back] UN

UN troops accused of 'systematic' rape in Sierra Leone
By Tim Butcher, Africa Correspondent
(Filed: 17/01/2003)

Rebels, government troops and United Nations peacekeepers were all guilty of raping women on a systematic scale throughout Sierra Leone's brutal civil war, a leading international human rights group reported yesterday.

The mutilation of civilians was a trademark feature of the 10-year civil war, but Human Rights Watch said sexual abuse was much more common in the unstable West African nation.

"The war in Sierra Leone became infamous for the amputation of hands and arms" Peter Takirambudde, the head of Human Rights Watch's Africa division, said. "Rape may not be visible in the same way, but it is every bit as devastating."

The 75-page report, We'll Kill You If You Cry, makes harrowing reading, with accounts of children being forced to rape grandmothers, fathers made to watch daughters being raped and other instances of serious sexual assault.

After surveying victims from all areas of Sierra Leone it concluded that sexual crimes were used to try to destroy family links, making soldiers less reluctant to take part in military operations.

It said most of the crimes were committed by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front and smaller splinter groups.

But it found evidence of sexual atrocities being committed by troops from the regional intervention force, Ecomog, and the UN peacekeeping mission.

Women were used by all sides as chattels, kidnapped from their homes often in rural areas and forced to act as sex slaves for the troops as well as domestic maids responsible for cooking and household chores.

"To date there has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence or other appalling human rights abuses committed during the war in Sierra Leone," the report said.

A UN war crimes tribunal set up to investigate such allegations has been slow to start work and not many in Sierra Leone hold out much hope that it will bring more than a few perpetrators to justice.

In another damning assessment of the African crisis, a UN report on the fighting in the north east of the Congo has found evidence of cannibalism, torture and mutilation, with indigenous pygmies suffering badly.