Wednesday, June 20, 2007

First Sierra Leone war crimes verdicts

James Pombo, victim of the civil war in Sierra Leone (File)

Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and mutilated during the war

Three men have been convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's decade-long war.

These were the first verdicts of Sierra Leone's UN-backed war crimes tribunal.

Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu were senior members of an armed faction that toppled the government in 1997.

They were found guilty of 11 of the 14 charges, but acquitted of alleged sexual slavery and other inhuman acts. The men will be sentenced on 16 July.

The judges read out their verdicts before a packed courtroom. The three men face lengthy prison terms.

During the conflict tens of thousands were killed as the rebel forces raped and mutilated defenceless innocent civilians.

The US-based Human Rights Watch hailed the verdict as "the first time that an international court has issued a verdict on child recruitment".

Important step

The three had pleaded not guilty to the 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape and the use of child soldiers.

AFRC fighters

The AFRC teamed up with the other rebels after 1997

They belonged to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which formed an alliance with the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

As the rebel groups attempted to hold power they were allegedly backed by the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, in return for Sierra Leone's diamonds.

Following the end of the conflict five years ago, a UN-backed court was set up to try those people who bore the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed.

Trying all those who committed crimes would have been an impossible task says the BBC's West Africa correspondent, Will Ross.

So many in Sierra Leone now live side-by-side with the very people they saw committing atrocities, he says.


The court has indicted 12 people, including Charles Taylor.

He is currently in The Hague, where his war crimes trial is due to resume next week. His case was moved there to avoid unrest in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The head of the AFRC rebels was never apprehended but is presumed dead.

The most notorious rebel leader, the RUF's Foday Sankoh, died in custody while awaiting trial.

Another high profile figure, former Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman, died after surgery with his verdict pending.

It may be slow and expensive but many view the court's work as an important step to help end impunity, our correspondent says.

BBC NEWS | Africa | First S Leone war crimes verdicts