Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

Sierra Leone, Gross Human Rights Violations in

The conflict in Sierra Leone has its roots in a couple of factors including: 1) malgovernance and corruption leading to the squandering of revenues from diamond mining and the continuing severe impoverishment of Sierra Leone; and 2) regional instability including a dire civil war in neighbouring Liberia that facilitated the proliferation of small arms into Sierra Leone. The immediate trigger for the conflict was the invasion of Sierra Leone by Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in March of 1991. The RUF was supported by Charles Taylor (President of Liberia) who sought to destabilise Sierra Leone, a country that had acted as the rear base for the ECOMOG (West African) peacekeeping force that had prevented his take-over of Liberia in 1990.

Between 1991 and 1997 the Government of Sierra Leone fought a losing battle against the RUF and other rebel groups. In 1996 the government began to mobilise local militia groups (consolidated into the Civil Defence Forces or CDF) in order to fight the RUF. Both sides terrorised the people of Sierra Leone through their campaigns of murder, sexual violence, and mutilation. In 1997 the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) under the leadership of Paul Koroma staged a successful coup d’état and the AFRC and RUF joined forces.

Finally, in 1998 Nigerian forces (under a regional mandate) intervened and deposed the RUF/AFRC regime, forcing it to adopt guerrilla warfare tactics. Despite the Nigerian intervention the RUF/AFRC continued to fight voraciously in the countryside and the conflict reached a kind of stalemate. Revenues from "blood diamonds" fuelled and perpetuated the conflict. Between October 1998 and 2000 the RUF splinter group the West Side Boys also fought the government (and sometimes the RUF/AFRC). After a failed peace agreement (the Lomé Accord) which was violated by the RUF, who also took 500 UN peacekeepers hostage, true peace finally came to Sierra Leone in 2002 with elections following the signing of the Abuja Accord.

The conflict in Sierra Leone was characterised by its brutality. Gross human rights violations were common, including numerous war crimes and such crimes against humanity as unlawful imprisonment, murder, torture, rape, and inhumane and degrading treatment. The use of child soldiers was also rampant; for example, as many as 80% of the RUF troops were children. They were often abducted from their families and fed drugs such as amphetamines and tranquillisers in order to deaden their pain and fear. These crimes were committed by all sides including the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), CDF, AFRC, RUF, and the West Side Boys. In 2002 a hybrid court (the Special Court for Sierra Leone) was created to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for these atrocities.

End Notes

1 P.W. Singer Children at War, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006, p. 107.