Mass Grave Investigations | Mass Crimes in Sierra Leone

Former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor became the first head of state to be held responsible for various forms of sexual violence in connection with his role in the brutal Sierra Leone conflict. PHR provided the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) with evidence and expert testimony that contributed to this and other prosecutions associated with the crimes of sexual violence in the country.

PHR investigators travelled to Sierra Leone and used epidemiological tools to document the horrific incidence of sexual violence carried out by the Revolutionary United Front rebels on innocent civilians in Sierra Leone from late 1996 to early 2002. Detailed findings from the study, conducted in collaboration with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone, were published in our 2002 report “War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone”. PHR’s former forensic director, Dr. William Haglund, was also deployed by the SCSL to conduct exhumations of seven graves near the small village of Tiendecom. In 2005, Haglund, on behalf of PHR, provided expert testimony to the Special Court.

In 2012, the SCSL found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting in 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and mutilation of civilians, rape and sexual slavery, forced labor, and abduction and conscription of children to serve as child soldiers during the conflict in Sierra Leone. PHR’s study and Dr. Haglund’s forensic work revealed that these crimes were systematic and occurred over a several-year period.