Abstract

In this article, we examine how irregular combatants in the "hunter" militias in Sierra Leone defined themselves and their objectives in dialogue with the human-rights discourse of international humanitarian organizations that intervened in the conflict and the peace initiatives that punctuated it, particularly from the mid-1990s onwards. We suggest that the moral subject envisioned by international doctrines of humanitarianism overlapped with codes of conduct prescribed in the course of initiations into hunting militias, especially in areas where these militias remained accountable and loyal to local political hierarchies. This undermines any simple notion of a total moral breakdown and disregard for civilian lives and rights. However, we also suggest that once militias left their local functions of grassroots civil defense units and moved beyond the territories where they were recruited, they made strategic decisions in combat based on a selective interpretation of humanitarian discourse and practices. This transformation shows how changing perceptions of the terms of engagement produced sometimes diverging, other times parallel interpretations of the moral dilemmas at stake, as the conflict (and its containment) shifted in scale to broader national, regional, and international arenas.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1978
Print ISSN
0001-9887
Pages
pp. 73-95
Launched on MUSE
2004-07-16
Open Access
No
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