(New York, March 6, 2003) Five nurses held for three months in 2002 by Liberian rebels have provided detailed accounts of their mistreatment, Human Rights Watch said today.
The women, who worked for the Liberian organization Merci, were given a "choice" by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) of either joining them as fighters or becoming "wives" of rebel soldiers. All of them were physically, sexually and psychologically abused.
Refugees now resident in Sierra Leone who fled Liberia between July and October 2002 also provided eyewitness accounts that LURD forces systematically imposed forced labor on threat of wounding or death. They told of abductions, "disappearances," and forced recruitment by LURD rebels in Liberia's Lofa County.
"The treatment of these women is just one example of the terrible abuses being committed by LURD," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. "Such crimes must stop."
Human Rights Watch has also documented that armed forces loyal to President Charles Taylor have continued to commit massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including summary executions; indiscriminate killing of civilians; intentional targeting of civilian areas; widespread rape and other kinds of sexual violence including sexual slavery; abduction and "disappearance" of both adults and minors; illegal detention; torture; forced recruitment; and forced labor. Survivors reported civilians being locked into houses and burned alive. Government troops routinely targeted fleeing civilians, and abducted boys for forced conscription and girls to serve as "wives."
The members of government and rebel forces responsible for this pattern of ongoing violations continue to operate with total impunity, devastating the Liberian civilian population and challenging the fragile peace of Liberia's neighbors -- Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Guinea. In the context of the new armed conflict in the sub-region, these ongoing violations threaten not only those who remain in Liberia, but also those refugees who had previously fled to Côte d'Ivoire.
The Liberian government and, to a lesser but still significant extent, the LURD forces, have continued to systematically violate their obligations under international law. Both have been repeatedly called upon to protect civilians and cease any and all violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and both have consistently failed to do so.
"If the international community insists on turning a blind eye to the brutality which continues in Liberia, the stability of the entire region will be threatened," said Takirambudde. "This will mean that innocent civilians will continue to be killed, raped, enslaved, forcibly conscripted and disappeared."
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