Climate of Impunity
The climate of impunity means that violence against women and girls remains a serious problem in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Rape continues to be committed by former rebels, members of the CDF and by civilians who are used to doing what they want with women by force and with impunity. A lawyer who practices in the Eastern Province reported to Human Rights Watch that of the rape victims he was currently representing at least 50 percent had been raped by civilians and the remainder by former combatants.19 Girls continue to suffer the greatest number of sexual assaults: a lawyer who practices in the Freetown area reported to Human Rights Watch that of the at least fifty rape victims she represented at the time of writing, 98 percent are under fourteen years old.20 Although there are no reliable statistics on the incidence of sexual or domestic violence, the police doctor in Connaught Hospital in Freetown, which is the largest government-run hospital in the country, sees about thirty victims of recent rape and sexual assault per month.21 For the reasons enumerated above, this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. Physicians for Human Rights found that 39 percent of respondents expressed concern ("quite a bit" or "extremely worried") about future sexual violence by family members, friends or civilian strangers. Ninety-one women (or 9 percent of all respondents) had experienced sexual abuse, occurring at an average age of fifteen, from family, friends or civilians during their lifetime.22
Despite all these problems, seventeen out of a total of ninety-four respondents (or 18 percent) reporting sexual violence to Physicians for Human Rights supported punishment for "all those involved," thirty women (or 32 percent) supported punishment for the perpetrators, and seventeen women (or 18 percent) supported punishment for the commanders. Thirty-three women believed that punishment of perpetrators would prevent sexual violence from happening to others.23
Corrupt and Ineffective Judiciary
If the magistrate decides that there is sufficient evidence, the case is handed up to the High Court. Cases in the High Court can also take months especially as there are also continuous indefinite adjournments to contend with. There have been no High Court sittings in the provinces for the past six years, and cases in the provinces have therefore been on indefinite hold. One offender who sexually assaulted two young girls spent five years in pre-trail detention before being sentenced to two years for indecent assault-the five years already served in pre-trial detention were ignored by the court, thus putting the offender in detention for a total of seven years rather than two.25
Need for Law Reform
The Sierra Leone Police
The International Response
Donor funding has contributed to education, adult literacy, health care, trauma counseling, and skills training programs as well as credit and income-generating schemes for a limited number of survivors of sexual violence. These programs need to be expanded into all parts of Sierra Leone, so that more survivors can benefit from these programs. Long-term sexual and gender-based violence programs that aim to educate communities about sexual and domestic violence as well as provide women with health care and some legal aid on a limited scale have been established in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the east and south. These programs have been quite successful in changing the attitudes towards sexual and domestic violence of the IDP communities these programs serviced. They have also empowered rural women to stand up for their rights.
To date, funding for the judiciary has focused on the rehabilitation of the infrastructure of the judiciary, but as the peace in Sierra Leone takes hold, donors, including the British government and the World Bank, are considering funding desperately needed judicial reform programs.
The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program
The needs of abducted girls and women should, however, be considered an inextricable part of the DDR process and a priority issue that should have been addressed during meetings between the U.N. and government officials or rebel leaders prior to the commencement of disarmament. The abducted girls and women should have been registered and interviewed at the same time that their "husbands" entered the DDR program, with the interviews conducted separately from the "husbands." Information on alternative options could have been disseminated at the DDR camps through social workers and orientation sessions. Alternatively, if it had been possible to gain access to the abducted women and children in rebel-held areas before or during the DDR process then contact should have been established to determine total numbers and inform them of the reintegration support and alternative options available to them. Female social workers in the DDR camps could also have counseled the abductees to help them understand the implications of their decisions, and that the decision is theirs. Basic reproductive health services, including testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, should also be provided at DDR camps.
Donors and the government of Sierra Leone must redress their neglect of survivors' protection needs by drastically increasing funding for women's programs and providing women with desperately needed assistance in terms of health, education, trauma counseling, adult literacy and skills training to promote their rehabilitation into society. In addition, donors should fund legal reform and training programs for the judiciary and police, which will contribute to increase the protection of women's human rights. Donors should also learn from their failure in Sierra Leone and ensure that DDR programs in other countries where large numbers of women and girls have been abducted by the fighting forces, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, do integrate the protection needs of these abducted women and girls.28
The U.K. is the biggest donor in Sierra Leone, and in 2002 contributed £100 million (approximately U.S. $145 million) of which about £50 million (approximately U.S. $73 million) was disbursed through its development agency, the Department for International Development (DFID). DFID-funded programs aim at strengthening the protection and promotion of women's human rights. Since September 2001, the Commonwealth Community Safety and Security Project (CCSSP), which is funded by DFID and staffed only by British nationals, has been working to establish a nationwide system of Family Support Units (FSUs) to deal with cases of sexual and domestic violence. Under this system, only female police officers are supposed to interview female victims, while both male and female police officers are responsible for interviewing suspects and witnesses. More officers need to be trained in addition to the sixteen who have received training. As the force has few women, more females need to be recruited so only female police officers interview victims of sexual and domestic violence. The police officers in the FSUs lack strong leadership and require more training and close supervision to ensure that victims are dealt with in a professional and sensitive manner.
DFID also funds a program to promote the participation of women in politics, especially in Parliament, as well as university research into conflict-related sexual violence committed in January 1999.29 DFID has provided £2.5 million (about U.S. $3.5 million) for a three year Law Development Program which aims at rehabilitating the physical infrastructure of the court system, as well as providing training to administrative staff to ensure proper record-keeping of cases. The Law Development Program is under review to determine its future strategy, in particular with relation to legal reform, including customary law. DFID is currently considering funding a three-year program that will establish sexual and physical assault referral centers across the country.
The U.K. has contributed a total of over U.S. $500,000 to the operations of the TRC and its Interim Secretariat. The U.K. has also pledged U.S. $9,110,000 over three years to the Special Court.
After the May 2000 crisis, the U.S. initiated a program called Operation Focus Relief (OFR) to train and equip seven battalions of West African troops for peacekeeping with UNAMSIL. In July 2002, the U.S. pledged to help ECOWAS set up military bases for the rapid deployment of troops in conflict areas. The first steps in this assistance program include the installation of a U.S. $5.3 million early-warning satellite communications system, which will link the ECOWAS secretariat with observation centers in four ECOWAS countries.
As the situation in Sierra Leone stabilizes, the E.U. will increase its funding to Sierra Leone through the European Development Fund (EDF), which from 2000 to 2002 disbursed €38 million on activities that supported the return to democracy, rehabilitation of infrastructure and resettlement. From 2002 to 2007, a total of €144 million will be made available for disbursement through the EDF on activities that focus on the rehabilitation of rural infrastructure, good governance and institutional capacity building. An additional €76 million can be spent on activities outside of these two focal areas.
In 2002, the European Commission funded a two-year program that supports the reintegration of rape victims and other war-affected persons through the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). Human rights-related programs funded through the EIDHR, which has €6 million for disbursement over the next three years (2002-5), should include women's rights issues, which the EIDHR seeks to mainstream in all its programs.30
In addition to the U.K., other member states of the E.U. have bilaterally contributed to Sierra Leone. The Netherlands, in particular, has since 1999 funded sexual and gender-based violence programs. The Dutch government has also been a strong supporter of the Special Court and has contributed U.S. $11.4 million, which is approximately 20 percent of the total budget. A donation for the TRC is being prepared at the time of writing, but has not yet been formalized. A small budget for human rights programs was made available for 2002.
Security Council, Secretary-General, and UNAMSIL
Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the members of the Security Council have devoted much attention to the conflict in Sierra Leone. Kofi Annan visited the country in July 1999 and December 2000. The Security Council has frequently denounced the egregious human rights abuses committed during the conflict, in particular by the rebel factions, and has stressed the importance of protecting women in armed conflict.31
Following the failure of the U.N. peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Rwanda, there was substantial pressure on the U.N. to ensure that the UNAMSIL peacekeeping mission would succeed when it was established in October 1999.32 After the slow initial deployment of peacekeepers, which led to the May 2000 crisis, the U.N. committed itself to deploy 17,500 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone: UNAMSIL is the world's largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission, costing the international community over U.S. $700 million annually.33 As of March 31, 2002, there were 17,455 peacekeepers, 259 military observers, 87 civilian police officers as well as 322 international and 552 local civilian staff in Sierra Leone. The mission is now being hailed as a great success, although Human Rights Watch has criticized UNAMSIL on numerous occasions for failing to fulfill its mandate to protect the civilian population.34 In a June 19 report to the Security Council on UNAMSIL, the secretary-general stated that the government security apparatus was not yet capable of protecting Sierra Leone from both internal and external threats and warned that the international community must protect the major investments that had made possible the progress achieved so far.35 On September 24, the Security Council extended UNAMSIL's mandate for a further six months, but envisaged a reduction of 4,500 troops in the peacekeeping mission within eight months. The resolution was based on the recommendation of a further report on UNAMSIL which laid out benchmarks to govern the withdrawal of the U.N. from Sierra Leone, including the ability of the police and army to maintain security, the successful re-integration of ex-combatants, and the situation in the broader sub-region. The resolution also encouraged the government of Sierra Leone to "pay special attention to the needs of women and children affected by the war," and welcomed "the steps taken by UNAMSIL to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation of women and children," and encouraged the mission to continue to enforce a policy of "zero tolerance" for such acts. The Security Council also called on states to bring to justice their own nationals responsible for such crimes in Sierra Leone.36
UNAMSIL was initially authorized to field fourteen human rights officers, but for the first two years of UNAMSIL's existence, the human rights unit remained understaffed, which meant that human rights abuses were not effectively monitored. At various times during the lifespan of UNAMSIL, the gender specialist post was not filled. When UNAMSIL's mandate was expanded to 17,500, the human rights unit was authorized to recruit six additional human rights officers and most positions are currently filled. The Physicians for Human Rights report on conflict-related sexual violence was produced in collaboration with the UNAMSIL human rights section and has contributed to focusing the attention of the international community on the issue of sexual violence.
In October 2000, the Security Council held an Open Session on Women and Armed Conflict and adopted a resolution calling for documenting the impact of armed conflict on women and the role of women in peace-building.37 Since then the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has undertaken a major study on the impact of armed conflict on women in more than ten countries around the world, including Sierra Leone. In January 2002, a three-woman UNIFEM team visited Sierra Leone in connection with this study.38 UNIFEM also recently appointed a gender and AIDS adviser in Sierra Leone, who is tasked with strengthening the gender division of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs and local women's groups as well as mainstreaming gender in the TRC and Special Court for Sierra Leone. She will also research the relationship between gender, conflict and HIV/AIDS with the aim to increase protection against HIV infection.39
In November 2001, a team from the Training and Evaluation Service of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) conducted a two-week training on gender in peacekeeping. The program involved over 1,000 UNAMSIL peacekeepers and civilian personnel from both Freetown and the provinces. Local human rights activists and women's organizations were invited in order to contribute a domestic perspective on gender issues.
UNAMSIL has funded several women's programs for survivors of sexual violence through various trust funds. These trust funds are normally established for quick impact programs whilst the rehabilitation and reintegration of women who have been abducted and subjected to sexual violence and sexual slavery should be seen as long-term projects.
The then U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson visited Sierra Leone in June 1999, while the Lomé peace negotiations were taking place. The purpose of the mission was "to support the peace process, to encourage future programmes for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country, and to draw attention to the plight of children, women and civilians bearing the brunt of the excesses in Sierra Leone."40 OHCHR has provided technical assistance for the establishment of the TRC, but was very slow to issue the funding appeal for the TRC. OHCHR has also assisted in the drafting of the statute for the national human rights commission provided under the Lomé Peace Agreement, but the establishment of this body has not progressed beyond that point.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights has condemned the human rights situation in Sierra Leone on numerous occasions.41 In August 2001, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the commission's special rapporteur on violence against women, visited Sierra Leone to highlight the gender-specific abuses that thousands of women and girls have been subjected to. She highlighted that "systematic and widespread rape and other sexual violence has been a hallmark of the conflict in Sierra Leone" and noted that "the failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence has contributed to an environment of impunity that perpetuates violence against women in Sierra Leone, including rape and domestic violence."42 She therefore stressed the need for accountability for these abuses.
21 Human Rights Watch interview with Bill Roberts and Anne Hewlett (respectively crime adviser and criminal investigation trainer with the Commonwealth Community Safety and Security Project), Freetown, May 1, 2002.
26 Charges of physical assault can be made under the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act under sections 18 (wounding with intent to maim; causing grievous bodily harm with intent; shooting with intent to maim), 20 (unlawful wounding) and 47 (assault, battery, actual bodily harm).
27 Human Rights Watch interview with Bill Roberts and Anne Hewlett (respectively crime adviser and criminal investigation trainer with the Commonwealth Community Safety and Security Project), Freetown, May 1, 2002.
29 A survey of 226 victims, conducted by the University of Sierra Leone Gender Research and Documentation Centre in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of University Women (SLAUW), Médecins Sans Frontières, UNICEF and FAWE Sierra Leone.
31 In resolution 1370, the Security Council expressed "... its continued deep concern at the reports of human rights abuses and attacks by the RUF and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) ... against the civilian population, in particular the widespread violation of the human rights of women and children, including sexual violence, [and] demands that these acts cease immediately..." U.N. Security Council resolution 1370, S/RES/1370 (2001), September 18, 2001, para. 4.
34 See Human Rights Watch letter addressed to Secretary-General Kofi Annan at http://www.org/press/2001/11/ annanltr.htm.
36 Fifteenth Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, S/2002/987, September 5, 2002; U.N. Security Council resolution 1436, S/RES/1436 (2002), September 24, 2002, paragraphs 14 and 15.
41 The Commission on Human Rights deplored "... the ongoing atrocities committed by the rebels, including murders, rape, abductions ... calls for an end to all such acts." U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolution 2000/24, April 18, 2000, para. 4. The Commission also expressed its grave concern "...at the targeting and abuse of women and girls that have been committed in Sierra Leone by the Revolutionary United Front and others, including other armed groups, in particular murder, sexual violence, rape, including systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced marriages..." U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/20, April 20, 2001, para. 2(b).
42 United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/49, Addendum, Mission to Sierra Leone, E/CN.4/2002/83/Add.2 (United Nations, 2002), p. 2.