Sierra Leone: List of extremely violent events perpetrated during the War, 1991-2002

5 Mars, 2008
Leboeuf Aline

Introductory remarks to the entry

This entry attempts to present the known events of extreme violence that happened during the civil war in Sierra Leone, whilst placing them in their historical context. The civil war lasted from March 23, 1991 to January 11, 2002. According to the Crimes of War Project around 75,000 people lost their lives, 2 million were displaced and 20,000 were mutilated (Danny Hoffman, 2004: 216). However, according to David Keen, several different sets of figures are available, and “[their] origins [...] are rarely explained.” (Keen, 2005: 1)

As of yet there is no published academic research which provides a detailed historical narrative of the extremely violent events which resulted from the war, and that goes beyond the policy-oriented work of such organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, No Peace Without Justice or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report. There is, however, academic research explaining and contextualizing those events (see for example Richards, 1996; Keen, 2005; Gberie, 2005) but without trying to describe those extremely violent events themselves in detail. This is a “work in progress”, because it uses existing and reachable written sources: it can therefore only provide a temporary “story” of events. It is mainly drawn from sources of non academic literature, even though it refers at times to some articles or books that provide historical data on the war and scarce data on the extremely violent events that took place. It mainly uses four non-academic sources that can nonetheless be described as well-researched:

  • The reports of Amnesty International since 1996 (older reports have not been accessed yet).
  • The reports of Human Rights Watch since 1998
  • The small part of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report that can be found on the Internet (TRC, 2004). 
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created in Sierra Leone at the end of the war (in accordance with the Lomé Peace Agreement and the TRC Act, 2000) to reconcile the Sierra Leoneans and to confront the past. It sought to write the history of the causes, nature and extent of violations and abuses that took place during the war, using Sierra-Leoneans’ testimony. It delivered a report in October 2004 that was officially published only during the summer of 2005.
  • The “Conflict Mapping in Sierra Leone” Program of No Peace without Justice, 2004. No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), a human rights organization, won a European contract to “gather reliable information so as to put together an accurate picture of what happened in Sierra Leone” and to inform the Special Court of Sierra Leone. Basing their work on research conducted by Sierra Leonean NGOs, they published an “Executive summary” report that provides for a legal history of violations and abuses in Sierra Leone.

I. 1991 (March 23) - 1993: Beginning of the RUF insurgency against the Sierra Leone government and first occurrences of extreme violence on a limited scale.

On March 23, 1991, 385 Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters led by Foday Sankoh entered the Kailahun and Pujehun Districts in Sierra Leone from Liberia. They had trained in Camp Namma in Liberia. 2000 fighters from Charles Taylor’s NPFL (“Special Forces”) were deployed in Sierra Leone between March and April. Most of them were Liberian, with possibly a maximum of 100 other nationals from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, the Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea and Togo (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §72 and 380). The NPFL, or National Patriotic Front of Liberia, led by Charles Taylor, was the group that began the Liberian civil war in 1989.

The RUF opposed the All People Congress (APC) one-party regime of President Joseph Saidu Momoh, and later declared that it aimed to restore multi-party democracy in the region. Until June/July 1991 they enjoyed some limited success, acquiring control of up to a fifth of Sierra Leone. They began to attack SLA (Sierra Leone Army) positions in the south of Kono District. But then a counter-attack by the SLA - supported by Liberian militia forces recruited in the refugee camps (soon organized as ULIMO, the United Liberian Movement for Democracy, cf. Sawyer, 2004: 446) - forced them to retreat and challenged NPFL’s control of the Liberian side of the border. The RUF then lost control of several towns in the border region. Its Liberian back-up was severely restricted – according to Richards, the mercenary section of the RUF left Sierra Leone in 1992 (Richards, 1996: 8).

On April 29, 1992 a coup d’Etat by dissatisfied junior officers sent to the front paved the way for the establishment of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC), and Captain Valentine Strasser became head of state. The war continued, with the RUF pushing from Kailahun into the diamond-rich Kono district by September of 1992. Its capital Koidu was a major site of conflict during October and remained so through much of the rest of 1993. The SLA began to use the help of local civil militias to fight the RUF. By December , the RUF had lost control of Koidu, Pendembu and Kailahun town, and was thought to have effectively lost the war. The NPRC declared a unilateral ceasefire and this marked the beginning of a new phase.

During this period, the war developed into what can be seen as a more “conventional” war – especially compared to the rest of the conflict – on two fronts ( in the Kailahun and Pujehun Districts), with civilian settlements treated as strategic targets. Suitably, the TRC referred to this period as a “Conventional ‘Target’ Warfare” (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 125-131), even though this notion of conventionality should be used with caution. Civilian settlements were targeted by the RUF as military objectives (for control of the territory and recruitment), which resulted in systematic forced displacement of the population. The RUF targeted and killed individuals with political, economic and social power (Richards, 1996, p. 8). The mercenary part of the RUF movement also used terror and looting tactics in an excessive manner, but on a limited scale during this period (Richard, 1996; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §382). While the SLA apparently committed only a few acts of violence against civilians during the first part of the war, there are nevertheless reports that suspected “collaborators” with RUF were killed, as the SLA slowly began to adopt “RUF-like tactics” after the NPRC coup. 10,000 people may have died from 1991 to 1992, according to Zack-Williams (Zack-Williams, 1999).

** (Gberie, 2005: 58-79; Richards, 1996; Zack-Williams, 1999; Amnesty International, 1996a: 11; No Peace without Justice, 2004; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 125-131; Sawyer, 2004: 446; Keen, 2005: 84-106)

1991 (from March): The RUF’s inland-moving campaign. During their first two attacks on March 23, on Bomaru and Sienga (two villages on the Liberian border of Kailahun district) the RUF “killed one Sierra Leonean army major, one lieutenant and eleven civilians, looted the towns and withdrew into Liberia after troops from the neighboring Daru barracks counter-attacked,” according to Lansana Gberie.He also mentions that the NPFL had conducted other attacks earlier in Sierra Leonean territory (for example, on December 18, 1990) (Gberie, 2005: 59).

From March to July, as they were advancing through Kailahun and Pujehun Districts and then across Bonthe, Bo, Kenema and Kono Districts, RUF/NPFL forces abducted civilians to recruit them as combatants, or to carry looted property and perform domestic tasks. Around 800 civilians may have been abducted to work in farms in Kailahun District in July (No Peace without Justice, 2004: 73). Some of those forces – specifically those following instructions from Charles Taylor’s NPFL according to several sources (Richards, 1996; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 382) – killed civilians, including , according to NPWJ, possibly 100 people in Pujehun District in June and 62 people in Kailahun District in July (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 73). They are also reported to have also tortured civilians, committed sexual crimes, burned civilian residences, and targeted government and traditional authorities (all in unknown numbers).

Paul Richards contests that in order to compensate for its limited numbers of troops and occupation capacity, the RUF magnified local conflicts and used threats and rumors to regroup people in towns. They aimed to facilitate their military victories by emptying the towns they targeted. However, this tactic failed in the case of Bo on April 25, 1991, where it allowed government forces to counter-attack (Richards, 2003: 13).

* (Gberie, 2005: 59-62; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 15, 73; Richards, 1996; Richards, 2003: 13)

1991 (June-?): Execution of “rebel” suspects by SLA forces. As the SLA forces forced the RUF to retreat throughout Pujehun District, three sources mention that the SLA executed civilians suspected of collaborating with RUF forces (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 15, 77; Richards, 1996: 28; Keen, 2005: 88-90). Lansana Gberie visited Pujehun town in October 1991, after Ulimo captured it from the RUF, and collected testimonies of RUF violence (at least five people may have been executed for being caught listening to the radio; many conscripted schoolboys and girls were forced “to commit atrocities against family members and neighbors as part of the ‘initiation’ process”). He also raised evidence of the Ulimo force having exposed the decapitated heads of “captured rebels” (Gberie, 2005: 65). According to No Peace Without Justice, this targeting of “collaborators” went as far as considering “the entire civilian population in the areas” they had retaken as collaborators. During January-April 1992 the SLA forces apparently committed numerous crimes - including murder, enslavement, deportation, rape and amputations (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 77).

** (Gberie, 2005: 65-66; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 15, 77; Richards, 1996: 28; Keen, 2005: 88-90)

1992 (February?-?): The NPFL faction’s campaign of violence in Kailahun. From February 1992 to August 1992, or from April 1992 to May 1993 (there is no consensus on the precise dates), the NPFL faction apparently led a concerted campaign of indiscriminate violence (widespread killing, torture, rapes, possibly “cannibalism”) against the civilian population of the Kailahun District. According to NPWJ, a special unit known as “T 20” was initially responsible for these terror operations; in 1993, they were carried out by “TAP 30” and “TAP Final” (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16).

* (TRC, part 2, ch. 2, §383; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16)

1992 (April): Human rights violations by the SLA following the coup. According to NPWJ, following the NPRC coup, SLA forces looted civilians’ shops and residences in the Western area, and inflicted violence upon civilians.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 15)

1992 (from September/October): The Koidu battle. From September/October 1992 to February 1993, the RUF led a sustained assault on Koidu Town, Kono District, which it occupied and then lost again in late October. During this assault the RUF apparently killed chiefs, government officials, business people and members of the Lebanese community (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §130).

The SLA, supported by civil militiamen and women from the Koinadugu District, known as Tamaboros, committed numerous atrocities as it attempted to dislodge the RUF from Kono District. They targeted all the people that they considered as “collaborators” in a very broad sense. Colonel K.I.S. Kamara, an SLA officer, was allegedly among the officers who carried out numerous acts of torture on captured rebel suspects (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 219).

Paul Richards mentions that at that point, the changes in the composition of the SLA were already beginning to influence its military efficiency and its behavior. Some fraternization with the enemy occurred; this could have helped the RUF to achieve its first successes. Furthermore, the SLA had become interested in diamond-mining, which caused some civilians to be forcefully displaced for “security” reasons (Richards, 1996: 12).

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §130 and 219; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16; Richards, 1996: 12)

1992 (December): 26 executions ordered by the NPRC Junta. The NPRC Junta executed at least 26 political prisoners from the APC regime without due process of law (29 according to Gberie, according to whom some of those executed were actually murdered in their own homes – and had not been previously arrested), including the former Inspector-General of Police Bambay Kamara, a former Brigade Commander for the Eastern Province, Colonel Yayah Kanu and the former army quarter master, Colonel K. M. S. Dumbuya. A decree retrospectively tried to justify the executions by describing the persons killed as “coup plotters.”

*** (Gberie, 2005: 79; Richards, 1996: 12-13; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §207, 220)

1992 (from December): Pujehun district attack. From December 1992 to January 1993, during a brief attack into Pujehun District the RUF allegedly routinely killed, raped, and abducted civilians and burnt down civilian houses.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16)

1993: Key RUF commanders were killed, apparently by other RUF members. Up to 40 RUF members were tortured and summarily executed in the Kailahun District. The TRC holds Foday Sankoh and Sam Bokarie are held responsible for those executions. Some of Sankoh’s rivals within the RUF were eliminated, including the erstwhile second-in-command Rashid Mansaray.

Up to 25 RUF members, many of them of Northern descent, were tortured and summarily executed in the Pujehun District. Gibril Massaquoi is held responsible for these executions by the TRC. He and some of his Mende followers may have used those executions to reshape the leadership of the movement on the Southern Front. “Some of the most popular and credible commanders in the RUF’s First Battalion” (according to the TRC) were eliminated, including the erstwhile Battalion Commander Patrick Lamin.

* (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §122, 155, 156)

II. 1994 – 1997 (April): Combatants that were sometimes hard to identify systematically and specifically targeted civilians.

During this period, numerous attacks and human rights violations against the civilian population were committed by groups of combatants who were not always easy to identify. They were mainly RUF combatants – sometimes wearing military uniforms (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §138 and 146; Richards, 2003: 10) – but also Sierra Leone armed forces, or “sobels” (rebels and/or soldiers hiding their true identity and often considered to be “soldiers by day, rebels by night”), or on some limited occasions, Civil Defence Forces and possibly their private security companies’ instructors (like Executive Outcomes), and Nigerian forces. Paul Richards argues that “irregulars” allied to one group or another also contributed to blurring both the identities and the goals of the protagonists (Richards, 2003: 10).

Attacks against civilians became a central feature of the war. They were used to scare, control and sometimes enslave the population in order to loot their properties and mine diamonds. Terror was also a means to send strategic messages, for example, during the first amputations’ campaigns aimed at preventing elections. The parties who did not use terror tactics nevertheless undertook retaliatory actions, including summary killings against members of the civilian population.

The SLA forces had swelled by this stage, but its command and control was severely weakened, which limited the effect of its counterinsurgency tactics and resulted in increased abuse of civilians. There were also occasions when military forces cooperated with rebels, for example by disappearing before “rebels” attacked (David Keen, 2005: 107-131). Part of the SLA began to oppose any democratic election, which could have put an end to war profiteering (from diamond-mining or looting, for example). It resisted the increased support that the newly elected government was giving to the CDF to fight the RUF, until SLA elements mounted a coup against this government in May of 1997. In fact, tensions between local defense militias and the SLA began some time before the elections.

The RUF remained one of the main perpetrators of violence against the civilian population – it was the main perpetrator group according to the TRC (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 107) – and the sole perpetrator of violence in the Northern Province according to Amnesty International (Amnesty International 18: 12-13). The RUF went on destroying symbols and institutions of authority in Sierra Leone. It adopted a new strategy based on guerilla warfare that resulted first in ambushes, then in “hit-and-run” tactics – especially after November 1994 (Richards, 1996: 6). The RUF committed increasingly indiscriminate human rights violations (killing civilians, sexual violence, mutilations, destruction of property, and detention of civilians) either as a result of pressure put on commandos to release their aggressiveness (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 134), or as an attempt to counter strategic weakness (Richards, 1996: 25). According to Paul Richards, the RUF evolved in the direction of a sectarian movement (following its retreat in the forest reserves in 1993) and began using violence to consolidate the movement as a group and protect it from outside (Richards, 1998). Indiscipline weak command and control were also possibly causes of some of the worst human rights violations. By 1995, the RUF had expanded its operations so broadly that it was present in every one of Sierra Leone’s 12 Provincial Districts. During 1993-1997, according to the TRC, the RUF committed “several massacres of entire resident populations of townships in each of the Provinces of the country.” (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §137)

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 107, 132-139; Richards, 1998, 2003; Amnesty International, 1996a; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 17-24; Kandeh, 1999: 362-364; Gberie, 2005: 80-96; Keen, 2005: 107-159)

1993 (December) - 1994 (September): RUF attacks in several Districts. According to NPWJ, following the NPRC unilateral ceasefire, RUF forces re-entered Kenema District from Liberia until they managed to occupy seven chiefdoms in the South of the district. They then proceeded with attacks in other districts. We have few details about what happened during those attacks, but according to NPWJ, in so doing, the RUF clearly “inflicted violence on the civilian population.”

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16, 112)

1994 (from March): Combatants that were difficult to identify committed acts of extreme violence against civilians in the Eastern Province. A possible pattern of soldiers or “sobels” specifically targeting engaged civilians must also be underlined.

** (Richards, 1996: 13-15; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16-17; Amnesty International, 1996a: 9-10)

1994 (from December): RUF expansion towards Freetown and its slow retreat. RUF began a campaign heading towards Freetown, following a pattern of ambushes and hit-and-run tactics against existing settlements. Rather than controlling those settlements, it preferred to create its own “RUF-style” camps instead and operate from these bases. However, the RUF began to meet stronger resistance not only from pro-government forces, but also from self-organized local populations like those of Bo.

There is some agreement that RUF staged ambushes against major highways (Bo-Kenema; Koidu-Makeni; Freetown-Makeni; Bo-Freetown) during this period – especially in December 1994 (Richards, 1996: 13-15; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 16). However, the extreme violence against civilians which resulted or may have resulted from those or other ambushes are little documented, and those partly documented may not have all been caused by RUF.

** (Richards, 1996: 13-18; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 15-16, 74-75)

1994 (December 24): Attack on IDP camps near Bo. According to NPWJ, the SLA had forced “thousands of” civilians in Pujehun District to resettle in an internally displaced persons’ camp at Gondama, near Bo, where they were to be protected by Nigerian forces. This camp was attacked by the RUF in December. The NPWJ first wrote that the RUF killed “hundreds of civilians” but then mentions only “dozens of” civilians killed (NPWJ: 17, 74). Richards does not mention any civilian deaths, but presents the attack as the result of disguise and infiltration (Richards, 1996: 15). Keen observes that there were also allegations that the attack on Gondama camp had involved government troops (Keen, 2005: 136).

NPWJ mentions that RUF also attacked an IDP camp in Gerihun, first unsuccessfully in November 1994 and then a second time in 1995. During this second attack, RUF forces may have killed “over 100 civilians” according to NPWJ (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 17, 19).

* (Keen: 134 - 136; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 17, 19, 74; Richards, 1996: 15; Gberie, 2005: 87-88)

1995 (February): Possible massacres in Tihun, Bonthe District. RUF tried to take control of Bonthe District throughout 1995. There is little data on those events, but according to NPJW, they resulted in high levels of violence against civilians. NPJW even asserts that in Tihun, Sogbini Chiefdom, RUF killed 300 people.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 75)

1995 (from September): Increasing pressure on RUF and the imminence of the elections resulted in increased levels of violence against civilians. According to Richards, this was due to an efficient NPRC amnesty policy that caused many defections within RUF ranks, and to military pressure from government forces supported by Executive Outcomes, which made the RUF’s position more fragile during this period; it responded by extreme violence (Richards, 1996: 17, 31). The RUF may also have used this violence as a way to halt the rice harvest and deter possible defectors within its ranks (Richards, 1996: 6, 15). For example, the RUF was certainly responsible for the beheading of 15 women in villages in September-October 1995 between Bo and Moyamba (Richards, 1996: 6).

When the decision to hold elections was taken, the RUF opposed it and launched an operation against the civilian population to deliberately undermine the elections. People were prevented from voting by chopping off their hands, a barbaric act that was also used in an attempt to attract the attention of the international community. Some SLA soldiers and “sobels” also engaged in acts of violence during the election process simply because they opposed it.

** (Richards, 1996: 17; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §139, 150, 151, 191; Amnesty International, 1996a)

1995 (October): Possible mass killing in Bauya Junction, Bonthe District. According to NPWJ, RUF gathered thousands of civilians at Bauya Junction, Kpanda Kemo Chiefdom. It then allegedly killed hundreds of them. Over 1000 skulls were reported to have been found there “a few years later.” This may have been the result of RUF being defeated in parts of the Bonthe District.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 21, 75)

1996 (late January-March 15): The intimidation campaign organized during the elections by both the soldiers and the RUF. On February 26-27, the first rounds of the presidential and the legislative elections were organized. On March 15, 1996, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (SLPP) was elected President with 59.9 % of the vote. He was sworn in as President on March 29. During the election period violence against civilian populations increased.

** (Amnesty International, 1996a: 4-5; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 21; Keen, 2005: 154)

1996 (February 17-29): Attacks in Kambia District. Some 60 villages may have been attacked in Tonko Limba, Braiama, Masungbala and Magbema Chiefdoms in Kambia District, resulting in the deaths of “dozens of” people and more than 30 abductions, according to Amnesty International (Amnesty International, 1996a: 17). NPWJ mentions attacks by RUF forces in Madina, Kukuna and Rokupr in Kambia District that reportedly caused “brutal killings of civilians,” according to NPWJ (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 21).

* (Amnesty International, 1996a: 17, No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 21)

1996 (March 17-April): Twomonth cease-fire

Following the announcement of a two-month cease-fire, negotiations began between President Kabbah and the RUF in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. However, the fighting went on as both parties tried to strengthen their bargaining position. Violence against civilians also continued.

* (Amnesty International, 1996a)

1996 (from May): Confrontations between RUF and Kamajors resulted in an increased intensity of violence, as civilians were caught in the cross-fire or suffered from reprisals from the combatants.

* (Amnesty International, 1996a: 18; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 22-23)

1996 (May 4): Kamajor offensive against the RUF at Bendu, Pujehun District. Kamajors apparently tried to free people abducted by the rebel forces. As many as 100 civilians may have been killed during and after this offensive. The civilians were either caught in the cross-fire or were forced into houses and burned alive (Amnesty International’s report does not specify who killed them, the Kamajors or the rebels). Most of the victims were older people (between 50 and 75 years old); younger people were usually abducted.

* (Amnesty International, 1996a: 18)

1996 (May 10): In Gondama, Kamajei chiefdom, Moyamba District, between 60 to 100 civilians are thought to have been killed as the RUF returned to this village following a confrontation with Kamajors. Having wounded “many” villagers with gun shots or machetes, they reportedly abducted 15 people to carry looted goods, and then later killed them. It was obviously this “massacre” that a RUF combatant later referred to in June 1996 as a “retaliation action against Kamajors” who had attacked RUF camps, according to Richard. The combatant insisted on the fact that the villagers of Gondama had been helping Kamajors in their fight against RUF.

** (Amnesty International, 1996a:18; Richards, 1998: 100)

1996 (November 30): The Abidjan Peace treaty. The Abidjan Peace treaty was signed. Its provisions required that Executive Outcomes leave Sierra Leone, which it did officially on January 31, 1997. There were fewer reported occurrences of extreme violence during this period.

* (Amnesty International, 1996b: 1)

1997 (April): Confrontations between the army and Kamajors in Kenema resulted in the deaths of at least 80 people, including 30 civilians, according to aid workers.

** (Keen, 2005: 199-200)

III. 1997 (May 25) - 1998 (February 12): After a military coup forced President Kabbah into exile, ECOMOG and CDFs tried to defeat the junta allied with RUF.

After a military coup on May 25, 1997, the newly-created junta (the AFRC, led by Major Johnny Paul Koroma) invited the RUF to join them in Freetown. Foday Sankoh, still held prisoner in Nigeria, officially became Sierra Leone’s Vice-President. Small parts of the country stayed under ECOMOG (Lungi airport) or Kamajor control (Moyamba District, mainland parts of Bonthe District, parts of Bo and Kenema District). ECOMOG and CDFs fought against the AFRC and RUF to allow the elected government to come back to power. As a result, new fronts were opened in the western parts of Sierra Leone. For the first time the capital Freetown directly suffered from the war: there was lawlessness, violently suppressed opposition to the coup and relentless shelling of the capital. Once more civilians were caught in the cross-fire, and suffered both from direct attacks with small weapons and also from shelling.

Foday Sankoh had been arrested in Nigeria on March 6, 1997. Since then Sam Bockarie had apparently seized the leadership of RUF. According to the TRC, this change in leadership had a direct effect on the RUF, resulting in increased competition for control of both the movement itself and its resources, leading, in turn, to increased brutality. Human rights violations against civilians increased (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §157).

From May 1997 onwards, and especially after February 1998, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between AFRC and RUF.

** (Amnesty International, 1997c; Zack-Williams, 1999; TRC; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 24-25, 75-76; Jalloh, 1999)

1997 (from May 25): Violence resulting from the coup and repression of opposition. On May 25 and during the following days, up to 100 people may have died in Freetown, both civilians and soldiers. Many others were allegedlyinjured. Numerous incidents of rape and looting have been reported, in which soldiers and RUF forces were frequently implicated.

In Bo, soldiers are said to have opened fire to disperse thousands of civilians protesting against the military coup, killing at least one person.

* (Amnesty International, 1997a: 1; Amnesty International, 1997b; Amnesty International, 1997c: 1; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 24; Gberie, 2005: 101)

1997 (from June): Victims of shelling by Nigerian warships. Nigerian troops opposed the coup and used force to try to return President Kabbah to power.

In June Nigerian warships and jets shelled parts of Freetown in order to defeat the AFRC. They killed civilians and destroyed houses as a result (Zack-Williams, 1999: 158; Amnesty International, 1997c: 4), but there is no consensus on a given number of deaths. Amnesty International refers to “at least 100 people” and mentions that “many others” may have been injured (Amnesty International, 1997c: 4), while Gberie mentions “over sixty civilians” killed and notes that “some say 300.” (Gberie, 2005: 112)

From September to October ECOWAS’s efforts to enforce the embargo resulted in further bombardments in Freetown. On October 23, 1997, the Conakry Accord was signed between the Junta and the Committee of Five representing CEDEAO (Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea), which stopped the shelling operations.

** (Zack-Williams, 1999: 158; Amnesty International, 1997c: 4, 5, 6; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 24- 25; Gberie, 2005: 112-113)

1997 (from June): AFRC/RUF searched for Kamajors in the provinces. RUF and AFRC tried to improve their control of the provinces by searching and killing suspected Kamajors and their supposed collaborators.

* (Amnesty International, 1997c: 14, 15; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 24-25, 75-76)

1997 (from August): Extrajudicial executions by AFRC. Several murders in Freetown were apparently extrajudicial executions by AFRC soldiers.

* (Amnesty International, 1997c: 15; Amnesty International, 1998c: 12)

1997 (from September): CDF reprisals on suspected AFRC collaborators. Responding to pressure from AFRC and RUF forces, and trying to help restore President Kabbah to power, the CDF/Kamajors allegedly frequently killed civilians whom they suspected of supporting the AFRC.

Four persons, including a woman, who were suspected of being AFRC soldiers or supporters, were reported to have been summarily executed by decapitation when Kamajors stopped their car on the road from Bo to Makeni (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25).

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 25, 78)

1997 (from December): CDF counter-offensive. The CDF/Kamajors carried out a counter-offensive that they called “Operation Black December” to block traffic between Freetown and the provinces. It apparently limited access to food and supplies especially in Bo, Kenema and Pujehun (NPWJ: 25). Aimed at weakening the strongholds of the AFRC in the Southern and Eastern Provinces, this counter-offensive reportedly also led to “massive and systematic human rights abuses including summary killings, torture and looting at checkpoints established by Kamajors” according to the TRC (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 355); NPWJ has a similar analysis, No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 25). In January, CDF forces may have summarily killed suspected supporters of the AFRC and RUF in two villages near the town of Rotifunk, Moyamba District (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25).

* (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 355; Amnesty International, 1998c: 25; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 25)

IV. 1998 (February-December): The retreat and revenge of the AFRC/RUF.

Following ECOMOG’s victory against the AFRC and Kabbah’s return to power, RUF and AFRC groups stayed in control of most of Sierra Leone’s rural territory; their control was very much disputed, however, especially in the internal “border” areas and the diamond fields. Disputed territories were often the site of revenge and looting raids by all parties. The fighting and the rapid fluctuations of the amount of territory under control of each group resulted in extreme violence against populations, sometimes in a deliberate and systematic way. From February to October, as many as 4,000 people may have been mutilated,according to Amnesty International’s estimates (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15).

The RUF and AFRC’s retreat from Freetown amounted to a scorched-earth campaign which they called “Operation Pay Yourself” (intensive looting) and “Operation No Living Thing.” Their defeat frustrated both groups and they took their revenge on civilians whom they saw as unsympathetic to their cause. The intensity of this violence appeared to have reached unprecedented levels according to NPWJ (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 27), but this is debatable since the amount of testimony and level of international interest had also increased during this period, which allowed for more data mining.

According to the TRC, a faction of approximately 2000 combatants, drawn largely from the former AFRC and a contingent of RUF, carried out a sustained campaign of abuse against civilians throughout the Northern Province. Solomon A.J. Musa, know as SAJ Musa (died 23 December 98), was the leader of this offensive. They targeted townships and villages from which they had been chased away by ECOMOG, to avenge earlier defeats (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 243-245, 248).

The Government, ECOMOG and CDFs took revenge against supposed AFRC supporters in the towns where they were back in power. Mob justice was prevalent. There were arbitrary executions and civilians were beaten on allegations of so-called “collaboration.”

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §242, 249; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 25-29; Gberie, 2005: 120-125)

1998 (from February 7): The fight for the control of Koidu, Kono District. The offensives and counter-offensives for the control of Koidu - and the acts of extreme violence against civilians that were committed as a result - were symptomatic of the revenge dynamics of this period.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25; Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 4, 7, 12)

1998 (from February 8): As they retreated following ECOMOG’s offensive, RUF/AFRC undertook revenge actions and raided useful facilities. From February 15 to 24, AFRC/RUF attacks in Bo District may have caused 111 children to die, according to reports from humanitarian agencies collected by Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 6).

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 13; Amnesty International, 1998a: 1; Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 5-6, 11).

1998 (from February 13): Extreme violence by Kamajors and civilians against RUF/AFRC supposed supporters. In the days following the removal of the AFRC and the RUF, there were cases of torture, ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions by Kamajors, including in Bo, Freetown and Koidu. At least 50 people may have been executed extra-judicially in Kenema because someone accused them of having supported the AFRC and RUF. Some of them were allegedly burned alive (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25).

On April 28, President Kabbah announced that the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) had been placed under the command of ECOMOG. The following day there were reports that a Kamajor leader in Bo had criticized the growing lawlessness of the Kamajors and had called for the registration of all CDF, who were apparently roaming the streets of Bo. Although they were under the command and control of ECOMOG, the behavior of the CDF continued to be undisciplined in the following months, particularly in areas outside their own villages, towns and districts. In June, reports of extrajudicial executions and torture of prisoners by Kamajors decreased significantly - apparently as a result of intervention by the government and ECOMOG - and the discipline of many CDF units improved significantly.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 25-26; Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 11-12; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 26-27)

1998 (from March): Increased targeting of civilians in Kono District. RUF/AFRC asserted their control of Koidu and of Kono District by raiding villages and targeting civilians and refugees. By mid-June, following the fighting in the area around Koidu, more than 650 bodies, many of them women and children, were reported to have been buried (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15). From April 15 to 25, villages between Njaiama Sewafe and Koidu were attacked by RUF/AFRC according to victims arriving in Connaught Hospital. Civilians apparently had been rounded up in groups or lines, sent to a “cutting block” and had limbs amputated with a cutlass (Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 7, referring to MSF report “Atrocities against civilians in Sierra Leone,” May 1998: 9).

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15-17; Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 4-5, 8; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 26-27)

1998 (April-May): RUF/AFRC repeatedly attacked the village of Tumbodu, north of Koidu (Amnesty International, 1998c: 17). During one of these attacks, a woman had her hand and forearm cut off by AFRC/RUF. She reported to Human Rights Watch that she had seen the combatants kill about 50 people.

* (Human Rights Watch, 1998a: 4)

1998 (May 1): A group of people who had fled Koidu heard reports that ECOMOG had arrived in Koidu and, therefore, decided to go back. On May 1, as they came back, the rebels attacked them, accusing them of supporting President Kabbah. 50 people may have been killed; one young boy suffered severe lacerations and submitted testimony in Connaught Hospital shortly after the attacks (Amnesty International, 1998c: 16).

1998 (April-June): Increased fighting in other parts of Sierra Leone. Kono District was not the only part of Sierra Leone that suffered from the raids and witnessed the targeting of civilians by RUF/AFRC forces. The Freetown hospitals experienced an increasing number of victims – all of whom were seen asking for help after the “rebels” (either AFRC, RUF, joint RUF/AFRC or non-identified combatants) had mutilated them. NGOs often asked those victims, some of whom came from Kono District, to describe their experience. From their stories NGOs reconstructed the pattern of attacks on villages and the extreme violence inflicted on the civilian population. NGOs also collected data on the number of wounded people cared for in Freetown hospitals during this period. From April 6 to July 27, an MSF surgical team in Connaught Hospital treated almost 1,300 patients with amputations, several mutilations or gunshot wounds. On April 26 alone, 60 civilian victims of mutilation were admitted to Connaught Hospital, in the center of Freetown, four of them had both arms cut off, 23 had one arm cut off), and others had deep lacerations on their lower arms, severed tendons or broken bones in their arms, and/or a complete hand, several fingers or ears missing. By early May, some 120 people had been admitted (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15).

** (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15)

Here is an example of one of the attacks reported:

1998 (late April): More than 200 people may have been killed during an attack on one village, Yifin, in Koinadugu district.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15)

1998 (July-August): Continued attacks and mutilation reports. From July to August attacks and mutilations appeared to be in decline because of the rainy season. On July 13, Security Council resolution 1181 created UNOMSIL [UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone] and on July 25, Foday Sankoh was handed over to Sierra Leonean authorities by Nigeria. However, soon after the end of the rainy season attack began to increase once more. For example, from late August to early September, there were reports of an escalation of attacks in Northern Province. There were accounts of victims having the initials “AFRC” carved into their foreheads and backs (Amnesty International, 1998c: 18). Some civilians continued to seek refuge and help in hospital and refugee camps. In September a regional representative of the UNHCR reported that more than 400 refugees in a camp at Kissidougou (Guinea) had had hands, limbs or ears cut off, or were suffering from various other injuries. Then from June to the end of September, in the ICRC rehabilitated Netland Hospital in Freetown for the surgical treatment of victims of amputations, 400 victims were reported to have undergone surgery (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15).

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 15-18)

1998 (September 11): Attack in Koinadugu District. On September 11, in Fadugu, Koinadugu District, eight civilians, including a Paramount Chief, Alimama Fanny Thoronka II, were reportedly burned alive during an attack.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 18)

1998 (from September): Attacks in Bombali District. On September 6, in the town of Kamalu, near Kamakwie, in Bombali District, an attack by rebel forces with machetes may have killed up to 40 civilians, including children, and may have seriously injured others. The “rebels” reportedly subjected some of their victims to torture and sexual abuse before killing them. 50 more people and a Paramount Chief, Samura Bangura, were also said to have been abducted (Amnesty International, 1998c: 18).

On September 16 during an attack on Four Road Loko, in the Bombali District, Pa Bai Munu and Morlai Munu from the village of Mabunduka were allegedly killed. Between Pendembu and Mateboi, some 40 km from Makeni, another 20 other people (Amnesty International, 1998c: 18) were said to have been murdered.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 18)

1998 (from October): A splinter group from AFRC began to operate in the Okra Hills area, south of Port Loko District (Koya and Maforki Chiefdom). They attacked villages in the area until April 1999 and may have killed “dozens of” civilians during this period. They reportedly hanged two of them, publicly executed 20 of them and burned 73 of them in a house in April 1999. They reportedly also enslaved, mutilated and raped civilians. This splinter group later became known as the “West Side Boys.”

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 28, 76)

1998 (October 19): 24 military officers were shot following a court-martial decision. A Sierra Leone government court-martial condemned 34 military officers, who were linked to the AFRC, to death for treason and other offences on October 12. 24 were summarily shot a week after the decision. The 10 others had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment by a special committee chaired by President Kabbah.

** (Amnesty International, 1998c: 34-35; Amnesty International, 1998d, TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §265; Human Rights Watch, 1998b; Human Rights Watch, 1998c)

1998 (October 24): Apparently in retaliation at the death sentence imposed on Foday Sankoh on October 23, the village of Alikalia was attacked by some 300 rebel forces. Civilians, including women and children, were allegedly shot, decapitated or had their arms amputated. Survivors were admitted to Connaught Hospital. Ten captured rebels were then reported to have been killed in retaliation.

* (Amnesty International, 1998c: 19, 26)

V. 1998 (20 December) - 1999 (January): The invasion of Freetown

On December 20, 1998 the AFRC/RUF took control of Kono Town. During the following days they led a successful offensive which finally allowed them to enter Freetown on January 6, 1999. This occupation lasted only two weeks, since the ECOMOG counter-offensive forced them out of Freetown after January 22. However, this short period of the war was like a replay of what had happened during the May 1997 coup, with the same revenge dynamics and the same offensive and withdrawal movements, but this time the conflict was concentrated in a shorter period. Human Rights Watch writes that the Senior Government Pathologist registered 7,335 buried corpses as a result of the offensive, of which between 2,215 (documented civilian deaths by a local NGO) or at least half of the 7,335 (human rights activists’ estimates) may have been civilians (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 2).

A group formed predominantly of former AFRC soldiers (but also RUF combatants) invaded part of Freetown on January 6, 1999. It was well equipped by the standards of the Sierra Leone conflict (with artillery pieces and other heavy weaponry). They released about 700 prisoners from the Pademba Road Prison (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 28; “several thousands” according to TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 253), some of whom then took part in the urban warfare.

During this offensive, violent tactics which had been developed during earlier phases of the war were used in a limited area and timeframe. . This led to an intensity of violence that would not have been possible in a less densely populated area where more exit options were available to civilians. Here, on the contrary, exit options were controlled and used against the civilians, with the AFRC/RUF group using the fleeing crowds as human shields.

According to the TRC, the invasion of Freetown was “the culmination of the destructive rampage through much of the Northern Province” by SAJ Musa’s group (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §250). The TRC also underlines the role of the West Side Boys (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §202). Groups within the ECOMOG and pro-government forces (Kamajors, Police) summarily executed civilians during most of this period, most of whom – but not all – were accused, falsely or otherwise, of supporting the “rebels”.

The AFRC/RUF offensive against Freetown began on December 20, 1998, but the “rebels” entered Freetown only on January 6, 1999. According to a doctor, on January 7there were already 200 corpses in Connaught Hospital’s morgue, then occupied by the RUF/AFRC (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 39). During the following few days, groups within the AFRC/RUF raped and mutilated and killed civilians, but it seems that most of the atrocities were committed during the second phase of the offensive, as ECOMOG and pro-government forces (Kamajors, Special Security Division [SSD]) launched a successful counter-offensive that pushed the “rebels” out of Freetown and increased their eagerness for revenge. This counter-offensive began on January 10. On January 22 the battle began for Calaba town (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 23). In the following days the RUF/AFRC offensive had been defeated and the second retreat of the group from Freetown areas was to be an even more violent scorched-earth campaign than what took place the year before.

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §248-253; Keen, 2002: 9; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 29, 76; Human Rights Watch, 1999b, 1999c; Gberie, 2005: 125-135; Keen, 2005: 227-247)

Because a chronological presentation of the numerous incidents involving extreme violence would perhaps be fastidious, in this part of the chronology, we chose to organize them according to the group that caused them, and to the type of events involved. In each of the “sub-groups”, dated events are presented first, followed by of which the exact date is unknown.

1999 (from January 6): During the offensive on Freetown the “rebels” committed numerous acts of organized violence against civilians. AFRC/RUF occupied the hospitals as support units and expelled patients so that they could have their combatants cared for instead. The hospital was then looted and the patients robbed (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 38). But more often the AFRC/RUF used civilians as human shields. Several of its groups abducted individuals to be used as human shields, and also for sexual slavery or to carry loot - especially as AFRC/RUF was retreating from Freetown. Some of its members and sub-groups organized group amputations, sexual exploitation and violence, or executed individuals suspected of belonging to ECOMOG. Some executed individuals and their family members. Others were burned to death, while other AFRC/RUF members and sub-groups carried out spontaneous and semi-organized attacks on civilian.

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999b; Keen, 2005: 227-229)

Organized executions of groups of civilians. On at least 3 occasions combatants organized the execution of groups of civilians. On one occasion they staged a fake liberation by ECOMOG to induce civilians to assemble so they could be killed more efficiently. In one such example, a group of civilians were slaughtered in a mosque. In another case, they tried to organize the mass execution of civilians in separate rooms of the same building following a particular schedule. The planning of such events appears to have been limited, and the last of them revealed that the AFRC/RUF leadership did not unanimously support these executions.

1999 (January 22): The Rogbalan Mosque massacre. 66 people were reportedly gunned down in the Rogbalan Mosque in Kissy. According to the testimony collected by HRW, “it was an organized, premeditated operation involving two groups of rebels and lasting approximately 45 minutes”. According to several survivors, “a few days prior, rebels had given warning that a massacre was going to be committed.” According to one survivor who was hiding under a mattress in the courtyard, and who testified to Human Rights Watch, rebels had been coming in and out of the mosque, where there was “a crowd” of both Muslims and Christians looking for safety. But at 10:00am at least four rebels came in wearing black clothes, one armed with a gun, one with a pistol, and two – including a ten-year old – with knives and machetes. The rebel with an AK47 killed one sixteen-year old boy sitting on the steps, then once inside, the man with a pistol began asking for money while the other two blocked the doors. One rebel was reported to have said “you bastard civilians, you don’t like us and we don’t like you”. Another began sprinkling gasoline on the people. Yet another shouted, “Our mission is to kill you and to cut your hands.” People began screaming, and the one with the gun began shooting, while the ten-year old boy stabbed the people trying to escape. The man with the gun walked to the women’s section and opened fire on the people gathered there. Then he came back to the only exit point and shot all the people who tried to escape. Some fifteen minutes or so after this began a second group of rebels arrived, some of them targeting the Islamic school. “Then at some point a whistle blew and the rebels rushed around searching for things to steal from the dead.”

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 4-5)

1999 (January, precise date unknown): According to a witness, a group of seven rebels rounded up people from their houses, including hers, and had them walk to a big house on Kissy Bypass Road. They were about 200 people who were divided in groups of about 60 by a commander who said that one group would die every hour. Each group was brought into a different room. At 9:00, the door of the first room was opened and they started shooting for about ten minutes. At 10:00, they tried to open the room in which the witness was imprisoned, but the people had locked it from the inside. The rebels threatened to burn them alive if they did not open the door, so they did. “When they opened the door the heat was so intense they said, what kind of hell is that and then ordered us out on the street for execution.” But then another commander arrived and, seeing what was happening, ordered that there be no more killing. “The commander apologized, saying they were RUF rag-tag boys.” Only four people had died in the room opened at 9:00, but many were wounded.

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 11)

1999 (January 7-29): Revenge attacks from pro-government forces against AFRC/RUF and their supposed supporters. While they tried to defend Freetown and repel the RUF, ECOMOG soldiers, Kamajors/CDF and SSD summarily executed disarmed rebel soldiers, and civilians whom they accused of being rebels or “collaborators.” These executions either took place occasionally in the streets or in buildings like the Jami Ul-Masjid mosque or Connaught Hospital; more routinely, they occurred in other fixed locations, such as Aberdeen Bridge.

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §396; Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2, 5-6; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 29; Keen, 2005: 244)

1999 (January 10-11): Connaught Hospital executions. After the RUF retreat following an ECOMOG counter-offensive (January 10-11), according to several Human Rights Watch witnesses, ECOMOG executed over 50 rebels in and around Connaught Hospital. Some were executed in the morgue where they were trying to hide (Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2).

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2)

1999 (January): Routinely occurring executions. HRW registered the testimony of witnesses who saw at least 97 executions on Aberdeen Bridge in Western Freetown, by ECOMOG, and to a lesser extent, CDF and SSD forces. During the rebel incursion, the bridge was under the command of an ECOMOG captain who was known as Captain Evil Spirit by the local population. According to the witnesses, small groups of young men were brought to the bridge where they were then executed and thrown into the bay. Ten ECOMOG soldiers, sometimes along with Captain Evil Spirit, reportedly killed most of them, but CDF-Kamajors may also have taken part. Allegedly, members of the SSD were often present and helped throw the bodies into the water.

A soldier reportedly told one HRW interviewee that most of the victims had been captured during military operations and at checkpoints in other parts of the capital. Many of the dead may have belonged to an informal organization of the sons of former SLA soldiers, living in the Murray Town Barracks or Wilberforce Barracks.

Executions reportedly also took place on the wharves around Susan’s Bay, and in the National Stadium (Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2). HRW also mentions “reports of freshly severed heads being displayed near a CDF-Kamajor base in the Brookfields neighborhood.” (Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2)

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999c: 2; Keen, 2005: 244)

1999 (January): AFRC/RUF attacks in Bombali District. According to NPWJ, RUF/AFRC killed 27 people “in a market place” in this district.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 76)

VI. 1999 (March) - 2000 (April): RUF controlled major parts of Sierra Leone but appeasement politics failed.

In March 1999 a period of stalemate began. Even though AFRC/RUF had been defeated in Freetown, pro-government forces did not have either the capacity or the willpower to consolidate their military victory. An elected president, Mr. Obasanjo, was now in power in Nigeria, and the new democratic regime was much less eager to have Nigerian soldiers lose their lives in Sierra Leone, especially since Nigeria felt it had been carrying the burden of the “peace” operations alone, while the “international community” was prone to observe and even to criticize, but not to act and to give its support. Nigeria therefore supported a negotiated peace (Reno, 2001: 221).

RUF, AFRC and the different groups opposing the government were therefore free to settle down and reinforce their positions in the Northern Province. Because of this unspoken, relative status quo, less pressure was being put on those groups, and a cease-fire was signed in Lome on May 18. As a result the number of extremely violent events seems to have decreased, or at least reports of such events did, especially outside of Port Loko district. A pattern of “rebels” attacking and looting villages and raiding civilian traffic to sustain themselves reemerged, but was less systematic. During such attacks, the rebels would sometimes kill several people, threaten others and then rape the women, but more frequently, they only abducted civilians to carry their loot.

The RUF and the government signed the Lome Peace Treaty on July 7. It acknowledged the RUF’s strategic advantage by giving it an important part in the new political system. However the Treaty did not recognize the AFRC as a party to the conflict, and excluded it from any political gains; this encouraged its members to pursue their own military and political agenda. The Sierra Leonean government remained reluctant to accept the implementation of a real power-sharing agreement, and kept trying to mitigate the consequences of its diplomatic defeat. However, what really prevented peace was the RUF itself. It had gradually become divided (Alao and Ero, 2001: 125) between a political faction eager to make peace but too weak to enforce the peace treaty clauses, like disarmament, and another branch, the combatant one, which distrusted any political or diplomatic peace and was still eager to fight. The latter group had the most to lose in peace, and they did everything they could to prevent disarmament. According to the TRC, commanders such as Komba Gbondema, Morris Kallon, Issa Sesay and Augustine Bao belonged to this group (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, § 159-162). Foday Sankoh, at that point, apparently did not have enough control of the movement to impose peace. These tensions within the RUF resulted in internal fighting in Kailahun district in 2000, after Issa Sesay was chosen as RUF’s head and took a more political posture (Reno, 2000: 160).

During this period, and especially because of the Nigerian government’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Sierra Leone, the UN became more involved in the conflict. As a result, on August 5, personnel from the UN observer mission were taken hostage by AFRC members who were dissatisfied with the peace treaty. To compensate for ECOMOG’s withdrawal, the Security Council created a 6000-strong UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) on October 22.

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §159-162; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 29-32; Human Rights Watch, 1999a, f, g; Reno, 2001; Alao and Ero, 2001)

1999 (From late April): RUF attacks around Port Loko District. Several villages were attacked by RUF forces from late April to May. CDF forces reportedly targeted civilians in order to incite them to join Gbethi societies (according to No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 30).

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999a: 2; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 30)

1999 (from October): Renewed RUF ambushes on civilian road traffic resulted in several deaths, abductions and rapes.

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999f: 1-2; 1999g: 2-3)

1999 (November): RUF attacked the areas around Kambia and Kabala, killing at least two people.

* (Human Rights Watch, 1999b: 1; 1999g: 2)

VII. 2000 (May) - 2002 (January): The end of the status quo and RUF’s defeat

In May 2000, RUF disrupted the status quo by taking 500 UN peacekeepers hostage. The United Kingdom intervened and secured Freetown. There were fears that the RUF would stage a new “January 99” but the British presence allowed the UN to keep control of the situation.

In August, the West Side Boys took British peacekeepers hostage. The British army quickly liberated them, and demonstrated to the RUF that they could not confront the British army. As a result the situation was tense. The RUF attacked Guinea, either because they faced a shortage of resources (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 30; Reno, 2000: 160) or because they were looking for a new battleground, now that their military presence in Sierra Leone was under constraint. But the Guinean army reacted firmly, and even shelled some villages in northern Sierra Leone. Due to harassment by Guinean forces and by pro-government forces, which were gaining in strength (thanks to British military training), and due to the weakening of its Liberian back-up (because of the renewed conflict in Liberia), the RUF soon had no other choice but to accept a political solution to the conflict. UNAMSIL’s forces were increased and finally the disarmament process began successfully. In January 2002 peace was officially declared: at last, it was time for justice and truth to be sought, thanks to the creation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

During this last phase of the conflict, violence against the population was more sporadic. It became more and more frequently located on Sierra Leone’s borders, with the exception of the period of civil disorder in Freetown in May 2000. RUF, pro-government groups, and Guinean troops all inflicted violence on the civilian population.

** (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 32-33; TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §168-361; Human Rights Watch, 2000, 2001; Amnesty International 2000, 2001)

2000 (May 6-8): Pro-government forces’ counter-offensive against RUF in Freetown. While 500 UN peacekeepers had been taken hostage by the RUF, there were rumors of a RUF advance towards Freetown. According to the TRC, Morris Kallon and Augustine Baa initiated and commanded the hostilities against UNAMSIL peacekeepers (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §164). The first British soldiers were deployed.

A “Peace Rally” organized by J. P. Koroma assembled an armed group composed of West Side Boys, SLA soldiers, Kamajors, and SSD policemen. It carried out a military operation against the RUF. A series of targeted armed raids on the residences of RUF members and their families in Freetown were conducted by the West Side Boys. The RUF Deputy Minister for Transport and Communications, Susan Lahai, suffered violent sexual abuse and was then murdered. From May 7 to 17, at least 180 people suspected to be members of the RUF were arrested. At least 21 prisoners died in State custody (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §319-324, 361).

On May 8, 24 members of Foday Sankoh’s personal security detail were arrested and detained arbitrarily. According to TRC this severely depleted Sankoh’s protection unit (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §168, 302, 303, 307, 309).

Human Rights Watch also mentions reports of 55 RUF ex-combatants having been arrested in Calaba Town by pro-government paramilitary groups on May 8. Five of them were reportedly mutilated, tortured and beaten (Human Rights Watch, 2000b).

* (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §168-361; Human Rights Watch, 2000b)

2000 (May 8): Civilians killed during a demonstration in front of Foday Sankoh’s house. During a demonstration at Foday Sankoh’s Spur Road Lodge compound in Freetown, West Side Boys and CDF elements within the crowd – or Nigerian UNAMSIL soldiers protecting the house, according to Gberie – fired shots. Sankoh’s bodyguards returned fire in the direction of the crowd (with several rounds from automatic weapons and at least one RPG) killing at least 10 people (“more than 20” according to Richards, 2003: 18; “around 20” according to NPWJ; 21 according to Gberie, 2005: 167) and injuring several others. About 40 people may have been killed in the inter-factional violence (almost all by gunshot or RPGs). Foday Sankoh escaped and was arrested or “gave himself up” (Richards, 2003: 18) on May 17, 2000.

** (TRC, 2004, vol. 2, ch. 2, §169, 313-318; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 32; Richards, 2003: 18; Gberie, 2005: 166-7)

2000 (from May): SLA and RUF attacks in Bombali and Port Loko District. SLA attacks - and the use of a helicopter gunship in May and June, including on public places in the RUF-held towns of Makeni, Magburaka and Kambia - allegedly resulted in civilian casualties and provoked a massive exodus of civilians. According to Human Rights Watch at least 27 civilians lost their lives and a further 50 were wounded. There were between seven and nine deaths in the center of Makeni’s on May 31, where there may have been a legitimate military target; another nine were found dead and eight injured in Magburaka on June 7 (Human Rights Watch, 2000e: 1).

Now under mounting pressure, RUF forces looted, raped, captured and killed civilians in some villages in the Districts. CDF also occasionally committed abuse in those Districts.

* (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 32; Amnesty International, 2000c: 1-2; Human Rights Watch, 2000e)

2000 (from May): RUF attacks in other districts. During this period RUF also attacked other districts during which they may have killed at least 20 civilians.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2000d: 1-2)

2000 (from June): CDF abuse. Human Rights Watch reported several acts of abuse committed by CDF (especially Kamajors and Gbethis) from June to October. They arbitrarily detained and beat civilians (such as two drivers on the Mabang bridge on August 14, and a journalist in Freetown on October 10). They also tortured their prisoners (for example, a RUF “disciplined officer” interviewed by Human Rights Watch in a Kenema prison), sometimes even raping them (like three women in Moyamba town in mid-July and two women in the bush near Rogberi Junction). They also allegedly captured, tortured and robbed people fleeing from Gbendembu and Makeni to avoid RUF forced conscription (a young man from Makeni may even have been executed). On July 15 Kamajors reportedly raided and looted Kangahun in Moyamba district, and beat villagers.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2000d: 3; Human Rights Watch, 2000e: 2-3)

2000 (September 10): After the West Side Boys took eleven British soldiers hostage on August 25, 2000, five of them were freed thanks to negotiations; Operation Barass, a raid involving 150 paratroopers, freed the other six hostages. Officially, 25 Sierra Leoneans were killed (including one Sierra Leonean hostage), 11 British soldiers wounded, and one British soldier killed. However, Keen mentions a source (Patel, 2002: 30) “suggest[ing] that at least 60 West Side Boys were killed, along with some women and children.” (Keen, 2005: 285) The West Side Boys were almost destroyed.

** (Keen, 2005: 285; No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 32)

2000 (from September): Guinean attacks in Sierra Leone. Since May 2000, RUF forces had begun attacking Guinean settlements. The Guinean forces responded following RUF infiltrations back in the Kambia, Bombali and Koinadugu districts of Sierra Leone, bombing the Sierra-Leonean border towns (Rokupr, Yeliboya, Makasa, Kakuna, Sabuya, Mambolo, Rokel and Kamakwie) with artillery and helicopter gunships. By the end of February this fighting had caused 41 civilian deaths, including 11 children, and only one RUF rebel death, according to Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2001a: 1).

In March 2001, attacks by Guinean forces and RUF intensified in Kambia District. Guinean shelling resulted in civilian deaths, while RUF attacks on villages also led to civilians being killed and abducted.

Sierra Leonean refugees who fled their Guinean camps attacked by RUF and came back to Sierra Leone were often abducted, beaten, raped and sometimes even killed by RUF (at least six deaths were reported to Human Rights Watch) (Human Rights Watch, 2001b).

** (No Peace Without Justice, 2004: 32-33; Amnesty International, 2001b: 1; Human Rights Watch, 2001a; Human Rights Watch, 2001b)

2001 (mid-June to mid-July): In Kono and Koinadugu districts, both CDF and RUF looted and burned villages, and attacked and killed civilians. Those attacks may have displaced hundreds of civilians. In the diamond-rich RUF strongholds, disarmament was advancing at a very low pace, compared to Kambia and Lunsar. The attacking CDF militias were apparently based in Guinean refugee camps.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2001c: 1-2)

2001 (June 17): According to eleven witnesses and wounded survivors, CDF militias killed at least 21 civilians in the town of Yiraia; some victims were killed with automatic rifles and machetes, some burned alive in their houses. There is a debate whether the CDF was acting under the Ministry of Defense’s orders, or only those of the Kono district local CDF commander.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2001c: 1)

2001 (June 17): CDF attacked the RUF-held town of Worodu. During the attacks, bullets killed at least one civilian, a mother, and wounded her daughter.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2001d: 1)

2001 (June - early July): RUF apparently retaliated by attacking villages around Yiraia including Porpon, Hermakono, Bumbanja, Dombadu and Samadu, which they accused of supporting CDF. In Porpon, they may have killed at least three civilians and abducted 16 civilians.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2001c: 1-2; Human Rights Watch, 2001d: 1-2)

2001 (July 11): The CDF attacked and looted the RUF-held village of Sukudu in Kono district. One man was shot and his brother abducted.

* (Human Rights Watch, 2001d: 1-2)

VIII. Bibliography

This bibliography refers only to the documents that have been used and referred to in this text. For additional documentation, use the general bibliography on the Sierra Leone conflict.

ALAO, Abiodun and ERO, Comfort, autumn 2001, “Cut Short for Taking Short Cuts: The Lomé Peace Agreement on Sierra Leone,” Civil Wars, vol. 4 no. 3, pp. 117-134.


- 1996a, “Sierra Leone : Towards a Future Founded on Human Rights,” AFR 51/05/66, September 25,

- 1996b, “Sierra Leone : Civilians Continue to be Mutilated and Killed despite the Peace Accord,” AFR 51/08/96, December 10,

- 1997a, “Sierra Leone : New Military Rulers Must Respect Human Rights,” AFR 51/03/97, May 28,

- 1997b, “Sierra Leone : A Month after the Military Coup, Amnesty International Again Calls for Human Rights to be Respected,” AFR 51/04/97, June 25,

- 1997c, “Sierra Leone : a Disastrous Setback for Human Rights,” October 20,

- 1998a, “Sierra Leone : Civilians Deliberately Killed as Fighting Engulfs Freetown and Provinces,” AFR 51/6/98, February 11,

- 1998b, “Sierra Leone : Amnesty International Receives Shocking Information about Mounting Atrocities in Sierra Leone,” AFR 51/13/98, May 8,

- 1998c, “Sierra Leone : 1998 – A Year of Atrocities against Civilians,” October,

- 1998d, “Sierra Leone : Executions of 24 Soldiers after an Unfair Trial A Blow to Reconciliation in Sierra Leone,” AFR 51/20/98, October 20,

- 1999a, “Sierra Leone : Escalating Human Rights Crisis Requires Urgent Action,” AFR 51/01/99, January 14,

- 1999b, “Sierra Leone : Escalating Human Rights Abuses against Civilians,” AFR 51/13/99, November 30,

- 2000a, “Sierra Leone: Civilians Face Real and Immediate Threat to their Fundamental Human Rights,” AFR 51/06/2000, May 10,

- 2000b, “Sierra Leone : Amnesty International Condemns Continuing RUF Attacks on Civilians,” AFR 51/037/2000, June 15,

- 2000c, “Voices of Victims of Human Rights Abuses from Sierra Leone,” AFR 51/043/2000, June 21,

- 2001a, “Guinea : Refugees Must Not Be Forced to Choose Between Death in Sierra Leone or Death in Guinea,” AFR 29/003/2001, April 5,

- 2001b, “Guinea and Sierra Leone Border : Fighting Continues to Endanger Civilian Lives,” AFR 51/004/2001, May 4,

COULTER Chris, “Reflections from the Field: A Girl’s Initiation Ceremony in Northern Sierra Leone,” pp. 431 – 441, Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 78 no. 2, spring 2005, pp. 431-441.

GBERIE, Lansana, 2005, A Dirty War in West Africa, The R.U.F. and the Destruction of Sierra Leone, London, Hurst & Company.

HENRY Doug, “The Legacy of the Tank: The Violence of Peace,” Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 78 no. 2, spring 2005, pp. 443 – 456.

HOFFMAN, Danny, “The civilian target in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” African Affairs 103, 2004, pp. 211-226.

HOFFMAN, Danny, “Violent Events as Narrative Blocs: The Disarmament at Bo, Sierra Leone,” Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 78 no. 2, spring 2005, pp. 328-353.


- 1998a, “Sierra Leone: Sowing Terror Atrocities Against Civilians in Sierra Leone,” Part III, “Human Rights Abuses Committed Against Civilians,” vol. 10, n° 3(A), July,

- 1998b, “Sierra Leone Urged to Commute Death Sentences,” October 16,

- 1998c, “Human Rights Watch Condemns Executions in Sierra Leone,” October 19,

- 1999a, “Rebel Atrocities Against Civilians in Sierra Leone,” May 17,

- 1999b, “Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation, Rape. New Testimony from Sierra Leone,” Part IV, “Human Rights Abuses Committed by RUF Rebels,” vol. 11 no. 3(A), July,

- 1999c, “Getting away with Murder, Mutilation, Rape. New Testimony from Sierra Leone,” Part V, “Human Rights Abuses committed by ECOMOG, Sierra Leonean Defence Forces and Police,” vol. 11, n° 3(A), July,

- 1999d, “Annan Must Reject Amnesty for Sierra Leone War Crimes,” July 7,

- 1999f, “Sierra Leone Rebels Violating Peace Accord,” October 27,

- 1999g, “Sierra Leone Rebels’ Abuses Spreading,” December 6,

- 2000a, “Rebels Abuses near Sierra Leone Capital,” March 3,

- 2000b, “Sierra Leone Government Troops Torture and Reportedly Execute RUF Rebel Suspects,” May 18,

- 2000c, “Fresh Reports of RUF Terror Tactics,” May 26,

- 2000d, “Recent Abuses Documented by Human Rights Watch,” November 30,

- 2000e, “Sierra Leone Government Bombing Causes Civilian Deaths,” July 12,

- 2001a, “Guinea Forces Kill, Wound Civilians in Sierra Leone,” February 28,

- 2001b, “Rebel Abuses Against Sierra Leonean Refugees Returning from Guinea,” April 3,

- 2001c, “Sierra Leone: Most Serious Attacks in Months, UN Peacekeeper Needed to Protect Civilians,” July 24,

- 2001d, “Sierra Leone: Most Serious Attacks in Months. HRW Interviews: Victims and Witnesses,” July 24,

JACKSON, Michael, “Storytelling Events, Violence, and the Appearance of the Past,” pp. 355-375. Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 78 no. 2, spring 2005, pp. 328-353.

JALLOH, M. Juldeh, 1999, “The May 25, 1997 Coup and the Burden of Democratic Survival in Sierra Leone,” L’Afrique Politique, pp. 161-178.

KANDEH, Jimmy, 1999, “Ransoming the State: Elite Origins of Subaltern Terror in Sierra Leone,” Review of African Political Economy, vol. 26 no. 81, pp. 349-366.

KEEN, David, 2002, “ ‘Since I am a Dog, Beware my Fangs’ : Beyond a ‘Rational Violence’ Framework in the Sierra Leonean War,” LSE Crisis States Programme Working Paper no. 14.

KEEN, David, 2005, Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone, New York, Palgrave.

NO PEACE WITHOUT JUSTICE, 2004, “Conflict Mapping in Sierra Leone, Executive Summary,” March 9,

RENO, William, 2000, “War and the failure of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone,” SIPRI Yearbook, pp. 149-161.

RENO, William, “The failure of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone,” Current History 100 (646), May 2001, pp. 219-225.

RICHARDS, Paul, 1996, Fighting for the Rain Forest, Oxford, James Currey.

RICHARDS, Paul, “Sur la nouvelle violence politique en Afrique: le sectarisme séculier en Sierra Leone,” Politique Africaine 70, 1998, pp. 85-104.

RICHARDS, Paul, “The Political Economy of Internal Conflict in Sierra Leone,” Clingendael Working Paper no. 21, August 2003.

RICHARDS, Paul, “War as Smoke and Mirrors: Sierra Leone 1991-2, 1994-5, 1995-6,” Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 78 no. 2, spring 2005, pp. 377-402.

SAWYER, Amos, 2004, “Violent Conflicts and Governance Challenges in West Africa: the Case of the Mano River Basin Area”, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 42 no. 3, pp. 437-463.

VENTER, Al J., 2006, War Dog. Fighting Other People’s Wars. The Modern Mercenary in Combat. Philadelphia, Casemate.

ZACK-WILLIAMS, Alfred, “Sierra Leone: The Political Economy of Civil War”, vol. 20 no. 1, 1999, pp. 143-161.

Citer cet article

Leboeuf Aline, Sierra Leone: List of extremely violent events perpetrated during the War, 1991-2002, Mass Violence & Résistance, [en ligne], publié le : 5 Mars, 2008, accéder le 17/05/2021,, ISSN 1961-9898
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