Rape and murder were commonplace, and one of the worst features of the conflict was the tactic of deliberate mutilation used by the warring parties, whose soldiers hacked off the hands of thousands of men, women and children.
The war began in 1991, when the former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebelled against the then President Joseph Momoh, capturing towns on the border with Liberia and promising to help the poor by ending corruption and mismanagement in the diamond-rich country.
It ended in 2002, when rebel fighters surrendered their arms to international peacekeepers. Sankoh, 70, died while awaiting trial on war crimes charges a year later.
The widespread use of child soldiers has created serious problems as the children, often brutalised and traumatised by their experiences, struggle to re-integrate into society.