MSF 1999 Report: Background

MSF 1999 Report: Mutilations of civilians in Sierra Leone

In February 1997, after six years of bitter civil war, an elected government took power in Sierra Leone. However in May of the same year a military coup d'état overthrew the government. The regional peace-keeping force ECOMOG was expelled from the capital Freetown, and the leaders of the military coup convinced the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) rebels to join their cause. This alliance was able to maintain power until February 1998, when the ECOMOG forces retook the capital and various other parts of the country. During these events, two MSF volunteers were captured and held hostage by an armed group for two weeks before being released.

In March 1998, armed groups began a campaign of terror in regions they had taken control of in the east and north of the country. This consisted of destroying villages, pillaging harvests, mutilating and executing civilians. Tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean civilians attempted to flee the violence and moved to safer regions and neighboring countries. At the end of 1998, after an active campaign, the 'rebels' succeeded in re-entering the capital, where heavy fighting ensued against the government forces. Since then, the 'rebels' have been forced out of the peninsula around the capital, but still currently control the areas around many roads and towns. This period of status quo has been accompanied by a new campaign of terror including mutilations, kidnappings and the destruction of property.

Human rights violations:

Mutilations and other forms of torture are not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone. Between 1992 and 1999 an untold number of civilians were assassinated or mutilated over the course of attacks undertaken by different armed groups.

In Freetown alone it is estimated that in January/February 1999, approximately 6,000 people died. The terrible wounds suffered by the patients of Connaught Hospital also serve as indications of the level of brutality.

In May 1998 MSF issued a report regarding atrocities against civilians. At that time, the Connaught Hospital received 115 patients, most of whom were severely mutilated.