Witness Tells of Rapes, Killings, Amputations and Looting in Life as Rebel Captive

The Hague

May 7, 2008

Prosecution witness TF1-028, testifying behind a screen and with voice distortion, today told the Court a horrific tale of abduction and captivity at the hands of rebels. In response to some of the witness’s testimony, the Defense objected to the Court’s hearing evidence of crimes not specifically covered in Charles Taylor’s indictment. After hearing a response from the Prosecution, the judges reaffirmed a previous decision and overruled the objection. In the morning, the witness became overwhelmed with emotion and broke down twice, necessitating Court adjournments. When Prosecution questioning ended in the late afternoon, the Defense began its cross-examination. Court sat for an extra half hour to make up for the morning adjournments and a brief afternoon adjournment after the witness complained of a headache.

Rape of children

The witness testified that she lived in Karina, Bombali district (in western Sierra Leone) at the time of the 1998 ECOMOG intervention. One morning “junta” forces came to the town. “Junta” is another name often used for the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and sometimes for their Revolutionary United Front (RUF) partners who controlled Sierra Leone from May 1997-February 1998. The witness’s brother and his 12-year old son were beaten by the soldiers, and molten plastic was dripped all over the brother’s body. In addition, the witness said, the soldiers beat many other people and raped young girls. She recounted the rapes of two nieces, seven and eight years old. The witness said that the rebels returned that night and looted houses, explaining that this was “Operation Pay Yourself”.

After the soldiers left, the witness said that another group of RUF and AFRC, some of them Liberians, arrived in Karina and stayed for two weeks. She said they looted property, and then told the Court that “RUF and juntas” had raped her 13 year-old daughter and 12 year-old niece. When Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra asked how she knew this, the witness broke down in tears. Court adjourned for 20 minutes. When the session resumed, the witness explained that she knew because the girls had been damaged in their vaginas and were bleeding. After two weeks, she said, the rebels left Karina, but promised to return.

She then recounted a morning three days later, when she saw flames and smoke from a nearby burning village even though it had rained all night. When she began telling of the rebels return to Karina, Defense Counsel Morris Anyah rose to object.

Evidence not charged in the indictment

Although the judges had already issued a ruling on the issue, perhaps in anticipation of a possible later appeal, Anyah said he wanted to register his objection to evidence being heard about crimes that were not charged in Taylor’s indictment. Specifically, he noted that the only charges against Taylor relating to Bombali district had to do with looting, not with other crimes the witness was describing.

Lead Prosecutor Brenda Hollis responded by saying there were three reasons that this evidence was relevant and admissible. She said that the Court had taken judicial notice of the fact that there had been an armed conflict in Sierra Leone, but had not taken judicial notice of widespread and systematic crimes – crimes against humanity. Hollis said that this evidence showed that the crimes that have been charged in Taylor’s indictment were part of this larger attack, part of the crimes against humanity. Secondly, she said that the evidence showed that the crimes charged were part of a campaign of terror conducted by the same individuals, not rogue acts by rogue commanders. Hollis said it was important to show continuous involvement by the same individuals whom the Prosecution alleges were co-actors with Taylor in a Joint Criminal Enterprise. Finally, she said that evidence of additional crimes were relevant to Taylor’s knowledge that crimes were occurring in Sierra Leone.

After brief deliberation, Presiding Judge Doherty stated that the judges were reaffirming their previous decision on the matter and overruling the objection.

Abduction from Karina

The witness testified that her daughter called her to a window, from where they saw rebels walking by with a man whose arm was amputated and a group of naked women, among them her sister-in-law. Her sister in law was bleeding in the face. The witness attempted to escape to the bush with her children and her sister’s four-year-old child strapped to her back, but she was accosted by juntas at the edge of the village. As the witness recounted that the rebels stripped her naked, she began crying but Court proceedings continued. She was beaten with a sword, and tied together with her sister-in-law and sister, both of whom were also beaten with cutlasses. They were taken to the mosque area in the village, where she saw here uncle lying on the ground. She said he had been hacked on the neck. When her other uncle asked the juntas why they had done this, a soldier hacked him in the face, killing him. At this point in the proceedings, the witness again began crying, and the judges allowed an officer of the Witness and Victims Section to sit with her. Asked whether she had said anything after watching her uncle killed, the witness told the Court she had said “our family is finished”. The three bound women, including the witness, were then taken towards another building. As they approached, she saw her brother lying on the ground in death throes, having repeatedly been hacked in the neck. As she related the account, the witness again broke down crying. Court adjourned briefly.

The witness testified that she saw many corpses in the street that day. At the time, she said, the population of Karina was very high because during the intervention, many civilians had fled junta killing and looting in Freetown, Kono and Makeni. She testified that juntas took her to be killed, but that when another junta man saw that she was about to be executed, he intervened, saying she was his niece. The witness said she had never seen the man, who just wanted to rape her. The witness said she was taken by this man from Karina.

Life as a captive of the rebels

Along a river, juntas hacked her two brothers, killing one and leading to brain damage in the other, and further on, she saw a junta hacking her nephew to death. Then she and her abductor encountered two men whom she knew from trading. She said she tried to warn them to go back, but they didn’t understand. The juntas seized them and partially amputated their hands. That same day, the witness and her abductor passed through the village of Manyayie, where AFRC fighters were burning houses. From there, still on the same day as her capture, they went to the town of Kambia, where the witness said she saw AFRC commanders Gullit and Five-Five. She said she saw another man killed with a machete there.

From Kambia, the witness moved with a large group of rebels and other captured civilians into the forest. She said that when some soldiers wanted to kill her 13 year-old sister, another soldier stopped them, claiming she was his wife, because “he only wanted to rape her.” The soldiers then came for the witness, saying they had been ordered to kill all Mandingos from Karina because President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was a Mandingo, but another soldier intervened and he left. Later, she was told that commander Five-Five wanted to see her. Five-Five explained that as a Mandingo, she would be killed. At this point the witness said she lied about having harbored RUF and AFRC fighters in her house in Karina, so Five-Five changed his mind.

The group moved to the village of Mandaha for six days, where the witness said there was fighting between the juntas and Kamajors (members of a Mende traditional hunting society loyal to the government). She said a captured Kamajor fighter was set on fire and burned to death. Also in Mandaha, the witness said the rebels killed her younger brother by hacking him to death, and raped her 12-year-old niece. The witness described a scene of continuous rape at Mandaha, with rebels raping girls and women in the street and in the bush anytime they felt like it. The witness named several AFRC commanders who were in the village at the time.

The group traveled through three other villages, Makiteh and Kortu, and Sandar Makulo, and the witness described other atrocities there, including killings and amputations. When the group came to the town of Rosos, it stayed there for seven months. The witness said there were about 500 captive civilians at Rosos, male and female, and of all ages. While the juntas used Rosos as a base for attacks on nearby villages, the witness said that she, her 45 year-old sister, and 13 year-old sister were continuously raped in Rosos by the men who had taken them as “wives”. The witness said she finally submitted to the man who had abducted her after seeing another woman shot for refusing to be raped. Beyond being raped, the witness, her sisters, and many other women were also forced to cook and do laundry for the men. Civilian boys were used by the rebels to carry looted property from surrounding villages.

After seven months in Rosos, the group moved to the village of Tufayim, which the rebels had renamed “Colonel Eddie Town” after one of their commanders. In Colonel Eddie Town, the witness testified that any woman who refused rape would be locked for hours in a box.

Arrival of RUF reinforcements and the Freetown invasion

The witness testified that the RUF commander Superman sent a group of reinforcements to Colonel Eddie Town while she was there. She said a group of rebels were sent from the town to meet the reinforcements and bring them back. She said that about 100 well-armed fighters in red headbands arrived under the command of Mohamed Bajehjeh. The witness said that some in the group were Liberians, which she recognized by the way they spoke. She testified that they were called the Red Lions group, and had with them civilians who were emaciated and poorly clothed. After the arrival of this group, the witness said that another large group of AFRC men under the command of SAJ Musa arrived.

After his arrival, Musa called a meeting of the commanders, which was near to the house where the witness was. Musa told them they were going to Freetown to end the war. The next day another meeting was called for everyone being kept in the town, and women were told to only take one set of clothes because it would be a difficult trip to Freetown. The whole group moved out of Colonel Eddie Town that night. When they reached Waterloo that same night the witness said the AFRC/RUF forces were burning houses and killing civilians – men, women and children.

From Waterloo, the group moved to Benguema, where SAJ Musa was killed by fragments from an explosion. The witness then moved with the group into Freetown. Prosecutor Alagendra asked where the Red Lion group was at this time, and the witness said they were scattered all over the town. The witness stayed for two weeks in the Ferry Junction area of Freetown, where she witnessed numerous killings by the rebels. When the witness tried to escape, she was taken to Blackhall Road. There, she said that at night rebels brought girls 12-13 years old to the house where she was staying, and raped them in front of her.

As military pressure on the rebels increased, the witness moved with them out of Freetown, witnessing numerous human hands tied together and protruding from the earth along Freetown’s Kissy Road. Eventually, she escaped from the rebels.

Return to Karina

The witness testified that she came back to Karina to find that the rebels had raped her 12 year-old daughter, who gave birth to a baby as a result and was never the same again. Her sister-in-law was hearing impaired from her beating at the hands of the rebels. Prosecutor Alagendra referred the witness to her testimony yesterday, when she said she was separated from her husband, and asked why they were separated. Crying, the witness said it was “because the juntas had raped me and my children. All of my children had gone bad now. All my children have lost their future.” The Prosecution had no further questions.

Cross-examination begins

Defense Counsel Morris Anyah began his cross examination of witness TF1-028 by seeking to establish that it was the AFRC and not the RUF who had been responsible for the atrocities described by the witness. The witness said that from the time of her abduction until the reinforcements had arrived at Colonel Eddie Town, she had only known of one RUF fighter with the rebel group – her abductor.

Under questioning from Anyah, the witness stated that the number of fighters in the Red Lion Battalion who arrived as reinforcements were 70, together with 30 civilians. In a previous statement referenced by Anyah, and in her 2006 testimony in the RUF trial (of Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao) the witness had said there were 50 Red Lion fighters who arrived as reinforcements. The witness said that at the time she had been afraid for her safety, so she had said there were only 50.

The witness insisted that Mohamed Bajehjeh and his men, the Red Lion Battalion, were overwhelmingly RUF, and that they had been sent by Superman. Anyah presented her with notes from a previous statement to the Prosecution, which recorded her as saying that the reinforcements were Foday Sankoh’s men. The Prosecution objected that this was being put to the witness as a contradiction when it wasn’t contradictory, and Judge Lussick agreed. When the question was rephrased, the witness said that Superman sent the reinforcements, but that as part of the RUF organization, they were Sankoh’s men.

Anyah ended the Court day by asking the witness about the Special Task Force (STF). The witness said the only time she had ever heard about the STF was in Karina, when she was abducted. Anyah read from a transcript of the witness’s testimony in the RUF trial, in which she agreed with a Defense Counsel that the majority of the Red Lion group of reinforcements who arrived under Mohamed Bajehjeh had been STF and not RUF. The witness denied having said it.

Anyah was presenting another potential contradiction between a detail of her evidence in this trial and what she told the Court in the RUF trial when the trial day ended.

Proceedings will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.