Bombali District, was attacked by rebel forces. At least 40
civilians, including children, were reported to have been killed in the attack;
others were seriously injured with machete wounds. Some of those killed had been
first been subjected to torture and sexual abuse; others had been burned alive.
A Paramount Chief, Samura Bangura, was reported to have been abducted from
Kamalu, together with some 50 others. On 11 September 1998 Fadugu, Koinadugu
District, was attacked. According to reports, during that attack eight
civilians, including a Paramount Chief, Alimamy Fanna Thoronka II, were burned
Three villages in Kambia District, Yebaya, Kathatinah and Kakula, were reported
to have been attacked by around one hundred rebel forces on 12 September 1998,
resulting in the deaths of at least 16 civilians. According to witnesses of the
attack on Yebaya, at least nine people were killed either by being shot or
attacked with machetes. In late September 1998 and early October 1998 more than
50 people were reported to have been killed in attacks in Kambia District, near
the border with Guinea, including on the village of Kukuna, and at least 25
civilians were reported to have been mutilated, including by amputations, by
On 8 October 1998 the town of Mange in Port Loko District, some 150 kilometres
from Freetown and on the main road to Guinea, was attacked by more than 200
rebel forces in an attempt to gain control of a strategic bridge. Some 25
civilians were reported to have been killed in the attack but the toll was
expected to be higher since rebel forces were reported to have set fire to more
than 40 homes, in some cases with civilians inside. Most of the town's 15,000
inhabitants fled and many of the wounded arrived at the hospital in the town of
Port Loko for treatment. ECOMOG forces maintained control of the bridge after
three days of fighting.
There were further attacks by rebel forces on villages in Bombali District
during September 1998. Among the victims were two men, Pa Bai Munu and Morlai
Munu, from the village of Mabunduka, between Pendembu and Mateboi, some 40
kilometres from Makeni. Pa Bai Munu, a farmer aged over 70, had fled his village
for Makeni following an earlier attack during which two other members of his
family, including Sorie Kabbie Munu, were abducted by rebel forces. The village
was burned. Other members of the same family, Pa Amadu Munu and Pa Santigie Munu,
had been killed by having their throats cut during an attack on Mateboi in May
1998. Pa Bai Munu later returned to a village, Four Road Loko, close to his home
at Mabunduka. He, Morlai Munu and about 20 other people were killed when Four
Road Loko was attacked on 16 September 1998. According to reports, Pa Bai Munu
was tied by the neck and dragged for about 10 kilometres before he was hacked to
death and his body mutilated. At least six members of the family had been killed
Attacks on villages around Kabala, including Benikoro and Badala, resumed and
intensified during September 1998. The town of Kabala itself, earlier attacked
and held briefly by rebel forces in late July 1998, was again attacked on 18
September 1998. Some 20 civilians were reported to have been killed and houses
burned. Among the victims who were evacuated to Freetown by the ICRC were three
children, two of whom were suffering from extensive burns. One of them had
hidden with his family in a hut which was set alight by rebel forces; he was the
On 24 October 1998, apparently in retaliation at the death sentence imposed on
Foday Sankoh the previous day, the village of Alikalia was attacked by some 300
rebel forces. Reports of the attack referred to civilians, including women and
children, being shot, decapitated or having their arms amputated. Civilian
survivors of the attack on Alikalia were admitted to Connaught Hospital with
gunshot wounds and multiple lacerations.
Attacks by rebel forces also escalated in Kenema District from August 1998.
Among the villages affected were Mendekelema, Neama and Sandaru, which was
completely destroyed, less than 30 kilometres from the town of Kenema. One of
the victims of the attack on Mendekelema in late August 1998 had both hands
amputated. Survivors of attacks consistently described mutilation, rape,
torture, killing and the burning of houses. Entire local communities were
displaced from the area, many fleeing to the towns of Kenema, Segbwema and Daru.