Sierra Leone

Explaining Sexual Violence During Civil War


Cohen, Dara Kay. 2010. “Explaining Sexual Violence during Civil War.” PhD diss., Stanford University.

Author: Dara Kay Cohen


Rape reportedly occurred on a mass scale during the Sierra Leone civil war. Yet existing theories of rape during conflict—including ethnic war and state breakdown—cannot account for the incidence and patterns of rape in Sierra Leone. In this paper, I develop a theory of rape as a socialization tool. I argue that rape during the Sierra Leone conflict served an essential intragroup function for members in some types of combatant groups—those with low levels of internal cohesion. Drawing on almost 200 original interviews of both non-combatants and ex-combatants collected during five months of fieldwork in Sierra Leone, as well as a newly available household survey of wartime human rights violations, I find that rape was an especially successful tool used by rank-and-file combatants to facilitate bonding within fighting units. I examine evidence for the theory using microlevel data in Sierra Leone and also explore the support for alternative explanations. 

Keywords: sexual violence, civil war

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

From Where We Stand: War, Women's Activism and Feminist Analysis


Cockburn, Cynthia. 2007. From Where We Stand: War, Women's Activism and Feminist Analysis. New York: Zed Books.

Author: Cynthia Cockburn


The product of 80,000 miles of travel by the author over a two-year period, this original study examines women's activism against wars as far apart as Sierra Leone, Colombia and India. It shows women on different sides of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Israel refusing enmity and co-operating for peace. It describes international networks of women opposing US and Western European militarism and the so-called 'war on terror'. Women are often motivated by adverse experiences in male-led anti-war movements, preferring to choose different methods of protest and remain in control of their own actions. But like the mainstream movements, women's groups differ - some are pacifist while others put justice before non-violence; some condemn nationalism as a cause of war while others see it as a legitimate source of identity. The very existence of feminist antimilitarism proposes a radical shift in our understanding of war, linking the violence of patriarchal power to that of class oppression and ethnic 'othering'.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Society, Class, Ethnicity, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Analysis, Gendered Power Relations, Patriarchy, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarism, Nonviolence, Peacebuilding, Political Participation, Race, Terrorism, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa, Americas, North America, South America, Asia, South Asia, Europe, Western Europe Countries: Colombia, India, Sierra Leone, United States of America

Year: 2007

If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced, and Post-Conflict Settings: A Global Overview


Ward, Jeanne. 2002. If Not Now, When? Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Refugee, Internally Displaced, and Post-Conflict Settings: A Global Overview. New York: The Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium.  

Author: Jeanne Ward

Keywords: gender violence, refugee, displacement, post-conflict, human trafficking


This report addresses gender-based violence (GBV) in refugee, internally displaced, and post-conflict settings through twelve country profiles: three each for Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. The profiles include background information, GBV issues, GBV-related programming, and recommendations. The report focuses almost exclusively on violence against women and girls, and human trafficking is one of the main issues discussed. 

Topics: Displacement & Migration, IDPs, Refugees, Refugee/IDP Camps, Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Health, Reproductive Health, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual Violence, SV against Women, Trafficking, Human Trafficking, Violence Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Americas, Central America, South America, Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Oceania Countries: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Colombia, Congo-Brazzaville, Guatemala, Kosovo, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Timor-Leste

Year: 2002

Human Trafficking: The Unintended Effects of United Nations Intervention


Smith, Heather, and Charles Anthony Smith.  2011. "Human Trafficking: The Unintended Effects of United Nations Intervention." International Political Science Review 32 (2): 125-45.

Authors: Heather Smith, Charles Anthony Smith


International relations literature is replete with work on the effects of United Nations intervention on global crises, generally concluding that UN intervention either intensifies or ameliorates the crisis. Yet, the global human rights community has attempted to expose the more subtle and unintended effects of UN intervention, namely, substantial increases in the human sex trafficking trade into crisis areas. In this paper we attempt to bridge these two literatures. We evaluate increases in human trafficking in light of UN involvement in Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone. We argue that UN involvement has the unfortunate and unintended effect of increasing the rates of human trafficking in these crisis areas. We consider Nepal, where the UN did not intervene, as a control case. Our work concludes that the UN should proceed with caution into crisis areas and have plans in place to avoid the potentially devastating externalities of otherwise well-intentioned efforts.

Keywords: United Nations, military sexual assault, intervention, human rights, human trafficking

Topics: Economies, Humanitarian Assistance, International Organizations, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Peacekeeping, Rights, Human Rights, Trafficking, Human Trafficking, Sex Trafficking Regions: Africa, West Africa, Americas, Caribbean countries, Asia, South Asia, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Haiti, Kosovo, Nepal, Sierra Leone

Year: 2011

Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones: The Role of Peacekeepers in the Formation of Networks


Smith, Charles A., and Brandon Miller-de la Cuesta. 2011. "Human Trafficking in Conflict Zones: The Role of Peacekeepers in the Formation of Networks." Human Rights Review 12 (3): 287-99.

Authors: Charles A. Smith, Brandon Miller-de la Cuesta


While the effect of humanitarian intervention on the recurrence and intensity of armed conflict in a crisis zone has received significant scholarly attention, there has been comparatively less work on the negative externalities of introducing peacekeeping forces into conflict regions. This article demonstrates that large foreign forces create one such externality, namely a previously non-existent demand for human trafficking. Using Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone as case studies, we suggest that the injection of comparatively wealthy soldiers incentivizes the creation of criminal networks by illicit actors. We theorize further that the magnitude of increase in trafficking should be directly proportional to the size of the foreign force, with larger forces producing larger increases. We find that both hypotheses hold with varying levels of confidence across our three case studies. Despite the benevolent intent of peacekeeping missions, the possibility that they may contribute to human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation runs counter to the spirit of such interventions. This is especially problematic given that trafficking rings, once established, may be adapted to provide weapons and narcotics, thereby planting the seed of further destabilization.

Keywords: military sexual assault, human trafficking, peacekeeping

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Economies, Humanitarian Assistance, Livelihoods, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militaries, Peacekeeping, Sexual Violence, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, Trafficking, Arms Trafficking, Drug Trafficking, Human Trafficking Regions: Africa, West Africa, Americas, Caribbean countries, Europe, Balkans Countries: Haiti, Kosovo, Sierra Leone

Year: 2011

Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone


McFerson, Hazel. 2011. "Women and Post-Conflict Society in Sierra-Leone." Journal of International Women’s Studies 12 (4): 127-147.

Author: Hazel McFerson


Gender inequality in Sierra Leone, after colonialism among the worst in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been heightened further by the civil war of 1992-2002—which was related in part to the struggle for control of "blood diamonds" but also to long-standing social and regional disparities, and to the collapse of formal institutions and widespread corruption. Sierra Leonean women are today among the most marginalized in the world, socially, economically and politically. However, there are differences among three groups: the better educated, comparatively richer "Krios" (descendants of the original freed slaves); relatively enlightened tribes; and the more traditional patriarchal tribes. The main route to improving the status of Sierra Leonean women is political empowerment. Some progress has been made since the civil war, post-conflict reconstruction programs and donor pressure are also opening up new opportunities for women progress, and there are hopes of significant electoral gains for women in the 2012 elections, inspired by the promising developments in neighboring post-conflict Liberia (which in 2005 elected Africa‘s first female president).  However, sustainable advancement depends on alliances whereby the better-educated urban women exert pressure for solving concrete problems of poorer women in exchange for their political support. Although such alliances are difficult, new grassroots women organizations have achieved positive initial results, which can be consolidated and expanded by appropriate partnership with international women NGOs.

Keywords: gender and development, post-conflict reconstruction, African women


McFerson begins her article with a summary of Sierra Leone’s history, explaining that the country gained its independence in 1961 and is now a constitutional republic. She explains that the country was ravaged by a civil war, which lasted from 1992-2002 and was fueled by competition over natural resources. In the following section, “Ethnicity and society,” McFerson presents the demographics of modern-day Sierra Leone, explaining that “the social structure in the country is in general both patriarchal and patrilineal” (35). Even in the post-colonial era, Sierra Leone has retained its chiefdom governance structure, which the British instituted. While these chiefs have historically repressed women, their increasing difficulty in maintaining control over the state may lead to their cooperation with women’s groups, which would afford women greater levels of political representation.

While the entire country suffers from extreme poverty, poverty levels are highest among Sierra Leonean women, women’s levels of education and literacy are drastically lower than those of men, and because of this lack of literacy, it is difficult for women to enter the official workforce.  Women in Sierra Leone also face extreme health hazards, particularly in childbirth, due to lack of medical resources and facilities. Barriers to women’s health are exacerbated by the traditional beliefs and practices, such as female genital mutilation, which afflicts the majority of Sierra Leonean women and is condoned by the country’s government.

The nation’s traditional, patiarchal culture is the primary reason for the subordinate status of women in Sierra Leone. While Sierra Leone’s Penal Code technically prohibits polygamy, it is allowed in customary marriages. Inheritance, divorce, and citizenship laws also favor men, denying women the economic rights of their male counterparts, and forced marriage is prevalent in Sierra Leonean society. Another issue confronting women in Sierra Leone is their limited property rights. Despite the gender bills passed in 2007, which strove to eradicate gender-based discrimination in ownership of land and inheritance, women still need the consent of their husbands in order to manage her property.  Widows continue to face inequality in their rights to own property; whereas a widower is entitled to the entirety of his deceased wife’s property, a widow may only obtain a portion of her husband’s property. While international institutions, such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank, have promoted economic land rights for women, these laws have not been enforced by the government of Sierra Leone and other African countries.

In her section, “The impact of the civil conflict on women and girls,” McFerson focuses on the 1992-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone, writing that it most directly affected the country’s women and girls, as they were routinely raped and kidnapped as sex slaves during the war. Resultantly, many of the women in Sierra Leone today are suffering from medical issues (due to unrelenting sexual abuse) in addition to social ostracization. The raping of women continues to be prevalent in Sierra Leone even in the post-conflict period, and domestic violence has become ingrained in the nation’s culture.

McFerson concludes her article by assessing the prospects for improving the status of women in Sierra Leone, arguing that the only path to gender equality is women’s political empowerment. While the laws granting women rights (i.e. Security Council Resolution 1325 and the 1995 Charter by the African Commission on Human Rights) have already been written, they much be instituted by the country’s government. She alludes to positive prospects for women’s empowerment, enforced by the 30% quota for women in political office; however, Sierra Leone is still lacking the unity of women’s movements necessary to propel efforts toward gender equality forward. Alliances must be forged between the educated, elite Krio women and other urban women in order to genuinely promote women’s rights. Ultimately, Sierra Leonean women’s poor access to international resources poses a barrier to the efficacy of women NGOs; thus international organizations must reach out to women’s initiatives in Sierra Leone to assist them in their effort to make their voices heard.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Gender, Women, Peace Processes, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2011

Securitization and Desecuritization: Female Soldiers and the Reconstruction of Women in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone


Mackenzie, Megan. 2009. "Securitization and Desecuritization: Female Soldiers and the Reconstruction of Women in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone." Security Studies 18 (2): 241-61.

Author: Megan Mackenzie


This article focuses on the construction of "soldier" and "victim" by post-conflict programs in Sierra Leone. Focusing on the absence of individual testimonies and interviews that inform representations of women and girls post-conflict, this article demonstrates that the ideal of the female war victim has limited the ways in which female combatants are addressed by disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs in Sierra Leone. It is argued that titles given to female soldiers such as "females associated with the war," "dependents," or "camp followers" reveal the reluctance of reintegration agencies to identify females who participated in war as soldiers. In addition, I argue that men and masculinity are securitized post-conflict while women—even when they act in highly securitized roles such as soldiers—are desecuritized and, in effect, de-emphasized in post-conflict policy making. The impact of this categorization has been that the reintegration process for men has been securitized, or emphasized as an essential element of the transition from war to peace. In contrast, the reintegration process for females has been deemed a social concern and has been moralized as a return to normal.

Keywords: female combatants, reconstruction, recovery, security, insecurity

Topics: Combatants, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Women, Masculinity/ies, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2009

Sierra Leone's Former Child Soldiers: A Longitudinal Study of Risk, Protective Factors, and Mental Health


Betancourt, Theresa S., Robert T. Brennan, Julia Rubin-Smith, Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, and Stephen E. Gilman. 2010. "Sierra Leone's Former Child Soldiers: A Longitudinal Study of Risk, Protective Factors, and Mental Health." Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 49 (6): 606-15.

Authors: Theresa S. Betancourt, Robert T. Brennan, Julia Rubin-Smith, Garrett M. Fitzmaurice, Stephen E. Gilman


OBJECTIVE: To investigate the longitudinal course of internalizing and externalizing problems and adaptive/prosocial behaviors among Sierra Leonean former child soldiers and whether postconflict factors contribute to adverse or resilient mental health outcomes.

METHOD: Male and female former child soldiers (N = 260, aged 10 to 17 years at baseline) were recruited from the roster of an non-governmental organization (NGO)-run Interim Care Center in Kono District and interviewed in 2002, 2004, and 2008. The retention rate was 69%. Linear growth models were used to investigate trends related to war and postconflict experiences.

RESULTS: The long-term mental health of former child soldiers was associated with war experiences and postconflict risk factors, which were partly mitigated by postconflict protective factors. Increases in externalizing behavior were associated with killing/injuring others during the war and postconflict stigma, whereas increased community acceptance was associated with decreases in externalizing problems (b = -1.09). High baseline levels of internalizing problems were associated with being raped, whereas increases were associated with younger involvement in armed groups and social and economic hardships. Improvements in internalizing problems were associated with higher levels of community acceptance and increases in community acceptance (b = -0.86). Decreases in adaptive/prosocial behaviors were associated with killing/injuring others during the war and postconflict stigma, but partially mitigated by social support, being in school and increased community acceptance (b = 1.93).

CONCLUSIONS: Psychosocial interventions for former child soldiers may be more effective if they account for postconflict factors in addition to war exposures. Youth with accumulated risk factors, lack of protective factors, and persistent distress should be identified. Sustainable services to promote community acceptance, reduce stigma, and expand social supports and educational access are recommended.

Keywords: child soldiers, mental health

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Gender, Girls, Boys, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Rape, Violence Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2010

Operation Fine Girl: Rape Used as a Weapon of War in Sierra Leone

“'Operation Fine Girl: Rape Used As a Weapon of War in Sierra Leone' looks at the widespread and strategic use of rape and sexual violence against women – many of them young girls and teenagers – during the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, the world’s poorest country.


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