Sierra Leone

Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone’s Civil War: ‘Virgination’, Rape, and Marriage


Marks, Zoe. 2014. “Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone’s Civil War: ‘Virgination’, Rape, and Marriage.” African Affairs 113 (450): 67–87. doi:10.1093/afraf/adt070.


Author: Zoe Marks


Rape and sexual violence loom large in the study of civil war in Africa. Sierra Leone has been one of the most prominent cases for establishing rape as a ‘weapon of war,' yet little is known about how sexual violence was understood by commanders or combatants within the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Mainstream analyses of armed groups and civil war rarely engage with gender dynamics, despite their centrality to war making, power, and violence; and research that does focus on sexual violence tends to overlook the complex internal dynamics of the groups responsible. This article examines the internal gender dynamics of the RUF from the perspective of male and female members in seeking to understand the perpetration of sexual violence. It shows that both formal and informal laws and power structures existed to regulate gender relations and control sexual behaviour within the group. It identifies four categories of women – non-wives, unprotected wives, protected wives, and senior women – and shows that women's interests and experiences of sexual violence were not homogeneous, but were instead shaped by their status within the group. In this way, sexual violence, examined in social context, provides an entry point for understanding how power, protection, and access to resources are brokered in rebellion.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Class, Combatants, Gender-Based Violence, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2014

Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security, and Post-Conflict Development


MacKenzie, Megan H. 2012. Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone: Sex, Security, and Post-Conflict Development. New York: New York University Press.

Author: Megan H. MacKenzie


The eleven-year civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002 was incomprehensibly brutal—it is estimated that half of all female refugees were raped and many thousands were killed. While the publicity surrounding sexual violence helped to create a general picture of women and girls as victims of the conflict, there has been little effort to understand female soldiers’ involvement in, and experience of, the conflict. Female Soldiers in Sierra Leone draws on interviews with 75 former female soldiers and over 20 local experts, providing a rare perspective on both the civil war and post-conflict development efforts in the country. Megan MacKenzie argues that post-conflict reconstruction is a highly gendered process, demonstrating that a clear recognition and understanding of the roles and experiences of female soldiers are central to both understanding the conflict and to crafting effective policy for the future. (New York University Press)

Topics: Civil Wars, Female Combatants, Development, Displacement & Migration, Refugees, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rape, SV against Women Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2012

Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: International Law, Local Responses


St. Germain, Tonia, and Susan Dewey, eds. 2012. Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: International Law, Local Responses. Sterling, Va: Kumarian Press.

Authors: Tonia St. Germain, Susan Dewey


The result of a collaboration between a feminist legal scholar and an anthropologist, Conflict-Related Sexual Violence presents completely original work by anthropologists, international human rights lawyers, legal theorists, political scientists, mental health professionals, and activists who report upon their respective research regarding responses to conflict-related sexual violence in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and South Africa. Much more than a series of case studies, though, the bulk of the book addresses the implications of international responses to conflict-related sexual violence through analyses of the gaps between policy and practice with respect to efforts made by international organizations, criminal courts and tribunals to reduce or respond to conflict-related sexual violence. Scholarly, reflective, provocative yet practical and action-oriented, this book exemplifies a visionary blending of analysis, evidence, concepts and programs for ameliorating the lot of those whose lives are framed by war and conflict and the striving to find healing and justice.

(Kumarian Press)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, International Law, Justice, NGOs, Sexual Violence, SV against Women Regions: Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, Americas, Caribbean countries, South America, Asia, South Asia, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Colombia, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa

Year: 2012

Domestic Accountability for Sexual Violence: The Potential of Specialized Units in Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda


Seelinger, Kim Thuy. 2015. “Domestic Accountability for Sexual Violence: The Potential of Specialized Units in Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda.” International Review of the Red Cross 96 (894): 539–64.

Author: Kim Thuy Seelinger


From 2011 to 2014, the Human Rights Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law conducted qualitative research in Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda to identify accountability mechanisms and challenges related to sexual violence committed during periods of conflict or political unrest. This article shares two aspects of that research: first, it presents key challenges related to the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of sexual violence committed during and after the periods of recent conflict. Second, it flags the emergence of specialized units tasked with investigating and prosecuting either sexual and gender-based violence or international crimes, noting the operational gap between these institutions. It notes that if not bridged, this gap may impede responses for the intersecting issue of sexual violence committed as an international crime. The article closes with recommendations for a more coordinated response and more accountability at the domestic level.

Keywords: sexual violence, conflict-related sexual violence, international crimes, Rome Statute, complementarity, accountability, wartime rape, specialized units, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda

Topics: International Law, International Criminal Law, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence Regions: Africa, East Africa, West Africa Countries: Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda

Year: 2014

Why Testify? Witnesses’ Motivations for Giving Evidence in a War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone


Stepakoff, Shanee, G. Shawn Reynolds, Simon Charters, and Nicola Henry. 2014. “Why Testify? Witnesses’ Motivations for Giving Evidence in a War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 8 (3): 426–51. doi:10.1093/ijtj/iju019.

Authors: Shanee Stepakoff, G. Shawn Reynolds, Simon Charters, Nicola Henry


Although witnesses are indispensable to the operation and success of war crimes courts, little is known about their motivations for agreeing to testify. This article advances existing knowledge by drawing on findings from interviews conducted with 200 witnesses after they gave evidence in the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Participants were asked to describe their reasons for testifying. Content analysis was used to examine the variety and frequency of responses. Overall, 18 conceptually distinct motivations were mentioned, with most witnesses reporting multiple motivations. The response given most frequently was ‘to denounce wrongs committed against me during the war,’ followed by ‘to contribute to public knowledge about the war.’ Desires for retributive justice (e.g., accountability, punishment), and to fulfill a moral duty to other victims, were each mentioned by approximately one in four witnesses. Other key motivations included establishing the truth and narrating their stories. Motivations differed by gender, age, victimization status, side (prosecution versus defense) and trial. The results support the idea that witnesses value the opportunity to publicly denounce atrocities committed against themselves and others. The findings point to both congruities and incongruities between the aims of witnesses and the goals of war crimes courts. Further, the findings suggest that there may be two broad, overarching aspects of the decision to testify: those that are primarily geared toward helping oneself and those that are primarily geared toward helping others. Pragmatically, the findings can enhance efforts to support witnesses in preparing for and completing their testimonies.

Keywords: prosecutions, Special Court for Sierra Leone, witnesses, theories of testimony

Topics: Gender, Women, Men, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Post-Conflict Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2014

Is Manhood a Causal Factor in the Shifting Nature of War?


Duriesmith, David. 2014. “Is Manhood a Causal Factor in the Shifting Nature of War?” International Feminist Journal of Politics 16 (2): 236–54. doi:10.1080/14616742.2013.773718.

Author: David Duriesmith


Existing accounts of new war have not actively engaged with feminist analysis. Protest masculinity is suggested as an alternative explanatory framework to conventional explanations of violence in new war. To explore the intersection between masculinity and new wars the example of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front has been investigated. The article concludes that masculinity is an essential cause to the creation of new war and to the form that new war takes once it has originated.

Keywords: new wars, protect masculinity, Revolutionary United Front, Sierra Leone

Topics: Armed Conflict, "New Wars", Combatants, Male Combatants, Gender, Men, Masculinity/ies Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2014

Women and the Criminalization of Poverty


Mahtani, Sabrina. 2013. “Women and the Criminalization of Poverty.” Signs 39 (1): 243–64. doi:10.1086/670919.


Author: Sabrina Mahtani


The year 2012 marked ten years since the end of Sierra Leone’s brutal eleven-year civil war, which had and continues to have a significant impact on girls and women. Sierra Leone reflects the global trend, with women representing a minority of the prison population. With so many competing needs, Sierra Leone often places penal reform low on the priority list of postwar reconstruction efforts. Women in conflict with the law are often seen as perpetrators and thus as less deserving of the limited assistance efforts available than “victims,” such as women who have suffered gender-based violence. The nature of imprisonment, lack of empowerment, and social stigma make female prisoners and former prisoners nearly invisible, resulting in neglect of their experiences and voices. Building on six years of work with girls and women in conflict with the law, this article seeks to examine the factors behind the growing rates of incarceration of women in Sierra Leone. It explores how marginalization, low socioeconomic status, gender disparities in many areas of social and political life, and weak state institutions result in the law having a particular negative effect on women. The difficult experiences of women in detention and the continuing challenges of reintegration can cause further victimization and have detrimental effects on children. International and domestic gender reform efforts need to incorporate and support this neglected population as part of wider gender justice efforts.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Civil Society, Gender, Women, Girls, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Post-Conflict, Rights Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Sierra Leone

Year: 2013

From Soldiers to Citizens, or Soldiers to Seamstresses: Reintegrating Girl and Women Soldiers in Sierra Leone


MacKenzie, Megan H. 2007. “From Soldiers to Citizens, or Soldiers to Seamstresses: Reintegrating Girl and Women Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” In . Chicago, IL.


Author: Megan H MacKenzie


Maintaining security in a post-conflict country is often seen to be dependant on peace-building and reconstruction. One can hardly escape terms such as building sustainable peace and post-conflict construction. The disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and rehabilitation, or DDR-R process for former combatants is being touted as an ideal model for ensuring that post-conflict societies return to peace. These four simple steps to lasting security have been used as a model in war torn countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Angola. The logic is that these steps aid in restoring countries to more secure, stable times. More specifically, this model streamlines former combatants from soldiers to citizens. Given that the task of this process is to encourage combatants to shed their roles as fighters and to return to their former pre-war roles, it seems intuitive that the way that women and girls go through this process is of particular interest. In fact, despite the ascendancy of this DDR-R model, there has been little critical analysis of the implications of this process for women in war-torn countries. Using Sierra Leone as a case study, I explore how women and girls have been included and treated at each phase of this process. I look specifically at the tendency of organizations and agencies operating DDR-R programs to promote a return of women and girls to their pre-war roles and the tension that women and girls feel between the power they gained as combatants and the social pressure to reintegrate. I also examine the implications, for women and girls, of international and national organizations commitment to equating security with the return to pre-war society rather than rethinking relations of power. I include testimonies from 50 former girl soldiers who talk about their roles during the conflict and their hopes for themselves today.

Keywords: women, conflict, development, security, post-conflict, reintegration

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, "New Wars", Combatants, Child Soldiers, Female Combatants, DDR, Gender, Women, Girls, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Militarization, Post-Conflict, Security, Human Security Regions: Africa Countries: Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone

Year: 2007

Comfort Women During WWII: Are U.S. Courts a Final Resort for Justice?


Park, Byoungwook. 2002. “Comfort Women During WWII: Are U.S. Courts a Final Resort for Justice?” American University International Law Review 17 (2).

Author: Byoungwook Park

Topics: Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Democracy / Democratization, Gender, Women, International Organizations, Peacekeeping Regions: Africa Countries: Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda

Year: 2002

Building a State That Works for Women: Integrating Gender into Post-Conflict State Building


Castillejo, Claire. 2011. ‘Building a State That Works for Women: Integrating Gender into Post-Conflict State Building’, March, Working Paper. Madrid: Fride.

Author: Claire Castillejo


This working paper presents key findings from a joint FRIDE-ODI research project that investigated the impact of state building on women’s citizenship. The project was developed in response to gaps in the current state building work. On one hand, theoretical models on state building are elaborated at an abstract level that makes gender power relations invisible. For example, these tend to model the relationship between state, elites and an undisaggregated “society” without asking who is represented within each group, who participates in state-society negotiations, and whose expectations and demands are expressed within these negotiations. On the other hand, although donor policies do stress that state building should be an inclusive process, they are vague on how this – and specifically the inclusion of women - is to be achieved.

The project involved research in five post-conflict countries, Burundi, Guatemala, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Sudan. It investigated three central questions: What role do women play in state building? How do state building processes affect women’s political participation? How do state building processes affect women’s rights?

The findings highlighted that post-conflict contexts do provide new opportunities for women to mobilise. However, their ability to influence state building processes is limited both by structural barriers and by opposition from elites. While women have made some significant gains in terms of formal equality and inclusion, informal patterns of power and resource allocation have been much harder to shift. It appears that gender inequalities in these contexts are innately linked to the underlying political settlement, including the balance of power between formal and customary authorities. It is therefore critical that donors address gender as a fundamentally political issue. 


Keywords: post conflict reconstruction, women, gender, state-building, integration

Topics: Democracy / Democratization, Development, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Governance, Post-Conflict Governance, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Americas, Central America, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Burundi, Guatemala, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Sudan

Year: 2011


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