Sierra Leone’s civil war began on March 23, 1991, when the student-led Revolutionary United Front (RUF) crossed the eastern border of Sierra Leone from Liberia. It was to last for 11 years.
During that time, it is estimated that 150,000 people died, more than half the country was rendered homeless, 600,000 refugees (12% of the population) fled to neighbouring countries, more than 200,000 women were raped, and about 1,000 civilians suffered the amputation of one or more limbs.
Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003 has been indicted by the Special Court in Sierra Leone, accused of crimes against humanity in the civil war in Sierra Leone. The case against Taylor alleges his material support for and encouragement of the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone (RUF) after the collapse of the Abidjan peace accords signed in November 1996. However, it is alleged that Taylor was at the heart of a shadowy international network of support for the RUF, which included Israeli, South African, Kenyan, and Ukrainian arms suppliers and diamond mining interests. Liberia briefly became a major exporter of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone. In effect, these “blood diamonds” paid for the ‘upkeep’ of the war.
The British government, under prime minister Tony Blair, has also been accused of fuelling the war. A report revealed collusion between the private security company assisting the exiled government of Sierra Leone and middle level officials of the British Foreign Office acting without proper political authorization. The Legg enquiry and subsequent parliamentary debate exposed an agent of British overseas military intelligence, earlier based in Namibia, who had become, after retirement in 1993, a representative of the mining company seeking a kimberlite diamond concession in Sierra Leone. It also disclosed the role played by the British ambassador, who had offered advice to the Kabba government on certain security options “in a private capacity.”
The Sierra Leone civil war was known internationally for its horrific atrocities – especially the widespread amputations of villagers’ limbs. But it is also infamous for the abuses directed specifically against women. Violence against women was not just incidental to the conflict, but was routinely used as a tool of war. Sexual violence was used in a widespread and systematic way as a weapon, and women were raped in extraordinarily brutal ways.
All armed groups carried out human rights violations against women and girls. These included killing, rape and other sexual violence, sexual slavery, slave labour, abduction, assault, amputation, forced pregnancy, disembowelment of pregnant women, torture, trafficking, mutilation, theft and the destruction of property. Women who were raped also confront marginalization. Because of the social stigma that is still widely attached to rape, many have been shunned by their own husbands, families and communities – or obliged to remain silent to avoid being ostracized.
On June 3, 2004, the Special Court for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone made a historic court decision. The Court affirmed that the recruitment and use of child soldiers was under its jurisdiction and an internationally illegal war crime.
Thirteen people from all warring factions in Sierra Leone have been indicted by the Special Court since November 2003, including Charles Taylor. Charges against indictees include conscription of children under the age of 15 into an armed force. It is estimated that more than 7,000 children were used as soldiers in the Sierra Leone conflict.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
DO THESE CONSTITUTE WAR CRIMES OR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?
SHOULD ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR THEM?
IF SO, WHO?