Liberia Civil War NPFL
NPFL Leader Charles Taylor 1990


Africa Watch interviewed a large number of mainly Krahn refugees in the Côte d'Ivoire who had fled from Grand Gedeh in late June to escape rebel abuses. The majorities had come from neighboring villages in Liberia, a walk of approximately three hours, and are concentrated in the Ivorian department of Toulepleu. According to relief personnel, the level of violence against Krahn noncombatants from June to the present has been so great that the Krahn have poured out of Grand Gedeh at the rate of 1,000 per day. At this time, U.S. officials and relief personnel estimate the number of Krahn refugees in the Toulepleu area to be approximately 75,000 to 80,000.This represents a significant portion of the total Krahn population of Liberia, estimated at 4% of the national population, or approximately 125,000 people. Liberian refugees in the Ivorian village of Pahoubli had entered Côte d'Ivoire at various times since July.

One group crossed the border about a month ago. They fled their village of Gbarzon in Grand Gedeh when rebels attacked them in the middle of the night. Witnesses described how the rebels rocketed houses and shot people in their beds. Sick people or the elderly who could not run were killed, and virtually the entire village fled into the forest. When asked how many had lost family members, the group of approximately 50 adults all raised their hands, stating that they didn't know if their family members were dead, still in Liberia, or somewhere else in the Côte d'Ivoire.One refugee, [Harris B]., a junior high school teacher and a former commissioner (superintendent) of his district in Liberia, described how rebels entered Grand Gedeh on June 27.

His account follows: The rebels entered Grand Gedeh on June 27. They killed everybody in the area -- Krahn, Mandingo, and Bassa. They did not try to choose between the groups, but killed everybody because they thought they were all Krahn in Grand Gedeh. I saw them kill a mother and her three-year old twins, and two others. My two brothers are missing, and three other members of my family. I do not know where they are because we fled in all directions when the rebels attacked. So many people died that you do not have enough paper to write down all their names. According to this witness, there were soldiers in the town, "but not enough to protect us, they were all killed."

Under humanitarian law, the presence of soldiers in an area inhabited by civilians does not permit the rebels to attack the village indiscriminately. The armed soldiers themselves are permissible military targets but civilians and civilian structures such as homes and schools may not be targeted as such. The combatants have the duty to avoid or minimize harm to civilians even when attacking soldiers who may be in the vicinity. That is, it is not permissible for them to shoot into a crowd of civilians because they think that a few enemy soldiers are among them. Refugees interviewed in the Ivorian town of Pekan Houebli in the Toulepleu area had much the same experiences.

NPFL Gen. Isaac Musah

Rev. Peter D. fled Duegee Town on June 14th when rebels entered the town and shot and killed civilians and rocketed homes. Rev. Peter D. saw a seventeen-year-old boy shot and killed with no questions asked. Jackson T. aged approximately 60, also fled from Duegee Town at the same time. Two of his sons, Ricky and Arthur, who were unarmed, were killed by the NPFL. Another of the refugees, [Harry P]., also fled Duegee Town when the NPFL attacked. His account follows: I fled Duegee Town when I saw soldiers and rebels fighting. I saw rebels shooting people indiscriminately, including women and children. I cannot tell you their names because I was running, I just saw them drop when hit by soldiers, and I could not go back to identify them.

Africa Watch is extremely concerned about the failure of NPFL leader Charles Taylor to take any measures to prevent such gross abuses against noncombatants. In particular, we are concerned about the killings of civilians targeted solely because of the fact that they are Krahn or Mandingo.An interview with a Liberian religious minister reveals the seriousness of this lack of command and control. Rev. A., aged 60, lived in Buchanan where his wife and children remain. The rebels captured him five separate times in the period of April through July. According to his testimony, he was singled out in part because he had been appointed by the Doe Government (against his will) in April to be a public safety commissioner and receive arms from rebels turning themselves over to the government.

He fled Buchanan for Monrovia in April when rebels came looking for him, then walked from Monrovia back to Buchanan several months later (about 60 to 70 miles.) His account follows: All along the way, I saw dead bodies lining the road. I was stopped at many rebel checkpoints -- at least 50. At every stop, the rebels would ask people to speak Mano or Gio. If they could not, they were led away.
The rebels took them behind buildings, and I heard shots. Then the rebels would come back, and boast "I killed five," or "I killed 10." This happened once at a checkpoint on July 27. The rebels took away three men just behind a nearby house.

I heard three shots, and the rebels returned and said they had killed the three. There were no Liberian army soldiers in the area when these incidents happened; the victims were noncombatants. Africa Watch has also received reports that there were many army deserters in this area who were also killed by the rebels, along with noncombatants, as described by Rev. A. The killing of captured soldiers, or soldiers who have laid down their arms is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Rev. A. witnessed the execution of two men, a Krahn named Frederick Tokpah, and Wilbert Matalay, aged 60, a member of the Bassa ethnic group.

Wilbert Matalay was grabbed by rebel soldiers on July 27, who accused him of being a government agent, and shot him, though he had not worked for the Doe Government. He was apparently suspected of government ties because he had worked for the Tubman Government, many years before Doe took power. The execution of Wilbert Matalay demonstrates another group of civilians who were at risk of rebel reprisals: persons on lists compiled by the rebels who were believed to be affiliated with the government. Persons on rebel lists were killed regardless of their ethnicity. Thus Wilbert Matalay, a Bassa, was executed for his wrongly presumed political allegiance, rather than rebel hostility against the Bassa per se. Another example of rebel hostility to presumed authorities is Rev. A. himself: I was stopped at a rebel checkpoint and I thought I would be killed this time for sure.

A rebel brought a knife to my throat when I said I was a minister, and said "we are looking for ministers, I will kill you." I told him I was a minister of the gospel, and the rebel laughed and told me I should call myself a pastor in the future. Rev. A. was urged to leave Liberia by an acquaintance working with the rebel forces, who said that Charles Taylor could not control his troops. He told Rev. A. that they would kill him before they found out who he was. Rev. A. escaped Liberia on August 31 through the intervention of a Catholic priest, who brought him to Abidjan.

Human Rights Watch October 1990 Report


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