Sex crimes haunt Sierra Leone

Widespread and systematic sexual violence during a decade of war in Sierra Leone was committed on a far larger scale than the highly visible amputations for which the country became notorious, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Sexual violence has remained Sierra Leone’s silent war crime,” HRW says.

The report highlights the legacy of ongoing sexual and domestic violence in the country and the need for urgent attention from the international community.

Unknown numbers of the thousands of women and girls abducted by the rebels still remain with their “husbands” in conditions of sexual slavery, although the war was declared over a year ago, HRW reports.

There has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence, and a climate of impunity persists, the report says, allowing the perpetrators of sexual violence (as well as other crimes) to escape justice.

Survivors of rape and other sexual crimes — some boys as well as the thousands of women and girls — need “drastically increased funding for trauma counselling, health, education and skills training”, according to HRW.

Research indicates that the great majority of crimes of sexual violence were committed by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Liberian mercenaries who were part of the initial force that invaded in 1991 from Liberia, by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and by their splinter group, the West Side Boys.

Prosecution of any but a handful of leaders is highly unlikely, partly because of the blanket amnesty that was part of the 1999 LomÃ.

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