During the years of 1991 through 2002, Sierra Leone experience one of the most chaotic and gruesome civil wars in the history of mankind. In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front attempted to overthrow the Momoh government with the support of Liberian despot Charles Taylor. The RUF immediately took control of the largest diamond producing areas of Sierra Leone and led the country on a downward spiral of chaos and destruction. No less than 20 armed groups fought for control of various sections of the country, waging wars largely not between each other, but on local civilians, men, women and children. Bloody and disgusting stories of killing, hacked limbs, rape, forced sexual slavery and forced recruitment of child soldiers made minor news in the west, but decimated local communities and has had severe implications for Sierra Leone’s development to this day. It is a truly embarrassing and shameful period of human history.
Following the end of the civil war, the Parliament of Sierra Leone established the “Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to record and investigate the widespread atrocities committed by militant groups during the war, assess responsibility for the war and hold the criminals accountable. One very important aspect to the Commission’s work, was to conduct numerous interviews with victims and victims’ families to record and quantify the vast crimes committed during the conflict.
The dataset contains records of more than 40,000 individual victims. It lists the age, sex and occupation of the victim, the date and type of atrocity committed, which group committed it and the location of the event. The data are a frightening record of human depravity and indifference to the life and welfare of the weak.
As in nearly every conflict human history has ever known, violations during the Sierra Leone Civil War covered a wide range of human rights abuses and violent acts, almost exclusively waged against civilians. The most common types of violations were forced displacement, abduction, arbitrary detention and killing. least common were forced cannibalism, drugging, sexual slavery and forced recruitment into rebel groups. We can likely assume that all groups in these lower categories are under-represented in the data due to stigma and continued marginalization.Types of crimes against civilians varied by age group. Older individuals were much more likely to experience crimes involving destruction and theft of property, the forced taking of territory through displacement, extortion and killing. Younger individuals were more likely to fall victim to sexual crimes, drugging and forced recruitment. The age distribution of victims by gender was very different. Male victims tended to be much older than females (see gallery for graphic), though there were some female victims that were over 100 years old. Neither distribution accurately reflects what one would expect the age distribution to be in Sierra Leone, suggesting that victims of particular age groups were targeted with specific aims in mind.
Principal Components Analysis
Using princomp() in R, I found evidence for two or possibly three distinct groups. The first included most of the variables, but specifically those relating to property crimes, displacement, killing, abuse and extortion. We could potentially name this group “Terror Against Civilians” and look at it as a general group of common (but no less horrific) crimes against civilians waged by militant groups.
The second group included drugging, sexual slavery, forced recruitment and forced, labor. Rape, interestingly, rested between these two groups. As the variables in the second group are primarily violations involving the young, we could call this, accordingly, “Crimes Against Children.” These would include the sexual enslavement of young girls and the drugging and forced recruitment of young boys to serve as soldiers in warring groups.
Really, the distinction in crimes against civilians in Sierra Leone, was the difference in the age of victims. Older victims were more likely to be targeted for their property, social status as chiefs and leaders and to be displaced for territory. Younger victims were valued for domination, as sexual resources and as a pool of new soldiers for what would be otherwise very small militant groups.
Regardless of the type of analysis, the Civil War in Sierra Leone is one of the most disgusting chapters in human history. Presently, we are seeing a similar narrative being played out in the Ivory Coast, where an election dispute has turned into a regional civil war, with thousands being displaced, killed and abused. The United States and the world community as a whole has, hypocritically, turned a blind eye to the problems in the Ivory Coast. If the conflict continues, the Ivory Coast could very well be the next Sierra Leone.