All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ - Edmund Burke

March 3, 2008

Vol 5 No 10

The Truth Shall Set You Free----------The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth---------Exposing human rights abusers




Massacres, Individual Murders, and Fire-Related Deaths

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 family
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 the road.

As they approached I heard them shouting, ASLA on the 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 the head.

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 children.16

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 upstairs.

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 the killing.

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 recounted:

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 street.19

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

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