Document - Sierra Leone: The extrajudicial execution of suspected rebels and collaborators


1.Introduction 1

2.Background: 1991 invasion and rebellion 2

3.Extrajudicial executions by government forces 3

a)Torture and ill-treatment of rebel suspects 5

b)Extrajudicial executions 5

4.Detention of alleged rebels in Freetown 7

a)Conditions of detention 8

b)The lack of legal basis for the detentions 8

c)Cases of individual detainees held in Freetown 9

5.Killings and imprisonment by the NPFL and rebel forces 10


@The extrajudicial execution of suspected rebels and collaborators


Amnesty International fears that government forces may carry out extrajudicial executions as they take over newly-liberated areas of Sierra Leone's southeast. Pushing back an invasion force which entered the country in March 1991, they have reportedly executed suspected rebels and collaborators after perfunctory investigation and without any legal sanction. Suspects are alleged to have been tortured or ill-treated. Executions have taken place in public, in graveyards and on river banks, in some cases in the streets. Some of those executed are said to have been civilians, and all were denied the chance to defend themselves in a court of law and to answer accusations made against them.

Amnesty International representatives have recently returned from Sierra Leone where they met government officials and others - including members of the legal profession and churches as well as people displaced by the war - both in the capital, Freetown, and in the Southern and Eastern Provinces. They urged the government to halt the executions and to order an immediate, impartial inquiry into all reports of killings and torture by government forces. They called for the introduction of measures to regulate and record the detention and interrogation of suspected rebels and their supporters:

●the establishment of designated detention centres where the arrest and detention of all suspects are formally recorded;

●the enforcement of regulations to prevent torture or ill-treatment, with guidelines for the conduct and recording of interrogations;

●immediate access to detainees by lawyers, families and appropriate non-governmental bodies;

●the release of detainees who are not brought before a court and charged within 10 days, as required under the new Constitution introduced in October 1991.

The military authorities say they have captured large numbers of rebels, but these prisoners do not appear to be detained anywhere. The authorities were unable to explain satisfactorily what had happened to suspected rebels and their supporters who have been arrested in towns and villages in the southeast. Only one prisoner was acknowledged to be held at army headquarters in Kenema, for instance. Although the military authorities in Kenema said they had sent 15 prisoners to Freetown in the last few weeks, they did not appear to have any records of those transferred. And the number of rebel suspects held at Pademba Road Prison in Freetown seems to have been declining since 1991, not increasing. From as many as 130 said to have been detained there since April 1991, about 60 are believed to remain, some having been released uncharged and others having died from malnutrition and medical neglect. Officials in Freetown were unwilling to provide information about these detainees, who are all being held illegally, incommunicado and without charge or trial. Large numbers of prisoners captured in fighting, as well as many others suspected to be rebels and collaborators, appear to have been extrajudicially executed.

The rebel forces have also been responsible for major human rights abuses, including both deliberate and arbitrary killings and torture. The invasion force and the rebels they recruited have tortured and slaughtered hundreds of civilians. Amnesty International condemns all such torture and deliberate and arbitrary killings.

2.Background: 1991 invasion and rebellion

In March 1991 an invasion force entered Sierra Leone from the part of neighbouring Liberia controlled since 1990 by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) headed by Charles Taylor. The size of the force was estimated at several hundred soldiers, mostly Liberians but including Sierra Leonean opponents of the government and soldiers from Burkina Faso whose government, along with that of Libya, allegedly supports the NPFL and provides training and armaments. Its aim appeared to be the overthrow or destabilization of the government of Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh, who came to power in 1985. President Momoh heads Sierra Leone's sole political party, the All People's Congress, as did his predecessor, President Siaka Stevens, who ruled the country from 1968. The Sierra Leone government supported the West African peace-keeping force which entered Liberia in August 1990 to stop the civil war and which prevented the NPFL from taking control of Liberia's capital. The NPFL-led rebels who invaded Sierra Leone in 1991 said they would introduce multi-party democracy if they took control of the country. However, in October 1991 President Momoh's government introduced a new multi-party Constitution and promised elections in 1992.

The invasion force faced little resistance when it first entered Sierra Leone in March 1991. Within weeks it had captured towns and villages in the Southern and Eastern Provinces, killing dozens of community leaders and others who refused them assistance or who tried to escape. Although hundreds of Sierra Leoneans apparently joined the rebels willingly, lured by promises of money or the opportunity to seize coveted land or chieftaincies, many more were forced under duress to cooperate with them and to provide food, money and other assistance.

It took some weeks for the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Force (RSLMF) to present significant opposition to the invaders, their small force lacking equipment and ammunition. Soldiers from neighbouring Guinea were brought in to assist government troops and have played a key role in the fighting. Nigerian troops were also stationed in Sierra Leone to defend the main towns, and the United States and United Kingdom governments provided some equipment and military training. In June 1991 exiled Liberians, including soldiers from the army of former President Samuel Doe and members of the predominantly Muslim Mandingo ethnic group, who had been particular targets of killings by the NPFL in Liberia, formed another fighting force, the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO).

Since April 1991 these government forces have been recapturing towns and villages, although for several months in 1991 the rebels continued to move into new areas and there was heavy fighting in some towns in which many civilians were killed. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans, as well as over 100,000 Liberian refugees in the border area, fled to other parts of Sierra Leone and to neighbouring Guinea. Both RSLMF and ULIMO troops, as well as the rebel forces, have carried out widespread looting of towns and villages, and the rebels have reportedly exploited the cash crops and diamond mines in the areas under their control.

The rebel forces have gradually been pushed back towards the Liberian border, and in early 1992 part of the ULIMO force crossed the border into Liberia, where it says it now controls large areas of formerly NPFL-controlled territory. The rebel forces still remaining within Sierra Leone are apparently now made up primarily of Sierra Leoneans fighting under the name of the Revolutionary United Front. Receiving supplies from Liberia, they still control parts of the Eastern Province.

3.Extrajudicial executions by government forces

As towns and villages in the Southern and Eastern Provinces have been recaptured from the rebels, inhabitants have been killed in crossfire between government and rebel forces. Some have been deliberately and arbitrarily shot by rebels, but others have been killed when government forces, fearing ambush, have mistaken them for rebels.

The military authorities say they have killed large numbers of rebels as they have regained control of areas. However, it appears that many of those killed may have been extrajudicially executed after being taken prisoner, not killed in fighting. Several have reportedly been civilians arrested in recaptured towns and villages who have been unable to prove, to the satisfaction of the military authorities, that they were not rebels or collaborators and who have been summarily shot. Contrary to official information, very few of those arrested appear to have been transferred to Freetown for further investigation or prosecution.

After villages have been recaptured from rebel control, soldiers have apparently convened meetings in which suspected rebels and collaborators have been publicly denounced by other villagers. In some cases, people have reportedly been denounced for personal reasons, because of old rivalries or feuds, or for assisting the rebels or going with the rebels even though under duress. Suspects have then been taken to army bases where they have been interrogated by army and police officers. In some cases, local government officials and traditional rulers have participated in these interrogations or have interrogated suspects before handing them over to the army to be shot.

Although traditional rulers, relatives or fellow villagers have been able to vouch for the innocence of some suspects, other detainees have been unable to prove their identity or to bring forward witnesses in their own defence. Those who admitted being rebels, sometimes after torture or ill-treatment, or those who could not prove their innocence to the satisfaction of their interrogators, are said to have been taken out and shot, usually in graveyards or by rivers, but sometimes in the streets.

In some cases, detainees have been released on payment of bribes. One senior army officer is reported to have expressed concern that this sort of corruption, and the widespread looting of villages by government forces, would prolong the war.

The fear of such arbitrary killings by the army was heightened by the government's announcement in late 1991 that all those found behind rebel lines would be considered to be rebels. Since then the government has announced an "amnesty", to encourage people to come out of hiding in the bush, and has been urging displaced people to leave the refugee camps and return to their villages. However, many displaced people fear army reprisals, as well as the possibility of further rebel attack, if they return to their homes.

a)Torture and ill-treatment of rebel suspects

Suspected rebels and collaborators have reportedly been tightly tied up, usually with their arms tied behind them at the elbows or wrists, sometimes with their feet and hands tied together behind their backs (see photographs on pages 13 and 14). Amnesty International heard of a number of cases in which detainees had suffered paralysis in their hands and arms - sometimes longterm - as a result of being tied too tightly.

Detainees have reportedly been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in many cases. At army headquarters in Kenema, the sounds of their screams could be heard outside. The police have reportedly also been involved in the ill-treatment of suspected rebels. One detainee, captured in the bush in September 1991 and brought to army headquarters in Kenema, was reportedly tied with his arms behind his back, then hung up by his arms and bayoneted by soldiers. He was only released and given hospital treatment when friends outside intervened on his behalf. He had reportedly been forced under duress to go with the rebels when they attacked the village of Baoma-Koya, Kenema District, in July 1991.

Captured rebels have been paraded in towns and villages, in some cases showing signs of torture or mutilation. In Segbwema, Kailahun District, rebels have reportedly been tied up and displayed at a police post in the centre of the town, sometimes imprisoned inside a wire cage. Two women, alleged to have been rebels' girlfriends, were publicly whipped by soldiers in mid-1991 in Segbwema. In Kono District in recent weeks, government forces are reported to have been parading rebel prisoners in the streets of the district capital, Koidu (Sefadu), following an increase in rebel attacks in the area.

Of six captured suspects brought into Kenema in mid-March 1992 from the villages of Nyeama and Bunti, four were later released with burns and bruises on their bodies, their arms injured from being tied too tightly. Some had been arrested in the village of Sandaru where they had fled after a gunfight between the army and rebels at Bunti. One of them was detained by the armed forces for four days at Sandaru with his arms tied behind his back and was beaten on his head and body with the butt of a gun. He was subsequently released on the decision of the commanding officer in the area that he was not a rebel. However, he required hospital treatment for head injuries and for damage to his arms.

b)Extrajudicial executions

It has been alleged that dozens of people - and maybe many more - have been killed by government forces on suspicion of supporting the rebels or sympathizing with them. No precise estimate of the number killed is available, but it may be as many as several hundreds.

Such killings reportedly started in April 1991 when the army recaptured towns and villages from rebel control in parts of the Southern and Eastern Provinces. Army commanders in Bo, capital of the Southern Province, and Kenema, capital of the Eastern Province, are alleged to have said that they would not take prisoners and that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these detainees because they were not officially prisoners of war.

iSouthern Province

When the army recaptured the village of Jorma-Jargor, near Dandabu in Pujehun District in May or June 1991, about 25 young men were reportedly taken prisoner on suspicion of having joined the insurgents and were killed.

In the Barri Chiefdom, there were a number of killings when the army regained control in mid-1991. Soldiers reportedly robbed and killed Ansumana and Alusine Sheriff, brothers, and Ensa Sesay, all from Koigboma village, allegedly because they were in possession of rebel documents. Others killed in the Barri Chiefdom apparently included Jibiru, Mohamed and Thairu Turay, brothers from Macca village, and Alhaji Morrey and Lahai Kpatewah of Njaluahun village.

After the recapture of Pujehun town in July 1991, arrested fighters and suspected rebels were transferred to Bo. There, executions of suspected rebels captured in surrounding villages reportedly took place in the cemetery. In one case, a suspected rebel was paraded before crowds in the middle of the town; he was apparently encouraged to try to escape and, when he ran away, was shot dead. One group of about 40 people from Pujehun, who had fled the rebels and taken refuge on an island in the Moa river, was said to have been killed by government forces in mid-1991. The most recent execution in the graveyard in Bo was reportedly in early 1992.

iiEastern Province

When soldiers regained control of Gegbwema, Kenema District, in June 1991, an investigation panel was established, comprising military officers and local people. The inhabitants were gathered together and asked to identify those who had joined the rebels. If the investigation panel subsequently found that such a person were a rebel, he was shot, either in the graveyard or by the river.

Up to July 1991, over a period of several weeks, at least 100 rebel suspects were reportedly executed in Joru, Kenema District. Some four or five people were said to have been publicly executed at a time, shot at army headquarters or at the cemetery after being made to dig their own graves. As people from surrounding villages fled to Joru for safety from the rebels, they were questioned by a committee of traditional rulers and local officials and asked to find someone to vouch for them and identify them as good citizens. If the committee was not satisfied, they were passed to army headquarters in Joru for further interrogation. One allegedly self-confessed rebel, Momo Koneh, was among those executed. Another detainee, Jusu Kallon, was apparently transferred to army headquarters in Kenema, but it is not clear what happened to him there. In July 1991 most inhabitants of Joru fled because of renewed rebel attacks in the area.

In Kenema, there was apparently only one rebel suspect held at army headquarters in late March 1992. Although the military authorities said they had transferred 15 prisoners to Freetown in recent weeks, they could provide no details of the prisoners concerned. According to unofficial reports, many prisoners have been executed in Kenema, being shot by soldiers in the graveyard on the edge of the town and also by the river. In some cases, rebel suspects are said to have been drowned in the river. The most recent execution in Kenema was apparently in late 1991 or early 1992.

Braima Kanneh was apparently forced to go with the rebels when they attacked the village of Baoma-Koya, Kenema District, in mid-1991, but later escaped and hid in the bush for several weeks. However, although his Paramount Chief apparently vouched for him, he was reportedly executed with four others at Kenema cemetery on 17 September 1991.

Augustine Kamara was said to have been executed in Kenema in October 1991 as a suspected rebel, although he had just emerged from months of hiding in the bush with villagers who had fled Nyandahun in Koya Chiefdom, Kenema District. He had been arrested while travelling to his home village near Kenema to see if his family had survived, and was apparently beaten by soldiers at army headquarters in Kenema before being executed.

In late 1991, about 50 rebels captured in the Tongo area near Panguma, Kenema District, were apparently executed in front of the police station near the village of Takbombu. Their bodies were left in a gorge between the villages of Giehun and Lalehun.

Many people in the Jawie Chiefdom in Kailahun District, Eastern Province - possibly as many as 100 - have reportedly been killed by the army as rebels in the last nine months, including both those killed in the bush and those arrested and later extrajudicially executed.

In November 1991 a man called Koakei Karimu was reportedly killed by soldiers on his way to Segbwema, Kailahun District, because he was mistaken for a man of the same name who was believed to have joined the rebels following an attack on the village of Foindu Mawie.

4.Detention of alleged rebels in Freetown

Since April 1991 up to 130 suspected rebels and collaborators have been held in an unofficial form of administrative detention at the Central Prison, Pademba Road in Freetown, known as Pademba Road Prison. They are held incommunicado, denied all contact with the outside world and with other prisoners, and have not been charged with any offence or brought before a court.

Although the authorities say that suspected rebels captured at the war front have been transferred to Freetown, the number of detainees at Pademba Road Prison does not appear to be growing. On the contrary, the number has apparently declined and is now said to be down to about 60, some detainees having been released and others having died.

The detainees include at least 25 Liberians and Sierra Leoneans arrested in Lumley, near Freetown, in April 1991. Alleged fighters brought in from the war zone included Fallah Stellon Kalubeh and Dollo Mosando Noah (see below), who were among a group of Liberians captured at Koindu in March 1991, and 40 rebels reportedly captured at Potoru and taken to Freetown on 11 April 1991.

a)Conditions of detention

Members of the invasion force, captured in the battle zone, were apparently brought to the prison half-naked, with marks of ropes on their arms and suffering from battle wounds. Although all were seen by a doctor, there is practically no medication available at the prison, and most of these prisoners had no relatives to provide food and pay for medicines or treatment. Some are reported to have died from their injuries or as a result of medical neglect.

Amnesty International has expressed concern for several years about the harsh and life-threatening conditions at Pademba Road Prison and other prisons in Sierra Leone. A commission of inquiry into the administration of prisons reportedly recommended to the government in 1989 that better food, clothing and sanitary facilities should be provided for prisoners. The report has not been made public but some moves have apparently been made to increase the number of prison officers. However, inadequate salaries for prison staff mean that meagre provisions for prisoners still often do not reach them and, without proper medical care, there is a high rate of deaths from malnutrition and medical neglect.

b)The lack of legal basis for the detentions

The detainees at Pademba Road Prison are held illegally, since there is no provision in law for administrative detention. Under the new Constitution, Act No. 6 of 1991, which came into force in October 1991, no suspect may be detained for more than 10 days without being charged and brought before a court:

"Section 17 (3): Any person who is arrested or detained...and who is not released shall be brought before a court of law -

(a)within ten days from the date of arrest in cases of capital offences, offences carrying life imprisonment and economic and environmental offences; and

(b)within seventy-two hours of his arrest in case of other offences;"

Several government representatives told Amnesty International that the country was effectively at war and that these detainees should therefore be regarded as prisoners of war. Under the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war would be entitled to regular visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and would be allowed contact with relatives. However, the ICRC, after being granted one visit to these detainees in May 1991, has apparently not yet been allowed a return visit.

The detainees have also been described by officials as being in the "safe custody" of the armed forces, apparently deemed to be at risk from the wrath of the general public if they were released.

The authorities informed Amnesty International representatives at the end of March 1992 that no state of emergency had been declared. Government opponents have expressed fears that a state of emergency would be used to stop the activities of opposition political parties allowed under the new Constitution. States of emergency in force under the government of President Siaka Stevens had been used to detain political opponents without charge or trial and to suppress civil liberties.

c)Cases of individual detainees held in Freetown

In several cases, people have been detained after being falsely denounced as rebels, sometimes by relatives or business rivals for reasons that had nothing to do with the invasion.

Keikura Bayoh Kpoto, a Liberian businessman and former politician, was arrested in April 1991 after being denounced by an alleged member of the invasion force captured at Koindu, Dollo Mosando Noah. He was detained incommunicado for over six months without charge or trial, despite requests for his release to allow him to have urgent surgery for a back problem which was causing partial paralysis. He was held separately from the other detainees suspected of involvement in the invasion, apparently because his detention was authorized by special presidential order. Dollo Mosando Noah died in detention on 22 July 1991 but, before he died, confessed in front of the prison authorities that officers in the security services had promised him his freedom if he falsely implicated Keikura Bayoh Kpoto in the invasion. The real motive for Keikura Bayoh Kpoto's detention appeared to be jealousy on the part of commercial rivals in Sierra Leone. In October 1991 he was released on the orders of the High Court after the authorities failed to provide any reason for his detention in response to a habeas corpus action.

In cases in which the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB) has found no evidence of involvement with the rebels, detainees have been transferred to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Sierra Leone police force. Some have eventually been released after investigation, including women and children detained in 1991 on suspicion of involvement with the rebels. Adama Sankohis was arrested in Makeni in July 1991, together with her two children, on suspicion of being the wife of a rebel leader. Isatu Cecilia Konneh was arrested after the army recaptured Zimi from the rebels in August 1991, apparently suspected of contact with the rebels because her passport showed that she had travelled to Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire. According to the Sierra Leonean authorities, they were detained at CID headquarters in Freetown and released in late 1991.

However, some detainees have continued to be detained illegally even when investigations have not resulted in charges being brought. Jaia Massaquoi was detained in April 1991, apparently after being denounced as a rebel by a commercial rival, and was transferred to police custody in March 1992. Amnesty International's representatives were assured by the Inspector General of Police on the morning of 27 March 1992 that he had been released, but subsequently received information that the CID had, on the afternoon of the same day, confirmed that he was still in their custody.

Military Intelligence as well as CID have apparently investigated the cases of the following detainees and found no grounds for their continued detention, yet they reportedly remain in detention in Pademba Road Prison. Sorie Turay was arrested in April 1991 after being denounced for allegedly harbouring rebels and hoarding arms. Ten others were also arrested at his soap factory in Makeni, all of whom were later released apart from Murray Banya, who had apparently been paid to denounce Sorie Turay to the authorities because of a family dispute, and Ishmael Mansaray, who reportedly died in prison on 17 February 1992.

Other Sierra Leoneans reportedly detained in 1991 and still held at Pademba Road Prison are Ben Koni from Bonthe and Dauda Kamara and Santibi Kamara from Freetown.

Foreigners appear to have been particularly vulnerable to suspicions that they were associated with the invasion, especially if they had connections with Liberia or Burkina Faso. Two Liberian theology students detained in 1991 were only released after interventions on their behalf from concerned Sierra Leoneans. Foreign prisoners are particularly likely to have no-one to vouch for them or appeal for their release. Among those reportedly detained at Pademba Road Prison in 1991 and believed to be still held are Bruce Alphonso and Robert Cleur, Ghanaians who had travelled from Burkina Faso; Molie Kamara, a Liberian living in Freetown; and Major John Leaman, a Liberian who had travelled from London.

5.Killings and imprisonment by the NPFL and rebel forces

Government officials and supporters - including traditional chiefs, members of the ruling party and businessmen from the predominantly Muslim Fullah1ethnic group - were particularly targeted by the NPFL-dominated invading forces. Many were tortured or deliberately and arbitrarily killed.

In Kailahun District, Eastern Province, rebels slaughtered at least 60 civilians, most of them Muslim traders from neighbouring countries, in Koindu in late March and early April 1991 and, later in April, Alhaji Umaru Koroma, President of the Farmers' Association, and his family in Jojoima. On 7 April 1991 Alhaji M.A. Jalloh-Timbo, President of the Supreme Islamic Council and leader of Sierra Leone's Sunni Muslims, was killed with four other people in an ambush near Zimi in Pujehun District, Southern Province. In April and May, 46 people were killed in Pujehun town, including 16 Fullah traders who were publicly beheaded on 6 May 1991. In Bo District, Southern Province, the rebels reportedly killed at least five members of the Lebanese community seized in Sumbuya on 5 May. The countryside surrounding Potoru in Pujehun District, Southern Province, and Segbwema and Pendembu in Kailahun District, Eastern Province, were said to be full of the corpses of young men, women and children.

Villagers who refused to provide food or other assistance, or who tried to escape, were killed. In the village of Foindu Mawie, Kailahun District, eight people were killed in a rebel attack in April 1991 and a further 13 in another attack in November. In Maloma village, near Daru, Kailahun District, rebels killed 23 people in July 1991 and some 60 were reportedly massacred at Masahun, near Segbwema, also in mid-1991.

In many cases, community leaders and wealthy businessmen were forced to cooperate with the rebels, who also tried to recruit educated people with skills that were useful to them, such as medical workers. Hundreds of villagers were abducted, including women and children, and forced to travel with the rebels. Although it is not clear what has happened to all those who were abducted, in some cases young men were taken into Liberia for military training. Some were physically marked in some way - in the case of one group of young men from Lalehun village, Kenema District, by three cuts on the forehead - and told that they would have to join the rebels or they would be killed by the army. Hundreds of others fled from the rebels, to hide in the bush for weeks or months, living on whatever food they could find; many young children have reportedly died from malnutrition and disease as a result.

Many civilians have been shot by rebel forces during attacks on villages where soldiers are stationed. Rebels have deliberately shot at civilians on sight, including those quite clearly not involved in any fighting. Examples were given to Amnesty International of such killings during rebel attacks at Peje-Baoma, near Bunumbu, Kailahun District, in about November 1991; at Bandajuma, Kailahun District, in about January 1992; and at Bunti, Kenema District, in mid-March 1992 where rebels reportedly killed at least 20 and possibly as many as 50 people as they fled their houses, in one case setting fire to a house and burning alive a woman and her two children.

In Kailahun District, a further wave of refugees fled over the border to Guinea in March 1992 to escape renewed rebel attacks.

July-September 1991, rebel suspects in Pujehun District, Southern Province

July-September 1991, rebel suspects in Pujehun District, Southern Province

1The Fullah ethnic group is known in other countries as the Peul or Fulani.

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