One important blog to be aware of is CharlesTaylorTrial.org. Taylor is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law committed in Sierra Leone, for supporting rebels in that country who committed such crimes. Significantly, the statute establishing the Special Court of Sierra Leone includes a provision prohibiting conscription of children under the age of 15. There is one count in the formal indictment alleging Charles Taylor’s use of child soldiers, note Count 9 in the Indictment.
The use of child soldiers (or “Small Boy Units”) by both the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF (supported by Taylor) during the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002) is well documented, but the prosecution will need to prove Charles Taylor’s role in conscripting children.
A witness for the prosecution, Suwandi Camara, a Gambian who saw Taylor and in Libya in the early 1990’s seeking weapons and support and later served in Taylor’s Special Security Service (”SSS”), testified on Taylor’s use of SBU (small boy units).
- Camara testified that during his time at Cobra Base he saw many 13 year olds being trained. He explained that in an average SBU Company there would be 230 – 240 soldiers and many of these companies were trained at the Base. Camara was aware of the Commander of the SBU who was called Supoom who he thought worked at Charles Taylor’s mansion and reported to Charles Taylor. Camara first saw Supoom when Camara arrived in Liberia in 1991. Camara thought that Supoom was about 15 at that time.
- Camara explained that soldiers in the SBU could sometimes be as you as 9 or 10. Sometimes they were so small than when they handled guns like AK-47’s, the guns would touch the ground. They were trained like the other soldiers with the exception sometimes of the obstacle training which some of the children could not complete. Some members of the Women’s Army Company (”WAC”) were also excused from obstacle training. Camara explained that this company was made up of “matured girls”.
- Camara confirmed that the majority of the SBU recruits were Liberians but that there were also a few children from Sierra Leone. Camara explained that the recruits were organised by company, platoons and sections and that every company was made up of 4 platoons with 4 sections in a platoon. Normally one battalion was trained at a time. Before the recruits finished their training and “passed out”, General Yetim [sic] would be informed who then inform Taylor. Taylor would then sometimes come to the base to visit the recruits and would often bring cows and food and rice for the recruits. Taylor would attend the “passing out” parade and talk to the recruits and Camara saw Taylor many times at the Base. He also used to bring badges for the children to put on their uniforms. Camara explained that they used to dance and sing during the “passing out” ceremonies and that sometimes Taylor would join in. Once the training was completed, the recruits were sent back to their units all over Liberia or Sierra Leone depending on where they had come from.
The Prosecution examined prosecution witness José Maria Caballero, also known as Father Chema, a Catholic priest (more about him in another blog entry) who works directly with child soldiers and former child soldiers in Sierra Leone.
- Father Chema testified that children who arrived at St. Michael’s Lodge were normally between the ages of 14 and 16. He explained that the children committed atrocities as soon as they were old enough to carry weapons (between the ages of 7 and 8).
- Pros: I want to ask about the issue of boys and girls abducted and forcibly recruited into the fighting forces in Sierra Leone. Did you get any indication of their ages?
- Wit: In general, for the events which I documented in 1998, I would say the ages of recruitment were from very young ages. There were people from 5 years old, even younger, abducted with their parents. Abductions into the fighting forces – 12, 13, 14 was not uncommon. There were children of that age working in the rebel camps doing other jobs such as washing and cooking.
Another mention I have found is about the execution of children accused of “spying”.
- Def: Children executed on suspicion of giving food to government troops or spying? Or simply moving from government-controlled areas. You ordered them executed?
- Wit: I can not recall whether I personally issued such orders. Women and children, yes, we carried out executions on them as long they suspected you of spying.
- Def: As long as you suspected them of spying?
- Wit: Once they suspected them.
- Def: How young was the youngest child that your men shot dead for suspected of spying, giving food to government troops or moving from government-controlled areas?
- Wit: I can talk about 12.
- Def: Any younger than that?
- Wit: There was 10.
- Def: Any younger?
- Wit: I can’t recall. I can say they were within those age brackets.