Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

Angelique Namaika: The humanitarian nun who dedicates her life to helping women in need

When Angelique Namaika was a child she became so sick that she almost didn’t survive, but what followed was a happy childhood, one in which she was very close to her parents, giving her a good foundation for helping those … Continue reading

Angelina Jolie and William Hague visit survivors of sexual violence in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo


Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday ©AFP

Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague visited the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday to meet survivors of sexual violence as part of their campaign to tackle rape in war zones.

The number of women, girls, men and boys who have been subjected to rape in conflict zones numbers in the hundreds of thousands. 50,000 were raped in Bosnia, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 200,000 in Congo and 400,000 in Rwanda. The UN has estimated that only 30 convictions have resulted from the Bosnian War.

Jolie and Hague spent time at the Nzolo Internally Displaced Persons camp, north of Goma and the Lac Vert camp on the edge of Goma. Their next stop is Rwanda.

The aim of the trip is to force the Group of Eight world powers to address the issue more seriously and the Foreign Secretary has said he will make the issue his priority when he hosts the annual meeting of G8 foreign ministers next month in London.

Hague has already put in place a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to help survivors and witnesses and has also contributed £1 million this financial year to support the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

Angelina Joile and William Hague in the DRC ©Telegraph

“More often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity,” Hague said. “It is time for real, meaningful action by the governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors. This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 foreign ministers.”

Jolie said on the trip: “This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the eastern DRC. We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones. And we want to persuade governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves. Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place.”

“It’s often that we speak about the drama and the pain and the horrors of the Congo but it’s also a wonderful place with extraordinary people. The big message is that this initiative started by the Foreign Secretary is extraordinary, but what we’re here to do is to try to scale it up and make this a worldwide focus. It’s been going on in every war, every crisis and it’s often an afterthought – and it’s due time to end this, and put an end to impunity, and they deserve it.”

Eleven African countries sign peace deal to stabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week to oversee the signing of a UN peace deal that would put forth the interests of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The deal aims to bring stability to the troubled region where for many years it has suffered persistent violence by armed rebel groups that use rape as a weapon of war. 800,000 people have been displaced since May last year when the rebel M23 group took up arms against the Congolese government.

©Tim Freccia/EPA

M23 rebels in Goma, eastern DR Congo ©Tim Freccia/EPA

The eleven African nations including the DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Angola, South Sudan, Tanzania and South Africa signed the accord which Mr Ban said he hoped would bring “an era of peace and stability” to the region. The agreement may also lead to the establishment of a special UN intervention brigade in the east of the country, where the main trouble is.

The DR Congo has a long history of conflict with the majority of the focus being the country’s mineral wealth. Surrounding countries, Congolese armed groups and some even say, the government, have all profited from the riches made from gold and other minerals with little to nothing being spent on the infrastructure of the country.

Ban Ki-moon with the eleven African leaders at the signing.

Ban Ki-moon with African leaders at the signing.

The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was present at the signing. He said, “A heavy burden of responsibility falls on the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbours. Theirs is the historic task of freeing the people of the DRC and the region from tortuous history of conflict and instability, and to introduce a new future offering democracy, peace, stability progress and prosperity.”

Celebrating heroes: A real-life Cool Hand Luke

Hero: Mbaye Diagne

Hero: Mbaye Diagne

Through magazines, newspapers and television we’re bombarded with an abundance of ‘celebrities’ on a daily basis, people who become ‘role models’ because they’re all we ever see and hear about. People ‘papped’ for falling out of clubs, shopping, getting into trouble… basically famous for being famous. But the real celebrities, those who deserve to be famous and lauded for all that they do are the heroes who are trying to make other people’s lives better, the people who are rarely considered news worthy as what they do isn’t glamorous enough or worth gossiping about.

Take Dr Denis Mukwege, who I wrote about back in August. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize the same year Barack Obama won and is a living hero. He puts his neck on the line every single day to save the women of the DR Congo, but he barely makes the news headlines. You might see him somewhere in the Africa section of the BBC News website now and then, like when there was an attempt made on his life recently, but it’s not enough.

There are many more people like Dr Mukwege who deserve recognition for what they do and have done. One of those people is a man described by those who knew him as “The bravest of the brave,” “The greatest man I have ever known,” “A real-life Cool Hand Luke…”

These are just a few of the words used to describe Senegalese UN soldier Mbaye Diagne.

The story starts a long time before Mbaye Diagne landed in Rwanda as an unarmed UN military observer as part of the UN Peacekeeping forces during the lead up to the country’s genocide in 1994.

For almost a hundred years tensions were high between the two main ethnic groups in Rwanda – the ethnic Hutu majority and the ethnic Tutsi minority. They were thrown into years of rivalry by Belgian colonists who favoured the Tutsi’s, considering them superior to the Hutu’s, and enabling them to enjoy a far greater life.

The Tutsi’s received better jobs and education and this built a bitter resentment amongst the Hutu population, but in the late 1950s they overthrew the Tutsi government, treating the minority Tutsi’s poorly for many years to come. In the early 1990s a full-scale civil war erupted and lasted for three years until a cease-fire was brokered after the international community put increasing pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana. But on 6th April 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane was shot down over the capital Kigali.

Président Juvénal Habyarimana.© Nouvel Observateur

Président Juvénal Habyarimana.
© Nouvel Observateur

It is still not known to this day who shot the plane down. Hutu’s blamed the Tutsi’s for murdering President Habyarimana but some believe it could have been the Hutu’s themselves who carried it out in order to gain support for their growing plan to murder all of Rwanda’s Tutsi population.

The plane carrying Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on April 6, 1994, their assassination sparked the Rwandan Genocide ©Jean Marc Boujou, AP

The plane carrying Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on April 6, 1994, their assassination sparked the Rwandan Genocide ©Jean Marc Boujou, AP

After the death of the President, the Interahamwe, a group of Hutu extremists, saw their opportunity to wipe out what they called the ‘cockroaches’ and gained the support of the Hutus in government, the local military and the mass media throughout Rwanda. They used the national radio stations to broadcast violent propaganda against the Tutsi’s and set up checkpoints throughout the country to stop those who tried to escape. An American military adviser at the time suggested that the US could use jamming equipment to take the radio stations off the air to stop the spread of violent propaganda and hatred but a lawyer from the Pentagon made the argument that that would be contrary to the US constitutional protection of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

With no one to stop them the Interahamwe put their plan into action and began the mass extermination of Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s. Over the next 100 days they murdered 800,000 men, women and children – that’s 8,000 people per day – butchering the majority of them to death with machetes.

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

What were the UN and the rest of the world doing about it you ask? Good question. Seven weeks into the genocide Bill Clinton gave a speech outlining the United States’ position on the state of Rwanda, advising that they would only intervene in a humanitarian crisis and only if it was in America’s national interest “…whether we get involved in any of the worlds ethnic conflicts in the end must depend on the cumulative weight of the American interest at stake…” By this point almost half a million people had already been murdered by the Hutu’s and soon the UN started to pull their peacekeeping troops out of the country.

When Belgian UN peacekeepers abandoned the Don Bosco Technical School, where they had been protecting 2,000 refugees, Hutu militants who had been waiting outside, drinking beer and chanting “Hutu Power”,  saw their chance and entered the compound, massacring every single person inside, including hundreds of children.

Tutsi's massacred by the Interahamwe

Tutsi’s massacred by the Interahamwe

After the Holocaust the world said ‘Never Again’ and adopted a UN convention requiring that future genocides be stopped. When genocide happened in Rwanda, the United States along with other governments simply avoided using the word but yet again they were full of apologies after the event.

During the genocide there were several heroes who, with no thought for their own safety, helped save the lives of thousands of Tutsi’s. The most famous story is of course that of Paul Rusesabagina, subject of the film, Hotel Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, was married to Tatiana, a Tusti when the genocide began. He worked as the Manager of the Hotel des Milles Collines and brought his family there for safety. It became a haven for refugees during the genocide and Rusesabagina managed to keep the Hutu militia at bay with bribes. By the end of the genocide his acts had saved the lives of 1,268 men, women and children.  Another lesser known story of heroism during the genocide comes in the form of Mbaye Diagne.

Mbaye Diagne

Mbaye Diagne

Mbaye, a devout Muslim, from Dakar in Senegal was the first person out of his family to go to university. He joined the army after graduating from the University of Dakar and worked his way up, eventually being sent out to Rwanda as an unarmed UN military observer.

On the morning of the 7th April, the day after President Habyarimana was assassinated, Rwanda’s first and only female Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, was assassinated by the Hutu presidential guard at her home along with her husband and ten Belgian peacekeepers.

Captain Mbaye Diagne heard about Agathe and the peacekeepers from civilians arriving at the Hotel des Milles Collines and immediately made his way to her house, unarmed. He found out that Agathe and her husband surrendered to the Presidential Guard in order to save her children who were hiding inside the compound. Fortunately the troops hadn’t searched the house and when Cpt Diagne got there he found the four children hiding behind clothes and furniture in a corner. He was promised by the UN that extra troops and an armoured personnel carrier would be along shortly to take them to safety but they never showed up. Mbaye knew that the children were a target and would be killed unless they were taken out of the country so he hid them in his car and smuggled them across town to the airport.

Seeing the rapid deterioration of the situation in the country, Mbaye knew he couldn’t just stand by and watch as thousands of people were murdered. He drove out to Nyamirambo, a Kigali neighbourhood that was particularly dangerous, where he found a group of 25 Tusti’s in a house. He took them in groups of 5 to the UN headquarters, each time passing through 23 Hutu checkpoints, somehow managing to convince the militia to let them live using his charm, cigarettes and money.

Mbaye’s colleagues were soon noticing more and more refugees appearing at the Amahoro Hotel in Kigali before being shipped out to safety elsewhere. They knew it was Mbaye who was bringing them there and that it was against his orders of being a UN ‘observer’ but even his boss General Dallaire refused to stop him.

On one occasion his charm managed to save the life of BBC journalist Mark Doyle:

“… I remember once I was very grateful I was in Mbaye’s car. We were going to see an orphanage. We got stopped by the government militia, and the militia man leaned through the window with one of these Chinese stick grenades which look a bit like sink plungers, but they’re not sink plungers — they explode and kill you if they go off. And he started waving it under my nose, because he thought I was Belgian — because at the time the Belgians were perceived by the government to be pro-rebel — and so this militia man thought because I’m white and driving around — and most of the white people who lived in Kigali at the time, the majority were Belgian — he thought I was Belgian. So he said to Mbaye, “Who’s this guy? Is he Belgian?” and if Mbaye had said the wrong thing at that point, then I’ve no doubt that we’d have all been killed.

And what he did was he just joked. He said, “No, no — I’m the Belgian. I’m the Belgian here, look — black Belgian.” And he broke the tension of the moment, and once the tension of the moment had been broken, he said, “No, no — in fact, look, this guy is the BBC. Here’s his badge. He’s a BBC journalist, he’s British, and he’s got nothing to do with Belgian.” And this kind of put the military man off guard a bit and he no longer wanted to kill us. And I just wonder if a Canadian soldier or a French soldier would have been able to do that, to joke with this guy and potentially save my life and the life of all the other people around who would have been killed by this stick grenade. …”

On 31st May, Cpt Mbaye was driving back to the UN headquarters alone and in preparation for moving more people when a mortar landed next to his car at one of the checkpoints. He was killed instantly.

It’s estimated that he saved as many as 1000 people during the genocide – ferrying between 3 – 5 at a time through 23 checkpoints on a daily basis meaning that during the genocide he potentially passed through 4,600 checkpoints, risking his life each time.

Mbaye’s friend Gregory Alex commented on the aftermath of his death:

“People are talking about going and getting his dress uniform. They’re calling around for a body bag. But there’s no body bag. Not a body bag in the whole U.N. The ICRC (Red Cross) doesn’t have any body bags that they can spare. And at this time we’re starting to put together and we’re saying, you know, here’s a guy who gave his ultimate, did everything, and we don’t even have a body bag to show him some respect.

We had some UNICEF plastic sheeting, and we had some tape and Mbaye’s body comes. And he’s a big man, tall, big feet. And he’s on a stretcher now. Nobody knows exactly what to do, but we’re gonna make a body bag. … And you wanna do it right. You want to … zip it, [but] you got this UN light-blue body bag, and we’re going to make and fold the edges over. And we’re folding them up, and the creases aren’t right, because his feet are so damn big. … And you don’t want that for him. You want it to be like, you know, just laid out perfectly. So that when people look at him, they know that he was something great.”

UN soldiers surrounding the body of Mbaye Diagne

UN soldiers surrounding the body of Mbaye Diagne

The UN Force HQ held a minute of silence in his honor and a small parade at the airport on 1 June. Mark Doyle said:

“Can you imagine the blanket media coverage that a dead British or American peacekeeper of Mbaye’s bravery and stature would have received?….. He got almost none.”

Gregory Alex added:

“He was a hero. He was the guy that, in every movie that’s ever made you have the guy that is the tragic hero. … But this one’s real. This man was a hero to people he didn’t know and people he did know, to people who didn’t have a clue and didn’t understand why he was doing it. …”

Mbaye Diagne was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of up to 1,000 people during the genocide, a feat that no other nation even attempted. His bravery knew no limits and for that reason he is a true hero.

How the British Army and the SAS helped end the civil war in Sierra Leone

I want to take you back to the year 2000 to tell a story about how even the smallest intervention can have the biggest impact.

You might have seen the news recently about how British planes are being used to transport French troops and supplies to Mali, West Africa for their military mission against rebel Islamists. Without French intervention the jihadist forces would have taken the capital Bamako in a matter of days, threatening the stability of the whole of West Africa. I was pleased to see the British and the French working together to help the people of Mali, and here’s why…

In the early 1990s, Sierra Leone, located in West Africa and roughly the size of Scotland, was about to enter into a civil war that would last almost ten years at the cost of 50,000 lives and the displacement of half of the country’s 4.5 million population. Not only that, many thousands more were left maimed for life due to unspeakable acts carried out by the rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Sierra Leone © National Geographic

Sierra Leone © National Geographic

Foday Sankoh was travelling around Sierra Leone in the 1980s, working as a photographer when he came into contact with many young radicals who were frustrated with the lack of education and social justice in the country. He found his way to the guerrilla training camps of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya where his companions included the future leader of Liberia, Charles Taylor, and other West African revolutionaries.

After training in Libya, Sankoh and his comrades Abu Kanu and Rashid Mansaray went to Liberia where they formed a close alliance with Taylor and served with his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group.

Foday Sankoh ©BBC

Foday Sankoh ©BBC

After their spell with the NPFL, Sankoh, Kanu and Mansary headed back home to Sierra Leone and started the task of recruiting local youths to their newly formed Revolutionary United Front rebel group. The RUF attracted a wide range of disillusioned intellectuals and youths who were becoming increasingly fed up with president Joseph Momoh’s corruption, mismanagement of the diamond sector and abuse of power.

The RUF were initially very popular with the people of Sierra Leone. They promised free health care, free education and a fair distribution of diamond revenues. But Sankoh’s promises were not sincere and the RUF began to attack settlements in the diamond-rich areas of the country.

Sankoh never paid his RUF soldiers regularly and expected them to loot to survive under “Operation Pay Yourself”. After his comrades Kanu and Mansaray complained about these tactics, Sankoh had them executed.

Joseph Momoh

Joseph Momoh

The RUF started a guerrilla campaign against President Momoh and with a civil war about to erupt, Liberia’s Charles Taylor and his NPFL rebel group saw a chance to profit from their neighbour’s troubles with a greedy eye on the diamond mines. He offered the RUF rebels guns and ammunition, which they could use in their war to oust President Momoh, in return for ‘blood’ diamonds which Taylor could then sell on to finance his own campaigns back in Liberia.

Charles Taylor in 1990 © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or  its affiliated companies. All rights reserved

Charles Taylor in 1990
© 2012 Guardian

A year into the RUF’s campaign, President Momoh was overthrown in a military coup and over the next few years, as the civil war raged on, several presidents came and went until Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People’s Party was elected as president in 1996.

RUF rebels ©BBC

RUF rebels ©BBC

In 1999, the Lomé Peace Accord was signed and an immediate ceasefire between the main parties to the civil war was agreed. The deal gave the RUF status as a legitimate political party, a role in the Sierra Leone Government and seats in the cabinet. Foday Sankoh was appointed vice president—the second most powerful position in the country, and was granted control over all of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines.

The Lomé deal did little to stabilise the security situation though as many rebels refused to commit to it and in 2000 the RUF rebels started their most gruesome atrocities against the people of Sierra Leone.

AP Photo/Adam Butler

A victim of  the RUF’s brutality © AP Photo/Adam Butler

They committed widespread rape and murder and used machetes and axes to hack off the hands, arms and legs of men, women and children to drive fear into their opponents in order to stop them voting during elections. Victims were sometimes given a choice – they could have their hand cut of at the wrist or the elbow, or what they called ‘short sleeve or long sleeve’. The rebels who filled the most bags with severed hands and feet could win a promotion. Thousands of boys and girls were abducted and forced to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes, were kept on drugs and often forced to murder their own parents.

A victim of the RUF's brutality ©Travis Lupick/Al Jazeera

A victim of the RUF’s brutality ©Travis Lupick/Al Jazeera

With the situation spiraling out of control and the government unable to stop the rebels, the UN sent thousands of troops to the country and they took up positions in areas under RUF control. Soon though they were pushed back and over powered by the rebels and in early 2000, the RUF captured 500 UN troops.

They used the captured UN soldiers’ weapons and armoured personnel carriers in their plan to take control of the capital Freetown. As they made their advance on the city they began to unleash “Operation No Living Thing” as they went.



With half of Sierra Leone now under the control of the RUF and the Sierra Leonean government and the United Nations in no position to stop their advance, the situation was becoming dire.

The UN issued a statement condemning the violence, after which the Secretary-General Kofi Annan turned to the British ambassador, telling him that the UN now expected the United Kingdom, as the former colonial power, to intervene directly.

On 5 May, the British government continued to state that it would provide only logistical and technical support to the UN troops, privately though they were exploring options for a military deployment and a few days later they agreed to send 800 British paratroopers out to Freetown. At the time the RAF lacked aircraft large enough to transport Chinooks and so helicopter crews were forced to fly themselves to Freetown in a 3,000 mile flight that became the longest self-deployment of helicopters in British history.

Royal Air Force Chinooks land in Freetown on 8th May, 2000.

Royal Air Force Chinooks land in Freetown on 8th May, 2000

The paratroopers landed in Freetown on 8th May, 2000 with a limited mission – named Operation Palliser – which was to secure Lungi airport and evacuate British nationals and foreigners out of the country as the civil war raged on around them. The mission was expected to last for ten days, after which time they would depart and leave Sierra Leone to its fate.

After landing at Lungi airport, brigadier David Richards, force commander of the mission, approached the capital by crossing Man O’War Bay in a dinghy. He looked out at the water, which seemed to be full of logs, but soon realised the ‘logs’ were floating dead bodies, many of them children. As he entered Freetown he witnessed the shocking sight of hundreds of amputees, terrified refugees streaming into the city, blood-stained hospital corridors packed with the injured and hundreds more dead bodies – all victims of “Operation No Living Thing”. He knew that once the British troops left in a few days, the people of Sierra Leone would have no protection and that the capital would fall to the RUF.

Sir David Richards ©Independent

Sir David Richards ©Independent

Richards decided to take a huge risk. His first port of call was President Kabbah who was preparing to leave the country via a helicopter parked outside his house. “You won’t be needing that, I promise you,” Richards told the president.

Going against what the British army were there for, Richards promised they would supply arms and ammunition to the Sierra Leonean government forces and that British helicopters would be made available to move men and material around in order to defeat the RUF rebels. He saw that the equipment they had brought for the evacuation would be enough to end the civil war but the MoD began to put increasing pressure on Richards to complete the job they had sent him to do and get out of there.

Richards knew he need to get a message above the MoD and directly to prime minister Tony Blair and so devised a plan to use the media to get that message across. “There is no longer any pretence,” Alan Little said in a BBC news report at the time, “that this operation is about evacuation. It is about much, much more than that.”

When the government finally realised that Richards’ plan would be successful, Tony Blair gave him the go ahead.

British soldiers set up their position in Freetown on 9th May 2000

British soldiers set up their position in Freetown on 9th May 2000

British soldiers took up positions around the capital and patrolled the streets to reassure residents. The paratroopers were joined by HMS Illustrious just off the coast and harriers from Illustrious flew reassurance patrols over Freetown.

On 17th May the British paratroopers came into direct contact with the rebels when the RUF attacked a British position near Lungi airport. The firefight lasted several hours but the paras pushed them back and the RUF were forced to retreat with 30 casualties. On the same day Foday Sankoh was captured and handed over to the British army, leaving the RUF in complete disarray.

The MoD ordered a rotation of the British forces deployed in Sierra Leone and so the paratroopers were ordered back to the United Kingdom and were replaced by the 42 Commando Royal Marines.

Royal Marines landing on the beaches of Freetown

Royal Marines landing on the beaches of Freetown

With the RUF still refusing to disarm, the Royal Marines began training the Sierra Leone Army for a confrontation, and alongside the UN troops they shifted the momentum of the war and pushed the RUF back past the outskirts of Freetown. This forced the rebels to follow through on disarming and demobilising.

Brigadier Komba Mondeh, an officer in the Sierra Leone army, looks at how the story might have ended. “It worked out for General Richards because we won the war,” he said. “If it had gone wrong, if a helicopter had gone down with 10 British soldiers killed, then they would have taken him back to Britain in handcuffs, and chopped him off at the knees.”

“London wanted me to get the British nationals out and then bugger off,” General Richards said, “But the kind of personnel and weapons you would need to carry out an evacuation in a conflict zone was much the same as a small-scale military operation to push back the rebels and luckily we were a long way away.”

General Sir David Richards is now head of the British Army. “It is the best thing I have ever done in the British Army. I have no regrets, none at all. You can’t look at a little kid with his hand chopped off and just walk away. You have to sometimes make this choice, do what you think is right, even if people above you don’t approve.”

President Kabbah, who would have fled the country were it not for Richards’ reassurances, declared that ‘The People of Sierra Leone will never forget the British generosity in their time of greatest need’.

After the British troops helped to push the RUF rebels back in mid-2000, they continued their stay in the country as a part of a Short Term Training Team (STTT). But a stark contrast of what could have gone wrong with Richards’ brave mission came a few weeks later when 11 members of the Royal Irish Regiment, who were returning from a visit to Jordanian peacekeepers based in the hills outside Freetown, were taken hostage by a militia group known as the West Side Boys. Alongside the 11 Royal Irish Regiment was the patrol’s liaison from the Sierra Leone Army – Lieutenant Musa Bangura.

The West Side Boys were another rebel group operating in Sierra Leone and, like the RUF, were particularly brutal. They were fond of kidnapping children and dehumanising them in order to participate in their killing sprees. They dressed in bizarre clothing, namely women’s wigs and flip-flops and were constantly either drunk or under the influence of heroin and cocaine. This made them completely unreliable and erratic and they wouldn’t think twice about killing the man standing next to them – even if it were one of their own.

West Side Boys ©

West Side Boys ©

Negotiations began between Lieutenant Colonel Simon Fordham, commanding officer of the Royal Irish Regiment, and the West Side Boys leader Foday Kallay. They met in the jungle where Kallay gave Fordham their demands – they wanted medical supplies and a satellite phone.

At the meeting, Kallay brought one of the British hostages with him to prove they were still alive and in reasonable health. The British soldier saluted Fordham and shook hands with him before being led away by Kallay. During the handshake, he managed to transfer the lid of a pen into Fordham’s hand and when Kallay was out of sight, Fordham looked inside the lid to find a detailed hand-drawn map of the area where the hostages were being held.

Kallay and the West Side Boys agreed to the release of five soldiers in exchange for the satellite telephone and medical supplies, but with six soldiers still hostage, and negotiations breaking down due to the erratic behaviour of the rebels, a rescue mission was looking likely.

From the map and satellite images of the area, the army could see that the West Side Boys were stationed in two positions. The hostages were being held at Kallay’s headquarters on one side of the Rokel Creek in Gberi Bana. Several hundred other rebels were located across the water in Magbeni.

It was decided that if the SAS were to launch an assault that they would need the support of the paratroopers and so 150 paras were flown out to Sierra Leone on standby. Their job was to secure Magbeni while the SAS went into Gberi Bana to carry out the rescue.

Under the cover of night the SBS marines delivered two SAS observation teams into the jungle, via an inflatable raiding craft, to observe each camp and gather intelligence for the coming operation. It took them several days to get to the camps after making their way through some of the worst jungle in the world. Once concealed in the jungle and only 500 metres away from the hostages, they lay there for three days, assessing the best approach for the assault, pausing only to roll over when they needed to urinate in a bottle or defecate in a bag.

A full jungle assault on foot was ruled out as was a road and water approach. It left them with no other choice than to take the most dangerous option and one they did not want to take – an air assault. The soldiers would be transported to the scene via Chinook helicopters but this was a huge risk, making them much easier targets for the enemy and the worry that for the rescue of a few hostages they could potentially lose 40 or more SAS soldiers if the Chinook were shot down.

While the SAS observation teams were at work in the jungle, the rest of the SAS soldiers and the paras established a base 30 miles south of Freetown where, thanks to the map, they rehearsed the assault, named Operation Barras, in a replica of the village.

The plan was to assault the two villages simultaneously. Two Chinooks were to drop the paras at Magbeni. Their objective was to attack 200 West Side Boys and stop them helping Kallay and the rebels at Gberi Bana. Two more Chinooks carrying SAS soldiers were to land at Gberi Bana, one of the teams would rescue the hostages and the other would clear the rest of the village. During the operation the soldiers would have covering fire from two Lynx helicopters plus the observation teams already in place on the ground. As well as rescuing the Royal Irish soldiers, the SAS were also tasked with rescuing a group of Sierra Leonean civilians who were also being held hostage and Sierra Leonean Lieutenant Musa Bangura who was being treated particularly badly by Kallay.

The task force left their camp outside of Freetown at 06:16 on the morning of 10th September. Meanwhile the SAS observation teams got into position at the edge of Gberi Bana to provide covering fire for the SAS troops who would have to fast rope off the choppers.

Operation Barras

Operation Barras

The Chinooks dropped the SAS troops off in Gberi Bana 24 minutes later but they were soon under fire from Kallay and the West Side Boys. On the other side of the river in Magbeni the Lynx helicopters opened fire as the paras approached their positions.

Back in Gberi Bana the SAS managed to hold off the attack and swept through the village rescuing every single hostage alive and capturing Foday Kallay, all in under 20 minutes.

SAS soldiers at Gberi Bana ©

SAS soldiers at Gberi Bana ©

In Magbeni the paras came under mortar fire by the rebels and some of the troops were seriously injured but they soon got the situation under control and by 08:00 they had secured the area.

12 British soldiers were wounded and one trooper, Bradley Tinnion, was killed during the operation. Twenty five West Side Boys were also killed during the assault with many more captured.


Captured West Side Boys ©

In the weeks following the assault, several hundred West Side Boys, who had fled during the attack, surrendered to peacekeepers in the country, effectively ending their reign. They were no longer seen as any kind of military threat to Sierra Leone.

Foday Kallay and the other West Side Boys who were captured spent several years in jail after the operation but were released in 2009.

Operation Barras was the largest British hostage rescue mission in modern history. It was described by an SAS soldier as “not a clinical, black balaclava, Princes Gate type operation. It was a very grubby, green operation with lots of potential for things to go wrong”.

Operation Palliser and Operation Barras had a huge impact on Sierra Leone, helping to end the decade long civil war and to this day a British-led military training mission continues in the country.

Aftermath: The camp at Gberi Bana where troops were held hostage © Stephen Morrison

Aftermath: The camp at Gberi Bana where troops were held hostage © Stephen Morrison

Charles Taylor went on to become the president of Liberia until he fled to Nigeria in 2003. He was captured trying to leave Nigeria and handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to stand trial for his role in the civil war. At the conclusion of the trial earlier this year he was sentenced to 50 years in prison after being found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers.

While Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, he sponsored the RUF rebels in order to destabilise the country and reap the benefits of the diamond mining industry, aiding a decade long war at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

William Hague and Angelina Jolie team up for campaign against rape in warzones

Foreign Secretary William Hague with Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Angelina Jolie, at the a Wilton Park Conference on ‘Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations’ ©fco

Back in May, Angelina Jolie was in London to lend her voice the British Government’s global campaign aimed at tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world. Today, she was back in the UK to listen to the Foreign Secretary give his keynote address at the “Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations” meeting at Wilton Park, Sussex. Hague joked ‘She assures me she is here to meet you and to listen to our discussion, but I also think she may be checking up on whether we have lived up to our promises’.

Following his announcement in May, that Britain would create a team of experts to be deployed to conflict areas around the world to support UN missions and gather evidence about sexual violence, Hague announced yesterday that a 70-strong specialist team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts is ready to head overseas to help survivors and witnesses. He said that each deployment will be tailored to meet local needs and circumstances and that the deployments will be based on ‘in-depth assessments of national and international responses in that country to date and how the British team could reinforce or complement existing efforts, as well as consultations with the authorities in each country’.

The Foreign Secretary also pledged additional funding of more than £¼ million over a three-year period to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support to develop policies, guidance and training for use by UN peacekeepers as first responders to incidents of sexual violence.

Angelina Jolie with Syrian refugees in Lebanon ©UNHCR

Yesterday Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) added:

“I am delighted to be working with Foreign Secretary Hague again on the United Kingdom’s initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. In many conflicts, sexual violence is used as a tactic of war, intended to hurt not only a single individual, but their family, their community, their ethnic group”.

Jolie has been drawing attention to some of the worlds worst humanitarian disasters for over 10  years and has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand.

She further said that sexual violence has almost “become a rule rather than an exception, and we all must work together to combat the impunity and ensure justice for the victims.”

Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, at the a Wilton Park Conference on ‘Preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations ©fco

Speaking about the conference, the Foreign Secretary said:

“I believe that a critical mass of public opinion has now begun to build up against the use of rape as a weapon of war in many countries.

“My experience as a politician leads me to believe that this is the moment to mobilise global public opinion and to rally the efforts of nations, in the same way that we have mustered the will to ban the use of landmines and cluster munitions, and are on the verge of securing an international Arms Trade Treaty.

“Shattering the culture of impunity for those who use rape as a weapon of war is the next great global challenge of our generation. It is a cause whose time has come.”

The 70-strong team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts will be deployed overseas by the end of the year.

William Hague’s speech can be found here.

Further information about the UNHCR can be found here.

World Humanitarian Day

Beyoncé – World Humanitarian Day 2012 Campaign Message

Go forth and make the world less miserable.” – Robin Needham

This Sunday, the 19th August, will mark World Humanitarian Day, a day of global celebration about people helping people. The focus for this year’s celebration is a campaign called “I Was Here“.

It’s named after a song written by Diane Warren and performed by Beyoncé Knowles, who is also the face of the campaign in 2012. She filmed the video for ‘I Was Here’ just a few weeks ago at the UN general assembly and will premiere it to a global audience on Sunday.

World Humanitarian Day marks the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, in which 22 UN staff were killed. It honours all of those who have died in the field and those who continue to dedicate their lives bringing assistance to millions of disadvantaged people worldwide.

Every year disasters such as drought, earthquakes and flooding cause immense suffering for millions of people, usually the world’s poorest. Humanitarian aid workers provide life-saving assistance to those people regardless of race, sex, religion or any other factor and do an incredibly important job.

It is hoped that by recruiting Beyoncé to the campaign it will shine the spotlight on humanitarian work around the world and also encourage people to get involved by helping others in even the smallest of ways.

Their motto this year is ‘do something good somewhere for someone else’ and here are their suggestions:

  • Help someone with their shopping
  • Make a homeless person a sandwich
  • Donate your skills to a community project
  • Stand up for someone being picked on
  • Visit an elderly person
  • Cook a meal for a new mum
  • Comfort someone in hospital
  • Volunteer at a local charity
  • Give away something you don’t use
  • Mow your neighbour’s lawn
  • Tutor a disadvantaged young person
  • Clean up your local park

“I was definitely attracted to raising awareness of this day of recognition,” Beyoncé told CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. “I found out that 22 people lost their lives helping people in Baghdad and I thought it was such an incredible thing to turn that into something positive and try to include the world in doing something great for someone else.

Beyoncé performing I Was Here at the UN

“I Was Here says I want to leave my footprints in the sands of time, and it’s basically all of our dreams [about] leaving our mark on the world. We all want to know that our life meant something and that we did something for someone else and that we spread positivity, no matter how big or how small, so the song is perfect for Humanitarian Day. And I think for the UN to want to include the whole world was something important, and that’s what I represent.”


Robin Needham, 51, spent over 30 years as a charity leader in some of the poorest places in Africa and Asia. He worked in refugee camps around the globe, for Mother Teresa and for charities including UNICEF, Concern and CARE. He was particularly interested in the needs of children and on conflict resolution and used this interest to prepare a Watchlist report detailing the impact of conflict in Nepal on children.

Robin Needham © Nepal Times

Robin was working as the head of CARE Nepal, when in December, 2004, he went on a well deserved holiday with his family to Phuket, Thailand.  Having spent time in countries with earthquake risks he knew when he felt tremors to go down to the beach to warn people away from the shoreline. This was where Robin was last seen alive because along with over 230,000 people, he was killed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami on Boxing Day that year. His body was found three days later. All of his family survived.

During his time as the head of CARE Nepal, Robin led projects in women’s rights, education and healthcare. After news of his death, 108,000 butter lamps were lit in his honour in Kathmandu, showing just how much the people of Nepal loved him. Years previously Robin had struggled to organise the lighting of 50,000 lamps for a peace vigil on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

“Go forth and make the world less miserable” was a quote written by Robin. It was found scribbled on a scrap of paper on his desk in Kathmandu just days after his death.

Robin dedicated his life to helping those less fortunate. He may not be an international pop star like Beyoncé, but he serves as a huge inspiration to not just humanitarian aid workers around the world but to us all.

“This year’s World Humanitarian Day presents an historic opportunity to bring together one billion people from around the world to advance a powerful and proactive idea: People Helping People. That is the best way to honour the many fallen aid workers we mourn today, and to celebrate the efforts of others who carry on their noble mission by rushing assistance to those who are suffering.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Get Involved / Read More – I Was Here campaign to get people to ‘do something good somewhere for someone else’

CARE International – CARE was founded to help survivors of the Second World War and is now active in more than 70 countries. Their mission is to create lasting change in poor communities and we put money where it is needed most.

Watchlist – – The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict strives to protect children in war zones.

Justice for the victims of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war

Charles Taylor listens to his sentencing Photo: REUTERS/United Photos

Many years ago a BBC reporter suggested to the then Liberian president Charles Taylor that some people thought him little better than a murderer. Taylor responded: “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time”.

The now ex-president of Liberia was last week sentenced to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1990s. He was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers.

While Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, he sponsored the RUF rebels in order to destabilise the country and reap the benefits of the diamond mining industry.

The Revolutionary United Front were a rebel group who started a guerrilla campaign against the Sierra Leonean government in the early nineties due to corruption and mismanagement of the diamond sector but when the military successfully attempted a coup d’état it triggered a decade long civil war. During the trial of Charles Taylor the prosecution claimed that he saw a chance to profit from the war and exchanged guns for ‘blood’ diamonds which he could then sell on to finance his own campaigns. These guns and other ammunition further fueled the war and the RUF’s grip on the diamond mines.

During the latter half of the nineties the RUF started their most gruesome atrocities against the population of Sierra Leone. They committed widespread rape and murder and used machetes and axes to hack off the hands, arms and legs of men, women and children to drive fear into their opponents during elections. Thousands of boys and girls were abducted and forced to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes, were kept on drugs and often forced to murder their own parents.

AP Photo/Adam Butler

But the RUF didn’t stop there.

The Guardian reported that amongst the atrocities, victims were beheaded and their ‘heads were often displayed at checkpoints. On one occasion a man was killed, publicly disembowelled and his intestines stretched across a road to form another checkpoint. “The purpose,” Judge Richard Lussick said, “was to instill terror”.’

RUF soldiers were known to have cut open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children. During Taylor’s trial Judge Richard Lussick read a statement from a prosecution witnesses. “Witness TF1064 was forced to carry a bag containing human heads,” Lussick said. “On the way, the rebels ordered her to laugh as she carried the bags dripping with blood. The bag was emptied, and she saw the heads of her children.”

The war in Sierra Leone, depicted in the 2006 film Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio, lasted for over ten years and left 50,000 people dead and over half of the country’s 4,500,000 population displaced.

Charles Taylor in 1990
© 2012 Guardian News

There were growing fears that holding Taylor’s trial in Sierra Leone could cause more instability in the country and therefore the UN-backed court in The Hague, The Netherlands, agreed to host the trial as long as he was imprisoned in another country if convicted.

The Bristish government stepped forward and offered to house Taylor in a British jail if he was found guilty and therefore Taylor will serve out his sentence in one of the UK’s high security prisons.

Taylor is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international war crimes court since Admiral Karl Donitz, Hitler’s successor, was jailed at the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War.

So many former heads of state have escaped accountability for their roles in genocide and crimes against humanity. Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge party who were responsible for the deaths of over a quarter of the population of Cambodia, died before he came to trial. Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, who left a legacy of over 200,000 dead and half of the 4,000,000 population homeless during the Bosnian War, died of a heart attack in his cell while standing trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

“It is really significant that Taylor’s status as a former head of state was taken as an aggravating factor as far as his sentence was concerned,” said Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch. “That is a very important precedent and I hope that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir take note.”

Judge Lussik said; “As president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Liberia, Mr Taylor used his unique position to aid and abet the commission of crimes in Sierra Leone, rather than using his power to promote peace and stability.”

Today Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world but there are several charities making a difference. Liverpool and Wales footballer Craig Bellamy started The Craig Bellamy Foundation after visiting the country in 2007.

Bellamy in Sierra Leone ©

He invested £1.2m of his own money to help build a not-for-profit football academy in the Kono region of the country. Bellamy and Unicef have also built a national league in a country where the existing top-flight league has been suspended due to lack of funds. He hopes football will inspire positive change amongst the children.

Another charity working in Sierra Leone is Street Child of Sierra Leone. It was founded in 2008 by Tom Dannatt to reduce the number of children living on the streets by putting them in long-term education and reuniting them with their families or placing them in alternative loving environments. Some charities have been criticised in the past for wasting of money on running costs, but Street Child ensures that 90% of all donations go directly to the charity’s work in Sierra Leone.

If you’d like to donate or look at the charities’ work further please visit and