Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sierra Leone war crimes court issues verdicts

Sierra Leone’s war crimes court issued its first verdicts on Wednesday against three of the total thirteen suspects indicted by prosecutors for their part in the country’s 1991-2002 civil war.

Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor, amongst the leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) were found guilty of killings, rape and the use of child soldiers amongst other counts.

Prosecutors say their group, formed from a cabal of mutinous soldiers which staged a coup in 1997 and joined up with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to temporarily oust President Ahmed Kabbah, worked in concert with Charles Taylor, former Liberian president. He is also indicted by the court but is facing trial in The Hague due to security concerns.

Mr Taylor stands accused of similar gross human rights violations when he backed Sierra Leone rebels to take control of diamond rich territory in that country.

The verdicts are a key moment for the court, which has struggled to wind up cases against those indicted since its creation in 2002.

The court has faced unusual problems. Three of main suspects indicted have died before a verdict could be passed, and one leading suspect is reported missing, although his death was reported in 2003.

This has narrowed the field and also increased the importance of finding a verdict for Mr Taylor, whom prosecutors refer to as the mastermind of the conflict.

His trial’s opening was disrupted this month amid fiery courtroom theatrics when his lawyer claimed the former warlord-turned-president was indigent, and would not be able to afford the best legal representation.

The court will be under pressure to deliver more verdicts within the next two years, or face a crippling funding gap. Court officials say they need an additional $60m in voluntary contributions from donor countries and international organisations to ensure the trials can be wrapped up.

Court insiders say that the original prosecution team, led by David Crane, a former US defence department attorney, set the bar too high when it penned sweeping indictments against the RUF and AFRC suspects and Mr Taylor. They say this has led to lengthy court procedures. Indeed, Mr Taylor’s own indictment was slimmed from 17 counts to 11 counts last year.

FT.com / World - Sierra Leone war crimes court issues verdicts