"Rampant torture" by Liberian security forces

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afrol News, 30 April - In an new report rdleased today, Amnesty International has accused Liberian security forces of being involved in "rampant torture" against suspected rebel collaborators in the troubled Lofa district. 

- One of the ATU [Anti-Terrorist Unit] members told the others 'He is going to give us information on the rebel business.' They took me to Gbatala. I saw many holes in which prisoners were held. I could hear them crying, calling for help and lamenting that they were hungry and they were dying. (Testimony of a young man detained at Gbatala military base in August 2000.)

Amnesty International today called on the Liberian government and armed opposition groups based in Guinea immediately to end abductions of women, children and other civilians.

In a report published by Amnesty International today titled "Liberia: War in Lofa County does not justify killing, torture and abduction" the organization details the findings of its research mission to the area and calls on the international community to demand an immediate end to the Liberian government's rampant torture and killings of unarmed citizens suspected of supporting the rebels coming from Guinea.

- The fighting in Lofa County is rife with human rights abuses, Amnesty International said. "The international community must act urgently to stop those abuses, including by requesting the Guinean government to intercede with Liberian armed opposition groups based in its territory."

Since the renewal of armed incursions from Guinea into Lofa County in July 2000, the human rights situation has been deteriorating daily. Women and girls fleeing the outbreak of hostilities since February 2001 have been arrested at checkpoints and gang-raped by Liberian government forces. 

In early April 2001, a three-month pregnant woman was grabbed near Zorzor, Lofa County, by an officer of the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU), a special government security unit. She was repeatedly raped until being released a few days later. ATU officers beat her, stepped on her stomach and flogged her in custody, as a result of which she lost her baby.

Since 2000 alone, dozens of civilians have allegedly been deliberately killed on suspicion of backing the armed incursions from Guinea and more than 100 civilians, including women, have been tortured by the Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) and other government forces. 

Unofficial detention centres include the military base in Gbatala, central Liberia, recently investigated by the UN for being a training base for the Sierra Leonean Revolutionary United Front (RUF), responsible for widespread killings, abductions, amputations and other abuses in Sierra Leone. 

Other suspected dissidents have been held and tortured at the ATU cells behind the Executive Mansion, the office of the presidency in Monrovia, the capital.

According to testimonies and other evidence gathered by Amnesty International during its three-week visit to Liberia in February 2001, civilians suspected of backing the dissidents are held in holes dug in the ground at the military base in Gbatala.

Some of the holes are filled with dirty water. Prisoners are flogged, kicked and beaten including with gun butts; some have had plastic melted on their bodies or cigarettes put out on their skin; others have been forced to roll in the mud, walk on broken glass with their bare feet or eat hot pepper. 

Suspects are regularly tabied, which means that their arms are tied together so tightly behind their backs that their elbows touch. The victims met by the Amnesty International delegates still bore scars and marks of torture and were visibly traumatized.

In early April 2001, in response to significant military advances in upper Lofa County by the armed opposition groups, President Taylor announced that a 15,000 force composed of former fighters of his warring faction, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), would be assembled to fight in Lofa County. 

The NPFL, as well as other former warring factions, was responsible for widespread human rights abuses during the 1989-1996 civil war. Amnesty International calls on the Liberian government to ensure that these forces do not carry out further human rights violations.

As a result of renewed fighting in Lofa County in July 2000 and pending UN sanctions on Liberia, currently under discussion at the UN Security Council, internal repression and intolerance by the government of any form of scrutiny by Liberian human rights organizations, journalists, students and opposition members has reached alarming levels. The security forces have used a wide range of means including rape and other forms of torture to silence them and other government critics.

Virtually every month since July 2000, human rights defenders, journalists or political opponents have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured or forced to flee the country, according to Amnesty. During one of the latest crackdowns, on 21 March 2001, more than 40 university students, often on the front-line in promoting and defending human rights in Liberia, were held incommunicado and beaten with gun butts, kicked and humiliated by members of the Special Operation Division (SOD) and the ATU. Female students were raped. 

Following the publication in December 2000 of a UN report containing evidence of Liberian military support to the RUF and illicit trade of diamonds from RUF-held areas through Liberia, the UN Security Council on 7 March 2001, reiterated the 1992 ban on arms transfers to Liberia. 

It also introduced a new ban on diamond exports from Liberia and travel for senior officials. The ban is due to come into effect on 7 May 2001, unless Liberia complies with the UN Security Council's demands. These include ceasing military support to the RUF, expelling RUF members from Liberia and stopping the import of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone.

Source: Based on Amnesty International and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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