Rape and terror under the military

09 May 2005 by KELVIN LEWIS

In April, the trial of three ex-members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) - the ousted military junta that ruled Sierra Leone in 1997- 1998 and returned to invade Freetown in 1999 - opened at the new chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The three recently arrived judges were faced with a number of new challenges in court, including the decision by all three defence counsel to stop defending their clients in protest at the suspension of one of their investigators (see inset).

During the hearings, several witnesses said that they had been victims of sexual abuse. One woman told the court that she had been captured in Freetown when the capital was invaded by rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and rebel ARFC soldiers on 6 January 1999. She was raped and forced to become a rebel's "wife", adding that she was made to walk from Calaba Town (in the East of Freetown) to Waterloo, a town thirty kilometres away. On the journey, at Allen Town, the witness said that the rebels had cut off a child's hand then cut out his tongue and hung a letter around his neck telling him to take it to their opponent, President Kabbah. She said that members of the Small Boys Unit (SBU), child soldiers recruited by the rebel forces, were made to guard her and stop her from escaping. At the rebel base of Lumpar, the witness alleged that many other women had been forced to become "wives". Another woman from Port Loko, in the North of the country, told the court that she had been handed over by a rebel to a certain "55". The man had ordered her to get undressed and had raped her, before another forcibly took her as his wife.

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