Immediate Release: Sierra Leone Rebels Forcefully Recruit Child Soldiers; RUF Targets Children for Fighting, Forced Labor and Sexual Exploitation

For more information, please contact:

In New York, Peter Takirambudde:		+212-216-1834
In Washington D.C., Janet Fleischman:	+202-612-4325
In London, Bronwen Manby:			+44-207-241 0309
In London, Urmi Shah:				+44-207-713-1995
In Brussels, Jean-Paul Marthoz:		+32-2-732-2009

Sierra Leone Rebels Forcefully Recruit Child Soldiers
RUF Targets Children for Fighting, Forced Labor, and Sexual Exploitation

(Freetown, Sierra Leone, May 31, 2000)—The rebel Revolutionary United Front
(RUF) of Sierra Leone is forcing children, including demobilized child
soldiers, to join its ranks and engage in combat, Human Rights Watch said
today. The rights group has documented abductions of children as recently
as early May.

"The RUF has forced many children to join its ranks in recent weeks,
placing them on the front lines of combat," said Peter Takirambudde,
executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "For child
soldiers, the crisis in Sierra Leone is far from over." He called on all
parties to the conflict in Sierra Leone to immediately stop the use of
child soldiers and to release all abducted children and people under the
age of eighteen.

Since taking United Nations peacekeepers hostage in early May, the RUF has
forced many children, included demobilized RUF child soldiers who had laid
down their arms, to join its ranks. Many other children have been abducted
by the RUF in recent weeks to carry military equipment and looted goods,
and female abductees are regularly raped. The RUF has a long history of
using child soldiers.

Seventeen-year-old "Abubakar" (not his real name) told Human Rights Watch
that he had gone to a camp for demobilized RUF child soldiers in Makeni in
March 2000 after fighting as a child soldier in the RUF for four years. He
described how the RUF regularly came to the demobilization camp to pressure
children to return to the RUF, telling the children that they would be sold
when they left the camp, or stating that the RUF had located their families
and would help them reunite. On at least one occasion, RUF fighters came to
the camp and told the children that the RUF would kill everyone in the camp
if they did not rejoin the rebel army. Abubakar estimated that the RUF took
at least fifty children out of the camp through the use of threats, false
promises, and false rumors.When fighting broke out in early May, Abubakar
was forced to rejoin the RUF when he was abducted while walking near the
demobilization camp in Makeni. "It was not my wish to go fight, it was
because they captured me and forced me," he told Human Rights Watch, "There
was no use in arguing with them, because in the RUF if you argue with any
commander they will kill you." Abubakar took part in recent fighting in
Lunsar, Rogberi Junction, and Waterloo. He and others were often forced to
commit abuses. In Rogberi Junction, their commander ordered them to burn
down the entire town after a counterattack on the RUF by government
helicopters. RUF commanders also used looted U.N. vehicles to move  looted
civilian properties back to RUF bases. Abubakar finally managed to sneak
away from the RUF and return to the demobilization camp, which was
evacuated to Freetown soon after. On their way to Freetown, the large group
of demobilized child combatants was harassed by the pro-government Kamajor
militia as well as by the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), who beat them. Abubakar
said the Kamajors got angry with the children for showing them
demobilization documents, saying that the children were provoking them
because it was known that Kamajors were not educated and could not read.

Fifteen-year-old "Foday" (not his real name) was abducted by RUF when he
was eight years old and had gone to the Makeni demobilization camp after
the Lomé peace accord. He gave Human Rights Watch further details of the
evacuation of the Makeni demobilized child soldier camp on May 23. He also
said that RUF commanders regularly came to the camp to threaten and scare
former child combatants into rejoining the RUF, and explained that the camp
was evacuated early in the morning of May 23 because of fear that the RUF
would attempt a mass abduction. On their way to Freetown, the eighty-six
former child soldiers who left the camp were stopped by RUF and stripped of
their possessions: Foday lost a new watch, his clothes, a radio, and some
money. The RUF then forced Foday to join them to carry looted goods back to
an RUF camp located twenty-seven miles away. He later managed to escape
from the RUF, but was then harassed and beaten by Kamajors, who took away
his remaining possessions and threatened to kill him until a commander
intervened and stopped the abuse.

RUF forces have also abducted children to carry loads of looted goods and
military equipment for them, and have abducted girls for the purpose of
rape. Fifteen-year-old "Musa" (not his real name) was abducted from Port
Loko during an RUF attack in mid-May, and forced to carry a heavy bag of
salt for four days. He told Human Rights Watch that the rebels shot and
killed his brother, twenty-year-old Lamina K., after Lamina complained that
his load was too heavy. Musa showed Human Rights Watch a large bump on his
head which he had sustained when he was beat by the RUF with rifle butts.

Rape of captured women and girls is routine. Twenty-year-old "Miriam" (not
her real name), still nursing her five-month-old baby, was raped in front
of her husband almost as soon as they were captured near Masiaka on May 21.
She told Human Rights Watch that she was raped almost continuously by seven
RUF fighters, including some as young as fourteen, over the next three
days. Some of the girls raped after capture are very young. "Malikah," who
told Human Rights Watch that she was ten but looked much younger, told
Human Rights Watch that she was raped by an RUF rebel after being captured,
and watched her twenty- year-old sister Mawa Kamara die after RUF rebels
amputated both her hands and one foot.

"Children face some of the gravest abuses in this war at the hands of the
RUF," said Takirambudde. "The RUF specifically targets children for
recruitment as child soldiers, forced labor, and sexual exploitation."

Human Rights Watch
Africa Division
Urmi Shah
Press & Information
Human Rights Watch, London
Email: shahu at
Tel: 020 7713 1995