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Impacts of the War

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The impact of the war within Liberia has been tremendous. All sides to the conflict committed extreme acts of violence against civilians, often not for larger strategic goals but rather to raise revenue and to exert as high a human toll as possible, including torture, rape, and indiscriminate beating, killing, and abduction. The conflict was also used by individuals and groups to exact revenge for preexisting grievances over land use or other localized issues.[1] The Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimated that 250,000 people were killed by the conflicts, and one million were displaced.[2]

Liberia’s wars also received world attention for their use of child soldiers. From the outset of the war, Charles Taylor’s forces recruited young boys, initially drawing on war orphans, who were indoctrinated to become loyal and fearless soldiers. However, most–if not all–other parties, including ULIMO, LURD and MODEL also used children to fight, commonly referring to them as “Small Boys Units,” or SBUs.[3] Children reportedly were given drugs and alcohol and were forced to kill family members to isolate them from their communities. Young girls were abducted by armies into sexual servitude and also served at the front lines. At the time of the peace accords in 2003, an estimated 21,000 child soldiers needed to be reintegrated into society.[4]

Finally, in addition to the human cost and the razing of homes, buildings, and infrastructure, the years of conflict ruined Liberia’s economy and left it overrun with weapons. Massive displacement during the war led to a shutdown of public services, and maternal and infant mortality rose to levels “not seen in decades.”[5] In 2010, seven years after the war, Liberia ranked 162 of 169 countries in the Human Development Index, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.

[1] See Ellis, 2007, p. 105. This phenomenon was also evident during the course of this study. Villagers reported that feuding groups—sometimes a tribe that had split up decades earlier over a dispute—would join a faction temporarily to gain access to weapons and then lead a group to attack certain villages.

[2] Republic of Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Volume 1: Preliminary Findings and Recommendations, 2009.

[3] SBU, sometimes standing for Special Boys Unit, was initially used as a term by Charles Taylor during the very beginning of the First Civil War; however, the term was later adapted by other factions as well who used the same tactic to attract war orphans, but later also forcefully abducted them from their homes (see 28).

[4]Amnesty International, “Liberia: The promises of peace for 21,000 child soldiers”, 17 May 2004.

[5]UNFPA, “Escalating Conflict In Liberia Threatens Health of Millions Across West Africa, Unfpa Warns.” Press Release June 9, 2003, AFR/640, POP/865.