THE FULL HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Massacres, Individual Murders, and
Human Rights Watch took testimonies from scores
of survivors and witnesses to individual murders, group killings, and massacres.
These killings began on the first day of the offensive and continued through the
day the rebels abandoned the easternmost suburbs.
James Kajue and his
In the early morning hours of January 6, as they were attempting to
flee their home in the eastern suburb of Wellington, James Kajue and his family
were stopped by advancing rebels and marched to a nearby side street. After
being asked for money, a rebel opened fire on them, wounding both James and his
wife Victoria and killing six of their children and their only grandson. One
daughter, Frida, survived. James recounted what happened:
We went to bed on the night of January 5
and left the children watching videos. Around midnight I woke up and heard
gunshots coming very close. I didn't hear any shelling from ECOMOG so I
figured the rebels were on their way. I called a few friends who live
further east and when they didn't answer I said, Victoria, let's get out of
here. So we put all the kids in the station wagon and left.
As we drove down the main highway there
were thousands of people on the roads and when we'd gone a few more miles
the cars were stopped. At that moment someone lit a flare illuminating the
area and when I looked back I saw that mixed in with the civilians were
hundreds of rebel soldiers. It was then I realized the rebels were among us.
There was a lot of gunfire so I told
everyone to stay in the car and crouch down. I thought it was safer. Scores
of rebels passed by without seeing us but then an eight-year-old rebel with
an RPG14 and who was small enough to
see through the window noticed us and alerted the others.
One of them ordered us out of the car and
said, you people have been deceived by ECOMOG, why are you fleeing towards
them, we're your brothers. Victoria tried to calm him and told him we just
wanted to go to someplace safe. He then walked us up a side street a few
hundred yards away and told us to sit down. He wanted money so Victoria
reached into her bag and gave him some. He said it was too little and as we
were about to offer him more I noticed three or four more rebels moving up
As they approached I heard them shouting,
ASLA on the move...you thought we'd gone but we've come back. As one of them
was approaching, I heard him say Awhy are you wasting time with these
civilians...they've been supporting Tejan Kabbah and ECOMOG. We must teach
them a lesson. I think we should just fire [kill] them.
And as soon as he said this, he swung
around the AK-47, cocked it and opened fire on my family. It wasn't even one
minute from the time he walked up to the time he opened up on us. And then I
heard one of them saying, Awhy did you have to do it but the one who did it,
who by that time was walking around to check if we were all dead, pulled
Frida, who was alive, by the hair and said, see, they're not all dead. And
then he got to me and said, I'll just pick up Pa's watch. I was hit on the
hand which was resting on my chest so there was a lot of blood. I pretended
to be dead so he just ripped off my watch and walked off with the others.
And then the roll call I couldn't do it.
Victoria had to do it. Patrick, CiCi, Mary all died instantly. Ester was
dying. At that moment only Frida replied. She was wounded but not gravely.
There was a lot of gunfire so I got up and said, I'm going for shelter...can
anyone who can walk just please, please follow me.
Victoria took my two year-old grandson who
was crying and fatally wounded. We later dragged David who'd been hit in the
spine and couldn't walk. And I could hear James calling, I'm stuck against
this wall and can't move. By now rebels were passing and we couldn't go to
him. Later we thought that he must've been hit in the spine and to him it
must've felt like he was pinned against a wall. He only called a few times
more and then fell silent.
Little Hassan died a few hours later; he
was hit three times. And David, the last time I spoke to him I said, can you
promise me, promise me you'll survive this thing and he said, Dad I promise
you but he couldn't. He died later that day.
He [the rebel] came from nowhere. I didn't
have time. I would've stood up and offered myself in place of the kids. They
didn't ask us any questions. If they were to accuse anyone it should've been
me. I would have given myself. I had some money. I would've offered it to
them but the one who killed us didn't come for money he came to destroy our
lives. He just opened up on my family without saying anything.15
Several attacks and massacres were perpetrated against civilians seeking refuge
within churches, mosques, and hospitals. These included the January 18 attack on
the Kissy Mental Hospital in which some sixteen men were executed and six women
attacked with machetes, the January 19 attack on the Brotherhood of the Cross
and Star Church in Wellington in which twelve people, including at least three
children, were taken out and executed, and the January 22 massacre within the
Rogbalan Mosque in Kissy in which sixty-six people were gunned down.
According to numerous survivors interviewed by Human Rights Watch,
the massacre within the Rogbalan Mosque was an organized, premeditated operation
involving two groups of rebels and lasting approximately forty-five minutes.
Several survivors described how, a few days prior, rebels had given warning that
a massacre was going to be committed. Ibrahim, forty-eight, described what he
saw as he was hiding and how he later counted the dead:
The mosque was packed full of both Muslims
and Christians. The rebels had been coming in and out of the mosque;
abducting young girls and harassing us, but things were getting so bad
outside we thought it was still safer than in our houses. That day at around
l0:00 a.m. I was inside the mosque when I saw at least four rebels burst
into the courtyard. One of them had a gun, one had a pistol and two others,
including a ten-year-old, had knives and machetes. They were all wearing
black pants and black T-shirts.
A sixteen-year-old boy sitting on the steps
tried to warn the others that the rebels were coming so when they entered
the courtyard, the first thing they did was tell the boy to open his mouth
and then the one with the AK put his gun into his mouth and shot him through
Once inside, the one with the pistol
started asking everyone for money. In the meantime, two of the other rebels,
including the ten year old, moved to block the doors. Then, as the pistol
man was walking around pointing his gun and robbing people, a few of the
others started arguing over whether to burn us alive in the mosque or shoot
us. One of the rebels then walked around the mosque sprinkling petrol on
people and I heard one of them say, you bastard civilians; you don't like us
and we don't like you. Finally, one of the others raised his machete and
screamed, Our mission is to kill you and cut your hands. People then started
screaming and begging and the one with the rifle just started firing.
The mosque was very crowded. It was very
confusing and people were running and trying to escape but the ten-year-old
was standing by one of the doors and I saw him stab people as they tried to
run past him. Sometimes the executioner would aim directly at one person and
other times he'd just fire randomly. Then he walked back to the women's
section and opened up on the people gathered there. Then he positioned
himself in the passage leading out of the mosque and started picking people
off as they tried to escape. It was here he killed a lot of people. His was
the only way out, so as people made a run for it, he would shoot them.
Some fifteen or so minutes into the thing,
another group of rebels arrived to reinforce. They surrounded the place and
several of them came around and hit the little Islamic school we have in the
back. I think many of the children who died in the massacre were back there.
Then at some point a whistle blew and the rebels rushed around searching for
things to steal from the dead. And then left.
Somehow a lot of people including myself
managed to escape. I was hiding under a mattress in the courtyard and all I
could think about was my daughter who was inside when the firing started. I
prayed she was able to escape. After I was sure the rebels had gone, I crept
out and started looking for her. That's how I came to know how many were
killed. I went through the mosque, the women's section, the school, the
courtyard, and the street looking for my daughter. I thank god I didn't find
her among the dead. But I counted sixty-six bodies including seven little
During the fighting and rebel occupation, civilians tended to concentrate
in the larger or more fortified houses of their neighbors, friends, and family.
Such concentrations of people often fell victim to brutal rebel attacks in which
large numbers of civilians would be killed. Sometimes the men would be targeted
and other times no one would be spared. The houses were frequently set on fire
with the wounded civilians still inside.
Adama, sixteen, was hiding in a closet with her
two small cousins on January 21, while rebels walked room to room killing
seventeen men, women, and children including several relatives. The house was
later set on fire with one blind man and at least three of the wounded still
inside. She recounted:
At around 7:30 a.m. when we were just
sitting down to breakfast, two rebels came into the compound and told
everyone to get inside the house. They started screaming obscenities and
then one of them said, we're going to kill all of you so we all ran
I hid with my two little cousins but I
could see everything. As they were coming up the stairs I heard them shoot
two men who'd sought refuge in our house. Then they came into our apartment
and my sister's husband Mani started to plead saying, please, I beg you, if
it's money you want I'll give it to you but they said, we don't want money,
we said we've come to kill you. Then they shot him in the chest. Then they
turned on Mani's brother Tejan who was holding his nine-month-old baby. They
shot him and he fell with the baby in his arms. Then they fired a friend of
Tejan's. They said nothing, nothing, asked them nothing. The same rebel
dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt and with dreadlocks was doing all
When they'd finished in the parlor they
went to the bedroom which I could still see from where I was. My sister
Fatmata was on the bed with my three year old cousin Sia. They shot my
sister two times, and then shot little Sia. Then I heard my twelve-year-old
cousin Sahr scream, Amama, have you left me, and then they shot him. Then
they shot a ten-year-old neighbor boy on the foot, then our friend Mr.
Koroma and a fifteen-year-old neighbor named Aminata.
Then they went to the next room. I couldn't
see what happened but I heard three gunshots and later saw the bodies of
three of our neighbors. There was a blind man who lived in that apartment
with his seven-year-old boy. The blind man was the only one they didn't
shoot and as they left the room I heard them say, now, you be sure and take
care good care of all these people.
When they were in the third room, my little
eight-year-old cousin crept out from behind the wardrobe and went to her
father. She was crying and she stood in front of him and bowed down. He was
dead and her uncle Tejan who was still alive said, he's left us now...quick,
you go hide. But, then she went to her mom and did the same thing. I think
she was saying good-bye to them. Then I called her back to me.
By this time we could smell smoke coming
from downstairs. I guess the other rebels had set fire to the downstairs.
The one who did the killing then sprayed petrol throughout our apartment and
lit it on fire. Then I heard them go outside.
By now there was a lot of smoke so I
grabbed my cousins, went down the stairs and tried to leave but the rebels
saw us. They told me to give them my cousins but I refused so two of them
pointed their guns at me and said, so it's there you're going to die get
back into that house and burn. They then closed the door from outside and
leaned on it so I couldn't escape.
I waited for several more minutes until I
just couldn't stand it anymore and then tried the door again and this time
managed to escape. By now the fire was really blazing. We could hear the
screams of people upstairs and from the outside we could see the
seven-year-old son of the blind man from the window, but his father was
crying and he didn't want to leave him. We convinced him to jump by saying
we'd rescue his father in a few minutes. We knew it wouldn't be possible but
otherwise the boy wouldn't have come. The blind man and the others were
burned alive. They kept crying but there was just nothing we could do.
The second rebel told the bad one at least
twice to stop the killing but the bad one said he'd kill him as well if he
said anything else. I just don't know why he behaved that way. In a quiet
moment I feel it too much.17
Abdul, twenty-eight, and his brother had sought refugee from the fighting
in a large house in the business district of Freetown. He described how the
rebels targeted only the men, leaving nine dead.
We'd been up fleeing all night and were so
tired so we sought refugee with about fifty people within a fenced compound
which we thought would be safe. At around 7:00 a.m. a group of seven rebels
dressed in full military uniform stormed in. Once of them said, we're SLA
soldiers. We've been gone for nine months but today we've come back.
Then they started pointing their guns at us
and screaming for us to give them money. A few minutes later the one who
seemed like he was their commander said, let's don't waste time, spray them
all, at which point another rebel started shooting us one by one. The gunman
was only two yards away from us. They shot my seventeen-year-old brother Isa
and two of my friends. We begged them to spare us, we begged them to stop.
He shot us deliberately, one after the
other and only picking out the men. They said we didn't support them and
after shooting us said, now you see we're back if you people want us or not.
I was so afraid to even look at them. It happened so fast; they were only
there for five minutes.
Our brothers have done such a bad thing to
us. What did we ever do to them? We know nothing of their rebel ways. That
day I just looked around me and started to cry.18
Victims and witnesses describe the rebels purposefully attempting to
terrorize the civilian population by forcing them to watch atrocities being
committed. They would then admonish them to behave or meet a similar fate.
Civilians acting out of line by trying to escape or protect a family member were
often killed in front of their family.
Agnes, twenty-five, together with her family and neighbors, was lined up and
forced to watch the brutal execution of three neighbors on January 9. She
They [the rebels] ordered us out of our
houses and then assigned a small rebel unit of six or eight to guard over
each group of twenty or so civilians. It was very organized. They lined my
family up with about twenty of my neighbors in a single file line on the
street. They kept us standing for over one hour while they insulted us and
others ransacked our houses. They got drunk on the alcohol we had left over
from the Christmas holidays.
Then, a few rebels called the first three
civilians standing in the line; from the left. They were two men and one
woman. They moved them about fifteen feet away and just opened up on them.
They must have fired at least twenty shots into them. One of the rebels then
turned to us and said, you've seen the example now if any of you dare move
we'll do the same to you. And then we had to stand perfectly still for
another one and one-half hours while our neighbors were lying dead on the
Before commencing an attack on a compound, the rebels would frequently
assemble everyone together and then select the ones they wanted to abduct. Most
often those chosen for abduction were young girls, and boys of fighting age.
Abductees were led away either before the attack began or after having to
witness family members be killed.
Memunatu, twenty-one, was one of eight young
women abducted from their compound on January 23, immediately after the
execution of seven family members. She recounted:
I looked up and saw four rebels coming into
the compound. Only one had a gun and the others were armed with axes and
machetes. We were over forty in the compound and those that weren't able to
escape were gathered together and told to sit down right outside the
verandah. A few of us started singing, we want peace but one of the rebels
said, you shut your mouths. You're all hypocrites.
They [the rebels] then picked out eight of
us young girls and one seventeen-year-old neighbor boy. They ordered us to
get up and stand to one side. And then the one they called ACO Blood started
the killing. He used a single barrel shotgun. He shot Alusine first, and
then Hannah and Saphiatu who was nine months pregnant. Then they ran out of
ammunition and set upon the rest with machetes and axes. They hit them on
the neck and head. As we stood off in the corner we were begging them to
stop but they kept insisting they'd leave no one alive.
And then they forced us to go. We left our
families bleeding and never knew who lived and who died. I was with them
[the rebels] for eight days and when I finally escaped I found out that
eight of my family and friends had been killed. In fact it was seven but
because Saphiatu's baby was ready to be born, we count it as eight.20