MSF 1999 Report: Mutilations of civilians in Sierra Leone

Since 26th April 1999, the surgical team from the international medical aid agency MSF working in Connaught Hospital in Freetown has witnessed a new rise in the number of mutilated patients: in four weeks, 56 recently war-wounded patients have been admitted of which ten had at least one hand deliberately amputated. Of these 56 patients, 24 were children under the age of 15.

This report details one month of hospital activities, from 26th April to 23rd May 1999. It describes the wounds inflicted on those admitted, and briefly recounts the stories of 17 of these patients. It also contains excerpts from the diaries of MSF expatriate volunteers.

These victims of these mutilations are essentially civilians, originally from the country's interior, and particularly from the regions of Port Loko and Masiaka, where these most recent series of attacks have been taking place.

These testimony accounts only concern the people who survived their mutilations and managed to reach the Connaught Hospital. It is feared that the total number of mutilated persons is far higher than the number of those admitted to the hospital. Indeed, the number of admissions is directly related to the possibility of the wounded to move freely. The team regularly receives new patients suffering from terrible wounds, including people who have gone for weeks without treatment. Given the nature of these injuries, one can imagine that many of those wounded are unable to reach the hospital and are left to die along the road. In fact, many of the patients from whom testimony was taken, mention others who were wounded and of whom nothing further has been heard.

The fact remains that much of Sierra Leone is currently inaccessible to humanitarian aid agencies. It is in these parts of Sierra Leone that the needs of the population are undoubtably the greatest. Under constant threat by armed groups, these people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, and most importantly, protection.