Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Abuses Ignored

BBC Online
June 24, 1999

An international human rights organisation says that some of the worst violations of human rights in the world have been committed during the long-running civil war in Sierra Leone. Entire families have been gunned down in the street by rebels, children and adults have had their limbs hacked off with machetes, and girls have been taken to rebel bases and sexually abused, a Report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch says.

The report contains eyewitness accounts of mass murder by the rebels and systematic, organised rape. One witness saw a female rebel commander forcibly inspecting girls to see if they were virgins, and then handing over the virgins to the rebels for rape.

International Apathy

Human Rights Watch says the widespread violations in Sierra Leone have been largely ignored by the international community, and that this stands in stark contrast to Nato's firm reaction to human rights abuses in Kosovo. "This is not a war in which civilians are accidental victims," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "This is a war in which civilians are the targets."

He urged Mary Robinson, the UN high commissioner for human rights, to "mobilise international support for the investigation and punishment of Sierra Leone's war criminals." Mrs Robinson is scheduled to begin a visit to Sierra Leone on Thursday.

The report also, for the first time, documents abuses by the Nigerian-led intervention force, which backs the government in Sierra Leone, although it acknowledges that these are on a lesser scale. It accuses them of carrying out at least 180 extra-judicial executions of suspected rebels.

Setback for Peace

The release of the report follows a setback to hopes for peace in Sierra Leone, after the rebels rejected an offer of cabinet posts. The question of whether President Kabbah's government should share power with the Revolutionary United Front rebels has dominated the debate since the peace talks began.

The RUF has waged war on successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991. An estimated 20,000 people have died, and half of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million inhabitants have been displaced since the start of fighting nine years ago.

Human Rights Watch Report on Sierra Leone

More Information on Sierra Leone


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