Children are the frequent targets of brutal, indiscriminate acts of violence by the AFRC/RUF.16 Children are murdered, mutilated, tortured, beaten, raped, enslaved for sexual purposes, forced to work, and forced to become soldiers by the AFRC/RUF.
In addition to violating the instruments of international humanitarian law cited above, these crimes violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which makes explicit children’s right to life and freedom from sexual abuse, abduction and forced recruitment, among other rights.17
Examples of these types of violations were frequent. Sam R., a farmer in the Koidu area, saw six of his children and his wife attacked in front of his house on June 12. He recalled,
They accused me of being a Kamajor. When they want to kill you, they accuse you of anything. There is no reason. I am a farmer. I don’t vote. I have no money. They burnt my house.18
At about 4:00 a.m., I heard bombs and gunshots outside my house. The rebels came and banged on the door. They said they would kill us all outside. My wife took five of the children outside. I stayed inside with one. My wife threw herself on top of two of the children to protect them. They shot my wife, killed two of the children, shot my seven-year-old through the stomach, and cut another one on the buttocks. Two got away.19
Human Rights Watch received documentation on dozens of similar cases. According to medical records, out of 265 war wounded patients admitted to Connaught hospital from April 1 though June 20, approximately one-quarter were children. According to reports from humanitarian agencies, 111 children died between February 15 and 24, 1998 during AFRC/RUF attacks in the Bo area.20
Women and girls are the primary targets of widespread rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of sexual violence.21 Although the exact number of those raped will never be known, testimonies from survivors confirm that sexual violence has been widespread, against thousands of women and girls. Furthermore, no comprehensive medical statistics have been compiled on rape-related injuries or on pregnancies as a result of rape. Those who have witnessed, or endured and survived these and other atrocities are suffering enormous psychological trauma.
Women and girls are brutally raped and gang-raped at gunpoint and knife point by AFRC/RUF soldiers or raped with objects, such as sticks. Often, the rapes occur in front of family members and others, and in some cases relatives are forced to rape their sisters, mothers or daughters. Women and girls are frequently abducted individually or collectively and kept as so-called “wives” for members of the AFRC/RUF. Some suffer rape or gang rape multiple times as they escape one AFRC/RUF group, only to be caught by another. Rape is also used as an immediate punishment for refusing to follow instructions or in retaliation for the acts of others held in captivity.
These crimes, and other forms of sexual violence, are explicitly and implicitly condemned under international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions prohibit rape in both international and internal conflicts.22 Likewise, rape, when committed on a mass scale against a civilian population, constitutes a crime against humanity. The Convention on the Rights of the Child further protects children from “all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.”23
The crimes of sexual violence committed by the AFRC/RUF against women and girls are often accompanied by other forms of violence. Murder or mutilation frequently follows these rapes. Many are forced to work as porters for the AFRC/RUF and witness their children being abducted, abused, or killed. Some women and young girls are abducted to care for the many young children captured by the AFRC/RUF.
Pregnant women are not spared from attacks by the AFRC/RUF. In light of the gruesome nature of the atrocities committed against them, these women seem to be targeted because of their status as pregnant women. Witnesses report having seen the mutilated bodies of pregnant women whose fetuses had been cut out of their wombs or who died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen. Some pregnant women are also forced into labor due to the extreme physical hardship of having to flee their homes, and at times die in flight due to complications in childbirth.
The AFRC/RUF’s rape and enslavement of women and girls for sex is not only a vicious expression of power over the individual, but also a means of expressing dominance over the community. Throughout the world, sexual violence is routinely directed against women and girls during situations of armed conflict as a weapon to terrorize a community and to achieve a political end. The humiliation, terror and pain inflicted by the rapist is meant to harm not only the individual victim but also to strip the humanity from the larger group of which she is a part. The rape of one person can be translated into an assault upon the community through the emphasis placed in every culture on women’s sexual virtue; the shame of the rape humiliates the family and all those associated with the survivor.
The following are some of the testimonies of Sierra Leonean women who survived or witnessed sexual violence, and of some of the service providers and others who witnessed the abuse or assisted them once they reached refugee camps in Guinea and hospitals in Sierra Leone.24
Ruth B. is a thirty-six-year-old farmer from Gandorhun, in Kono District. She fled her village when it was attacked by the AFRC/RUF, but was captured, beaten, raped, and forced to work. She ultimately escaped and made her way to Guinea. When Ruth described her one-month ordeal in captivity, she was visibly traumatized, in poor health and still bore scars on her back and legs. The back of her ankles had been sliced just below the Achilles tendon to prevent her from escaping:
They took three of my children and killed my husband. The rest of us ran away. But we were captured by the junta,25 and they took the women away to carry their loads. I was with them one month. They held us in a house. One day while we were there and they were away, another group came from Gongo and asked us what our mission was. We told them we were from Gandorhun, and they beat us. They beat us severely. They stomped on my stomach, and the next day, I was bleeding from my vagina as if I had had an operation. Now, I have a serious backache.
Later the two groups came together, and the second group told the first group that we were family members of the Kamajors. They used me for sex, and they cut my heels with their bayonets so I wouldn’t run or walk off. But I escaped into the bush even though I was wounded....
I didn’t know who captured me. They were older and younger—adults and children. Some had uniforms and machetes, and some wore ordinary clothes, like jeans, and had guns. There were lots of nicknames; one of them was called “Blood.” They said they didn’t like Kabbah and said, “If he’s there, we will continue to fight.” They were both Liberian and Sierra Leonean. I could tell from their language.26
Finda T. is a forty-five-year-old woman from Koidu town, Kono who fled with her family when the AFRC/RUF attacked at the end of February. She told Human Rights Watch how her family had been killed and how she had been raped by rebel soldiers:
The rebels caught us in the bush after my family and I had fled one Saturday in February. They killed my brother immediately, and they took my two children. One of them raped me. He used me as his wife, and another one beat me with a gun. They made me and others carry their loads. They told us to take their bags of rice back to Koidu town. They seriously used us. In Koidu, they took our clothes and freed us. I lived in the bush for two months using leaves to cover myself. Eventually, I found some people who showed me the way to Guinea. A child gave me her clothes, and I have only one dress now.27
In April, medical staff in Connaught Hospital, Freetown reported that they were witnessing an alarming number of patients suffering mutilations. A number of the female patients they interviewed were raped and had foreign objects inserted in their vaginas. They had been attacked by AFRC/RUF between April 15-25 in villages between Njaiama Sewafe and Koidu. The patients said the AFRC/RUF rounded up civilians in groups or lines, sent them to a cutting block and commenced limb amputations with a cutlass. Doctors reported:
In some villages, after the people were rounded up, they were stripped naked and ordered to “use their women;” men were ordered to “use” their sister. When men refused to do so, their arm was amputated, and the women were raped by the attackers.28
Alice M. is a forty-one-year-old former police officer from Jabwema Fiama, Kono, Sierra Leone, who is now a refugee in Guinea. On March 10, 1998, she and her family fled their home into the forest two days after the AFRC/RUF began to attack and loot her town. The AFRC/RUF captured her with her husband in the forest, but didn’t catch her children. They let her husband go, but seeing her police identification, they kept her. She remembered:
Commander Steven Gbenya and Sergeant Moussa captured me. They had also captured other police officers, whom they killed. The commander said he wasn’t going to kill me, and instead, he raped me all night. I cried and cried and prayed. I don’t know why, but early in the morning, about 6:00 a.m., he let me go. I think he felt sorry for me. He and Moussa escorted me out without telling anyone else and took me to a place in the bush. They deliberately raped many women. To save your life, you have to agree, or they will kill you. They are beastly.29