Appendix 4, Part 2: Mass Graves Report
APPENDIX 4 – PART TWO
Report on Mass Graves and Other Sites
1. In circumstances of war the dead all too often do not receive a standard burial. People die on territory where they are not known. Other times it may be too risky to perform the appropriate rituals and ceremonies. Occasionally the perpetrators simply wish to get rid of the bodies and “dump” them. All these circumstances result in the creation of “mass graves”.
2. Despite its limited resources the Commission sent investigators to most districts in Sierra Leone in order to identify mass graves. These missions were not meant to produce an exhaustive survey of mass graves in the country. The goal was rather to give Sierra Leoneans a sense of what the conflict had wrought in different parts of the country. Behind every mass grave there is a tragic story.
3. The Commission also asked its investigators to identify certain other sites “that have a story to tell.” These included sites of mass killings, executions, tortures, amputations, etc. Hence the title of this chapter: “Mass Graves and Other Sites”.
4. While this chapter is principally illustrative in nature of certain violations, certain conclusions and recommendations have been made on the basis of the information collected, in particular with regard to the preservation of such sites.
5. In order to fully appreciate the Commission’s findings it is useful to have in mind the concepts and methodology it adopted in relation to mass graves.
6. The Commission has come across different definitions of “mass grave”. The definitions include the following criteria: (a) the number of bodies contained in the mass grave, (b) whether those bodies are identified, (c) the cause of death, (d) the measure of respect accorded to the remains and (e) the “legitimacy” of the site.
7. With regard to the number of bodies, the Commission is of the view that any grave containing more than one body constitutes a “mass” grave. For the purposes of the present exercise any other limitation would be arbitrary and unjustified. To the extent that a single grave contains the body of the victim of a mass killing that also resulted in a mass grave, such grave is also included in this report.
8. As for the number of bodies, this Commission is of the opinion that any grave containing more than one body constitutes a “mass” grave. For the purposes of the present exercise any other limitation would be arbitrary and unjustified.
9. The Commissioners decided that it was not a necessary criterion for the bodies to be unidentified. The report includes graves containing identified bodies, unidentified bodies and graves containing both identified and unidentified bodies.
10. Graves containing the bodies of soldiers or combatants that fell during armed confrontations do not strictly speaking constitute mass graves. The victims should be civilians who have been extra-judicially, summarily or arbitrarily executed.1 Although the majority of the graves reported in this chapter contain civilians, the Commission did not wish to exclude the few graves containing the bodies of combatants.
11. Another broad criterion is the measure of respect accorded to the bodies. It could be said that for a grave to be a “mass grave” the bodies should have been dumped randomly. In such case the bodies lie in the position in which they have fallen. In such cases there are usually no grave markings identifying the site and the identities of the victims are not recorded.2 The Commission has decided not to make such a distinction.
12. A final criterion is the “legitimacy” of the grave site. This relates to the reasons behind the creation of the grave. Was it dug in order to dispose of evidence, or was it rather created for health reasons? The Commission has not employed this criterion in order to exclude any graves from this report.
13. Thus, the Commission’s starting point is a very broad definition of “mass grave.” A mass grave is any grave containing the remains of more than one person that fell victim during the war. It is only after careful analysis of the collected data that the Commission was able to make a classification as to the different “types” of mass graves in Sierra Leone.
14. This category of sites comprises all sites where a particularly remarkable event took place during the war, but that do not qualify as a “mass grave.” Such sites include mass killing sites, execution sites, torture sites and amputation sites.
Methodology of the investigative missions
15. The Commission’s investigators were sent to the districts with the following tasks:
a. to identify as many “mass graves” and “other sites” as possible in all districts,
b. to photograph the identified sites,
c. to identify the number of victims,
d. to reveal the identity of the victims,
e. to identify the types of violations committed at the site (human rights/international humanitarian law),
f. to identify the perpetrators,
g. to identify and locate the tools and instruments used in committing the violations,
h. to identify the persons and institutions responsible for the management of the sites,
i. to determine the current uses of the sites (if any),
j. to advise the local community on the protection, preservation and security of the site.
16. The TRC database, containing information collected from the statements made to the Commission, was used as a starting point and guide for the exercise. Once in the districts the investigators made contact with the TRC coordinators and the traditional leaders. In gathering the desired information they relied largely on primary sources, i.e. people who were eye-witnesses to the killing and/or burial. It is the many interviews with these persons that led the investigators to the different sites.
17. The difficulties encountered during the mission included: the limited time-frame within which the investigations had to be completed; the limited financial resources; mechanical problems with vehicles; poor road conditions; and some confusion on the part of the local populace between the TRC and the Special Court.3
Methodology of the data analysis
18. The collected information was analysed per district. This was because many of the findings and recommendations that emerged were area specific. However, the Commission was not able to make conclusive findings for each and every district. The districts of Kambia, Western Area and Port Loko are not reflected in this chapter. Shortage of time and resources and prevented the TRC from sending missions to these districts.
19. The Commission has made findings as to the type of violations and abuses that occurred in each district. Further, the Commission attempted to discern whether any “mass grave” patterns existed. The investigators looked into the manner people disposed of the casualties of war. Finally, the Commission engaged in a dialogue with the different communities on the question of preservation of the different sites. Members of these communities were asked to express their wishes and recommendations as to what should be done with the sites.
20. A general overview of all the sites the Commission has identified in the districts can be found in the “Table of Mass Graves and Other Sites” contained in Part Three of this Appendix. However, the Commission also provides a full account of certain of the stories behind those sites in the pages that follow. These stories have been chosen with the aim of illustrating the different circumstances which gave rise to the mass graves.
ANALYSIS OF MASS GRAVES AND OTHER SITES ACCORDING TO DISTRICT
21. The Commission identified 21 mass graves in Kono district. Of those identified, three graves contain fewer than 10 bodies, eight graves contain between ten and 50 bodies and one grave has “over 150” bodies. The other nine contain an unspecified number of victims.
22. The identity of the victims was rarely known. Indeed, many of the victims were believed to have been brought to the sites from different parts of Kono as carriers of looted items and/ or manpower to mine diamonds for the RUF/AFRC. Others were said to be refugees from other parts of the district.
23. In all reported cases the perpetrators were allegedly members/ supporters of the RUF or the RUF/AFRC. The violations occurred mainly in July 1995 (RUF) and in 1998 (RUF/AFRC). In most cases death was caused by gunshots, but beatings and stabbing were also reported. Typically perpetrators would overrun a village, surround houses in which civilians were hiding, order them to come out and shoot them at close range.
24. In the village of Tombodu the Commission identified three execution sites, one torture-execution site, one amputation site and one detention site. All of those sites were “used” in 1998 by the RUF/AFRC. The number of casualties associated with these sites is unknown.
25. In Kamara chiefdom, four mass grave sites were discovered, along with certain “other” sites. Particularly interesting was the apparent link between several of those sites. It was revealed by witnesses that a majority of victims in Tombodu were taken from villages in the Sandor chiefdom and brought to the violation sites to mine diamonds and/or carry looted items for the RUF/AFRC. They were subsequently shot or burnt alive. Also, several victims were hung from a pear tree and beaten to death. The bodies were then left on the tree to dry before being dumped. One of the mass graves used for that purpose was the so-called “Savage Pit” (see photograph 1 below). It was the notorious commander “Colonel Savage” who gave his name to this pit. He allegedly amputated victims (on a long pipe at the car park) and killed an unspecified number of civilians before dumping them in the pit. Many victims were first detained in a former local cell, used as a detention centre.
Photograph 1: The “Savage Pit” at Tombodu, Kono District
26. In Njaiama Nimikoro Township (Nimikoro Chiefdom) five mass grave sites have been identified.
27. The first one is said to contain the remains of 14 victims who had their throats slit by the RUF in 1995. According to testimonies collected from witnesses within the township, there were SLA soldiers based in the township from 1994-1995, but they withdrew without informing the residents. The RUF overran the township, killing an unspecified number of civilians. However, the 14 victims were said to have been hiding in the house very close to the mass grave site. The RUF ordered them to come out, after which they were bayoneted to death.
28. The second mass grave is said to contain the remains of 37 male victims who were massacred by the RUF during the same attack in 1995. According to testimonies collected from witnesses and residents of the township, after the SLA withdrew the RUF overtook the town. They instructed the victims to stand in a single straight line and shot them at close range. Their remains were buried in an old garage by some members of the township.
29. The third mass grave is believed to contain the remains of 33 female victims, including four babies, who were massacred by the RUF during 1995 after they overran the town. The RUF fighters ordered the victims out of the house in which they were hiding and shot them at close range. The mass grave site is located behind the mud house from which the victims emerged. It is only a short distance from the mass grave referred to above (with the 37 victims). According to the testimonies collected from witnesses and residents of the area, this massacre took place shortly after the 37 were murdered. This suggests that the perpetrators were the same in both massacres.
30. The fourth mass grave is said to contain some 11 victims, both males and females, who were massacred by the RUF in 1995. According to the testimony of the only survivor, one Feah Komeh who herself was shot, the RUF combatants ordered everyone in the house to come out and as they emerged they were shot at close range. It was during the shooting that a bullet entered her top right hand shoulder bursting out under her arm-pit. She fell unconscious and when she regained consciousness she noticed that all the other occupants were dead, including a pastor called Kpakima and his wife and children. They were buried by residents of the township.
31. The fifth mass grave, which is within the same compound, is said to contain an unspecified number of victims who were killed at different places in the township during an attack in 1995.
32. A mass grave site was located in Gbense Chiefdom, Koeyor Village. It contains the skeletal remains of an unspecified number of victims who were killed during the RUF/AFRC junta occupation of Koidu town in 1998. A resident of Koeyor testified that he discovered many human skulls and bones outside his house when he returned from Guinea in 2000. In order for him to be able to take possession of his house he cleared the human remains and buried them in one hole. He further revealed that he got information that his house was being used by the junta as a hospital to treat their colleagues. He was unable to say whether the remains were those of civilians or not.
Community recommendations on commemoration
33. With regard to the establishment of parks, memorials or monuments at the sites, the chiefs expressed their inability to make a decision at short notice. They planned to conduct meetings at chiefdom level in order to reach a unanimous decision.
34. The Commission identified eight mass graves in Tonkolili district. Six of them contained fewer than ten bodies. Two reportedly contained more than 30 bodies.
35. The identities of the victims are unknown, except in one or two cases. Three of the graves apparently contain the remains of RUF or RUF/AFRC combatants. One grave was said to contain two Kenyan peace-keepers. All the graves were believed to contain the bodies of male victims.
36. In most cases the RUF/AFRC was identified as being the perpetrator. However, the SLA and the Kamajors were each also mentioned each once as the alleged perpetrator. In all but two of the cases the cause of death was alleged to be from gunshot wounds. In certain cases deaths were sustained gun battles between opposing sides. One grave contains the remains of two men who were burnt alive. The Kenyan peace-keepers were said to have died after their armoured vehicle came under fire from the RUF and fell into a river.
37. One of the graves identified in Masingbi, Kunike Sanda Chiefdom contains the remains of over 30 male victims. It was discovered along the Maquali road in the ruins of an old garage. According to testimonies collected from witnesses in the township, especially from Richard A. Conteh who supervised the burial, the bodies of the victims were discovered after a gun battle between the RUF/AFRC junta and the Kamajors in 1997. Their remains were dumped in a pit in the garage. The site is now covered with grass.
38. In Magburaka, Kholifa Rowalla chiefdom, one of the mass grave sites, a disused well (see photograph 2 below), is located along the main road to Makeni, between two burnt houses (numbers 18 and 20 Makeni Road). This site is said to contain five male victims who, according to collected testimonies, were killed in “cross-fire” between the RUF/AFRC junta and the Kamajors in 1998.
Photograph 2: Disused well at Magburaka, Tonkolili District
Community recommendation on commemoration
39. With regard to the establishment of parks, memorials or monuments at the sites, the chiefs expressed their inability to make a decision at short notice. They planned to conduct meetings at the chiefdom level to reach a unanimous decision.
40. In Bonthe district the Commission identified seven mass graves. Two of them contain the remains of fewer than 10 people. The others were said to contain 12, 50, 56, 450 and 600 bodies respectively.
41. Some graves are said to contain the bodies of civilians, whereas others are believed to contain the remains of combatants (RUF, RUF/AFRC, SLA soldiers, Kamajors).
42. Most of the killings recorded in Bonthe district are alleged to be the work of the RUF. In most of the villages where RUF atrocities were reported, the RUF fighters would typically summon the villagers to meetings under the pretence of being friendly. Once the villagers had gathered they would then be executed.
43. At Tihun (Sogbini Chiefdom) the Commission identified a mass grave reportedly containing the bodies of some 600 people. Witnesses said that RUF fighters attacked Tihun on 18 February 1995 and killed about 600 people. According to Paramount Chief Steven Wonie Bio, the RUF attacked Tihun on three occasions before launching a major offensive in which they caused extensive havoc and committed multiple violations. It was alleged that “the fighters” summoned all the villagers to the local “barray” (equivalent to town hall) where they were executed. The barray was then set on fire and those who were still alive were burnt to death. The RUF had reportedly vowed not to leave anyone alive at Tihun. They then made their base at Tihun. All remaining inhabitants deserted Tihun because of the RUF presence. In December 1995 skulls and skeletons were collected from various places and buried near the Old Town (see photograph 3 below).
44. One of the inhabitants of Tihun Town, Joseph Yanguba, made a statement to the Commission in which he related the same story of the RUF attack on Tihun. The following is an extract from his testimony:
“The fighters […] attacked us in Tihun and killed over 600 people, men, women as well as children. Those who were captured and abducted were over 300 in number. During our capture, we were taken to Mattru Jong for recruitment because large number of their colleagues had died in ambush. I was with them for 3 weeks before I managed to escape from them. I then returned home. On my arrival I found out that the RUF fighters killed 9 members of my family. […]
According to the fighters, they said that, we were told not to encourage soldiers in Tihun and we allowed our son, Maada Bio to send his soldiers to Tihun. That was the reason why large numbers of people were killed in Tihun Town. The dead bodies were left in the town to decay because we were afraid of the number. Secondly, because the RUF fighters would kill us if we were caught by them.”
Photograph 3: Mass Grave at Tihun, Bonthe District
45. In Bauya village, in the same chiefdom of Bonthe district, the Commission identified two further mass graves. In this village a similar story was recorded. It is alleged that RUF fighters attacked Bauya Town on 2 November 1995. Many people were killed as a result of the attack. The remaining residents fled the Town to nearby villages. On their return they found the corpses of many residents of Bauya lying along the road. The bodies were later buried in two different graves. The two graves are said to contain 56 and 50 bodies respectively.
46. According to a resident of Talia village (Yawbeko chiefdom), the Kamajors executed about 450 people who were accused of being SLA and RUF members or “collaborators”. They were dumped in a grave situated on the left hand side of the road leading to the Primary School (see photograph 4 below).
Photograph 4: Mass Grave at Talia, Bonthe District
Community recommendations for commemoration
47. In Bonthe district, different suggestions were made for the commemoration of the sites. All villages asked for the creation of “monuments” that “serve” the community. In Tihun, the villagers requested that a park dedicated to the dead be established. In Bauya village, the erection of a market building was proposed. In Talia and Mattru, the erection of barrays was requested.
48. In the district of Moyamba the Commission identified 15 mass grave sites. Seven of those graves are said to contain fewer than 10 bodies. Six contain between 10 and 50 bodies. In two graves it was reported that 80 and “about 150” persons are buried respectively.
49. Two of the graves contain the remains of SLA soldiers and Kamajors who died during clashes in January 1997. All the other graves contain the bodies of civilians who died during the invasions of their villages by RUF combatants. As in Bonthe district, it appeared that the RUF typically summoned villagers to meetings under the pretence of being friendly, only to execute them once they had gathered in one place.
50. The Commission further identified a detention site in Magbenka village (Komgbora chiefdom). It is a community store where about 150 people were detained by the RUF in January 1996.
51. The Commission was told the story behind the mass grave and an accompanying detention site in Magbenka (Komgbora chiefdom). It is alleged that on Tuesday 6 December 1996 at approximately 3.00 pm a group of about 100 RUF fighters from the Camp “FALL-FALL” under the command of one Lieutenant Komba Gbondema entered Magbenka village. The RUF fighters ordered everyone in the village, young and old, women and men, to converge at the court barray for a meeting. The residents of the village were forcefully gathered in the court barray to await the RUF commander. By 7.00 pm the people began to suspect danger. Approximately one hundred and fifty (150) people who had gathered managed to escape. The RUF combatants ordered the remaining villagers to march to the community store in two straight lines. Some of these villagers managed to break free as they were being locked up in the store. The rest of the people detained by the RUF, numbering about eighty, were later taken out of the store and shot dead. One of the escapees explained that some of them had returned to the village after one year and found the skeletons of those killed littered all around the community store. The skeletons were collected and buried in a single grave at the back of the community store on 6 December 1996 (see photographs 5 and 6, below and overleaf).
Photograph 5: Detention site at Magbenka, Moyamba District
Photograph 6: Mass grave at Magbenka, Moyamba District
52. Mokanji Town, in the Lower Banta Gbangbatoke Chiefdom, is a separate mass grave site identified by the Commission in the Moyamba district. It is alleged that in January 1997, Kamajors and SLA soldiers clashed there, resulting in many deaths. After the fight, civilians were forced to bury the dead at two locations.
Community recommendations for commemoration
53. Recommendations made by the different communities include the erection of:
- a hospital in Magbenka;
- Community centres or barrays in Yoyema, Mosongo, Mokanji and Jaihun;
- a town hall in Kwellu;
- a monument in Moyolo; and
- a tomb or memorial in Mosenessie.
54. In Kenema district the Commission identified two mass grave sites. One contains three bodies, the other contains 13 bodies.
55. In both cases the victims are civilians. Most of their identities are known.
56. RUF/AFRC fighters are alleged to be the perpetrators of the killings. In one case they beat the victims with sticks and shot them. In the other case they opened fire at point blank range. They ordered people to leave their houses under threat of their houses being set on fire. Once the people rushed out they were shot.
57. The Commission also identified one torture site at the town chief’s house at Bandawoh, Small Bo Chiefdom in the Kenema district (see photograph 7 below). At this site RUF fighters allegedly tortured 36 people on 26 March 1994.
Photograph 7: Torture site at Bandawoh, Kenema District
58. This is the story of an inhabitant of Bandawoh, Small Bo chiefdom.
“On 26 March 1998 the AFRC/RUF fighters, dressed in military uniform, attacked and summoned the entire township to the centre square where they stripped naked some thirty men. One of the fighters threw a cement brick on my head. I fell on the ground bleeding as they ordered the rest to look at the sun. In the evening they apprehended three boys to the checkpoint, beat them with sticks, took them to the roadside and shot them dead. The fighters came back and ordered me with three others to drag them into the nearby dug out pit.”
Community recommendations for commemoration
59. It was strongly felt that the preservation of these sites was under threat as most sites were the result of burials hurriedly done. The communities believe that relocation of some of the sites is necessary as the reconstruction of houses is taking place.
60. The communities suggested symbolic reparations in respect for the dead. The erection of monuments in remembrance of these sites was considered vital.
61. In Kailahun the Commission discovered 11 mass graves. Three contain fewer than 10 bodies. Five contain between 10 and 20 bodies. The other three contain 30, 45 and 60 bodies, respectively.
62. In most cases the victims were civilians. Their identities are mostly unknown, although some names were given.
63. The RUF or RUF/AFRC is, in almost every case, described as the alleged perpetrator. Different causes of death have been reported: victims locked in houses and burnt, “ritual human sacrifice for protection” and gunshot and knife wounds.
64. In the district of Kailahun the Commission further identified one torture site, one torture-execution site, one mass killing site and one “dumping” site.
65. In Gboijiema, Malema chiefdom the Commission interviewed several witnesses of the events that resulted in massacres. This is the story of one of them:
“On 20 September 1991, the RUF fighters attacked the town at dawn and killed about eighty people. The fighters used guns and knives to kill. We managed to escape from the town. Foday was accused of being a soldier. Four fighters stabbed me with a bayonet at random. I fell on the ground. They used the knife and cut through my neck. As I lay half-dead I was abandoned in the pool of blood. The town was deserted for four years. We returned on 12 May 1994 to bury the remains. A mass grave of forty-five skulls and human skeletons was buried in the town” (see photograph 8 below).
Photograph 8: Mass grave at Gboijiema, Kailahun District
66. The man named “Foday” mentioned in the previous story also made a statement to the Commission. He told the Commission that he was accused by the RUF fighters of “being a soldier”. He was tortured severely. He also provided the Commission with an account of the mass killing in his village, reproduced overleaf:
“My father Momoh Kamara can recount the arrival of RUF fighters at Gboijiema Village in 1991. He was in his room as he was told to come out. He was forced out of his room, dragged by his cloth and was placed in front of his house. He was beaten with sticks and one RUF rebel, a very small boy called “Small Soldier” and other RUF fighters took a machete and cut my fathers head right across his head into two halves. Everybody feared to see the scene. This particular incident sent a message to the whole families under detention outside and inside the town barray that everybody was going to die that day. Apart from his death, his home was also set on fire and all his property was looted. He was not buried on that day because everybody apart from me, who was half dead, only five ran away into the bushes. After the whole period they were all buried in one hole; over 44 people, men, women, young girls and children were all put in the same hole in Gboijiema Village, Malema chiefdom.”
67. Kailahun is also the location of the “Slaughter House”, which was used during the RUF occupation of Kailahun from 1991 to 1999. The house was the main location for most of the killings in the Kailahun axis. Victims were killed either by having their necks cut, being stabbed to death or being shot with a machine gun. As a result of such “techniques” the walls of the house are covered with “blood stains”4 (see photograph 9 below).
Photograph 9: The “blood stained” walls of the Slaughter House in Kailahun
68. After the victims were killed they were carried in wheelbarrows and dumped on a twenty-metre stretch of bare land at the back of the police station in Kailahun (see photograph 10 below).
Photograph 10: Dumping site behind Kailahun police station, Kailahun District
Community recommendations for commemoration
69. It was felt that the preservation of these sites was under threat as most sites were the result of burials hurriedly done.
70. The communities suggested symbolic reparations, such as monuments dedicated to the dead.
71. The Commission identified 11 mass graves in the district of Koinadugu. Only one of the graves contained more than 10 bodies.
72. In almost all cases the victims are identified. All of the victims died in 1998 during attacks by the RUF or RUF/AFRC. Reported causes of death include gunshot wounds, machete wounds and burnings.
73. The Commission identified two torture sites in this district.
74. Koinadugu Village in the Sengbe chiefdom was a stronghold of the RUF/AFRC during the war but was left under the control of the RUF after a clash between the two factions in mid-1998. A total of three mass graves were identified in the environs of the village. Many people were reportedly killed at the hands of RUF forces under the command of Colonel Dennis Mingo, alias “Superman”. Most were killed in the nearby bushes and were never buried. The site is located at the centre of the town, close to the Mosque. It contains the bodies of four people who were locked up in a house and burnt.
Community recommendations for commemoration
75. The villagers made different recommendations as to how the deceased should best be remembered.
- The residents of Falaba requested the construction of a marketplace in remembrance of their relatives killed.
- The residents of Lengekoro recommended the construction of a “Barray” where the people can sit to discuss local issues.
- In Koinadugu, people requested the building of a school.
- In Katombo II, the construction of a general store to keep agricultural produce was suggested.
76. In Bombali district, seven mass grave sites were identified. Only one of the graves contains the remains of more than 10 persons.
77. Only a few of the victims’ identities remains unknown.
78. In almost all cases the AFRC is the alleged perpetrator. In one case the perpetrators are listed as “unidentified fighters”. The alleged causes of death are gunshot wounds and torture with machetes.
79. In Bombali the Commission also identified an amputation site. At this site between 5 and 10 persons had their hands amputated by “unidentified fighters”.
One of the mass graves is located in Gbendembu Town (Gbendembu Gowahun chiefdom). It is said to contain the bodies of “over 10” people. They are said to have been killed by unknown assailants at night during December 1998.
80. An amputation site in Karena Village was identified by the Commission (see photograph 11 below). The town in question was attacked in 1999 when an unidentified group of fighters entered in the early hours of the morning. Between five and ten people had their hands amputated with machetes; some of the victims died as a result of profuse bleeding. Most of those killed were not natives of the village. The site is at a mango tree.
Photograph 11: Amputation site in Karena, Bombali District
Community recommendations for commemoration
81. The community representatives recommended the construction of “a monument”.
82. In Bo district the Commission identified eight mass grave sites. It was reported that one grave has 67 bodies in it. The rest of the graves have fewer than 11 bodies.
83. Some of the victims could not be identified because they were strangers to the areas in which they met their deaths. In all cases the RUF was named as the alleged perpetrator faction.
84. When the RUF attacked Telu Bongor in 1994 they went to the house of the former Regent Chief Samuel Hinga Norman and killed many people. They then moved around the town killing people indiscriminately. At that time a lot of people from other areas had come to seek refuge in Telu Bongor. Many people died during the attack, but not all of them could be identified. Most of them were Mendes. Four mass graves were identified in this chiefdom. The first mass grave contains an unspecified number of people. According to the villagers there are at least 67 bodies in this grave. Corpses that were picked up from the township were dumped into a pit dug in front of Chief Hinga Norman’s compound.
Community recommendations for commemoration
85. Most communities suggested the erection of shrines on the mass grave sites as monuments to the dead. The villagers of Tikonko want a tomb with a tablet bearing the names of all the victims.
86. In Pujehun district nine mass grave sites were identified. Only one contains fewer than 10 bodies. The others contain 11, 12, 27, 36, “over 150”, 264 and a “countless” number of bodies, respectively.
87. The identity of the victims is often unknown because they died away from their homes. The RUF is named as the alleged perpetrator in most cases, but the SLA and ULIMO are also held accountable for some killings. Different causes of death are mentioned, among them shooting, beating and stabbing.
88. At Sahn Malen two mass graves were identified. It is alleged that one consists of the remains of 36 persons and the other of eleven bodies. The mass graves are both situated around the bridge leading to the village. An eyewitness explained that the victims were lined up from the court barray to the bridge were they were shot to death. According to this eyewitness SLA and ULIMO soldiers accused the victims of collaborating with the RUF. After shooting them, the soldiers forced the people to bury them. The deceased on that particular day were all Mende, but they originated from several different chiefdoms. The soldiers brought some of them from other chiefdoms to Sahn Malen after accusing them of being collaborators. One of the mass grave sites was pointed out to the Commission’s investigators (see photograph 12 below).
Photograph 12: Mass grave at Sahn Malen, Pujehun District
89. Kpumbu is a village two miles from Sahn Malen. Another grave was identified here, close to a farmhouse where five persons were killed. The victims were all members of a family caught following a RUF attack. The witness managed to escape. When he returned in the evening he found his five relatives lying dead. From their wounds it appeared likely that they died as a result of beating. A hole was dug very close to the place where the remains were found, near the farmhouse.
90. At Bumpeh Pejeh chiefdom two mass graves were discovered. As the burial took place three years following the killings in 1996, the remains could not be identified. According to an eyewitness, Bumpeh Pejeh was the only chiefdom in the Pujehun district that had a heavy presence of SLA soldiers. As a result, many people from other areas came to this town for security. The RUF attacked the chiefdom causing heavy casualties and resulting in the dispersal of the population. When displaced persons returned after three years they discovered that many of the original inhabitants were missing. When the residents of the chiefdom returned the entire village had become overgrown. It was during the time when the bushes were being cleared (“under-brushing”) that many of the remains were discovered. Most of the remains were collected from the township and some others were retrieved from the nearby bush. The first set of remains that was discovered was buried in a hole near a cotton tree at the southern end of the township. When the first site was full, the people dumped the remains at a second mass grave site between the roots of the cotton tree (see photograph 13 below).
Photograph 13: One of two mass graves at Bumpeh Pejeh, Pujehun District
Community recommendation for commemoration
91. The communities suggested the erection of shrines on the mass grave sites as their monuments. Villagers of Sahn Malen requested that a bridge is constructed before the shrine is erected because a stream has to be crossed to reach the mass graves.
“TYPES” OF MASS GRAVES
92. From the outset, the Commission opted for a very broad definition of “mass grave”. After having studied the collected data it appears that, within this broad category of graves, different “types” may be distinguished. Criteria for differentiation include: (a) time between death and burial, (b) knowledge of the identity of the victim, (c) whether the victim was a civilian or combatant, (d) the location of the grave and (e) burial under threat by the perpetrator or not.
93. The time between death and burial varies. Most typically fighters would invade a town indiscriminately killing a large number of villagers. Only after the town was liberated and the surviving villagers had returned would the remains be collected and placed in a grave. Less frequently than the above category the mass grave would be dug more or less immediately after the killing.
94. A second criterion is the knowledge of the identity of the victim. Many people died in areas away from their homes. This may have been because they were seeking refuge in neighbouring towns, or because they were drivers, traders or even passengers cut off from their destination when the attack took place. Others were brought to the site of the killing by the perpetrator as captives.
95. Some graves contain the remains of combatants, but most of the mass graves identified by the Commission contain the bodies of civilians.
96. The locations chosen for the mass graves also vary greatly. It appears that in many cases people opted for the use of existing pits or ditches (toilet pits, wells, garage under-carrier trench, etc.). In other cases new holes were dug.
97. On some occasions villagers were forced by perpetrators to dig a hole and bury victims. In other cases the survivors organised the burial themselves. A third variation occurred where people buried their relatives “voluntarily”, but under the continuing threat of new attacks. Such different circumstances impacted on the location and depth of the grave.
PATTERN IN THE EVENTS THAT LED TO MASS GRAVES
98. The vast majority of persons found in the mass graves were victims of RUF or RUF/AFRC attacks. Different methods of killing have been reported, but most frequently the perpetrators relied on gunfire (indiscriminate shooting or deliberate shooting at close range). Another recurrent “technique” was to lock people inside of a house and then set the house on fire.
PRESERVATION AND COMMEMORATION OF MASS GRAVES
99. No matter the “type” of mass grave, the Commission has found that in most cases the sites are neglected. The future preservation of many of these sites is in danger.
100. Almost without exception the different communities consulted recommended “community oriented” ways of remembering and commemorating the dead such as the erection of community facilities.
101. Mass grave sites and other sites such as massacre and torture sites serve as powerful reminders of the abuses of the past and the need to ensure that they never occur again. Steps must be taken to preserve the most significant sites in all districts.
102. Most persons consulted by the Commission suggested that the dead be remembered through some form of community and symbolic reparations.
- The Commission recommends that the Government of Sierra Leone and the NGO community consider the erection of basic community facilities in consultation with affected communities. Such facilities should be dedicated to the victims of human rights atrocities.
- Simple shrines and monuments should be constructed at the more significant mass graves and other sites in consultation with local communities.
1 The authority on this matter is the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. More detail can be found at the following web address: http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/comexpert/ANX/X.htmI.
2 Such a distinction has been made, for example, in the work of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). More detail can be found at the following web address: http://www.unmikonline.org/justice/ompf/ompf_activities.htm.
3 More detail on the confusion at community level between these two institutions, including its impact on TRC field research and investigations, can be found in the chapter on the TRC and the Special Court in Volume Three B of the report.
4 The Equipo Argentino de Antropolgia Forense (EAAF) (Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team) Preliminary Mission to Sierra Leone (June – July 2002) has questioned whether these stains are in fact blood stains.