Friday, July 20, 2007

Sierra Leone court slaps lengthy terms on rebel chiefs

The UN-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone on Thursday sentenced three rebel commanders to lengthy jail terms of between 45 and 50 years.

Players of the Sierra Leone civil war amputees football team train in Freetown in 2006. The UN-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone has sentenced three rebel commanders to lengthy jail terms of between 45 and 50 years.[AFP]

The court ordered that Alex Tamba Brima, 35, and Santigie Borbor Kanu, 42, be jailed for 50 years each while Brima Bazzy Kamara, 39, was sentenced to 45 years.

Prosecutors had earlier this week asked for between 50 and 60 year sentences for the three who last month were found guilty of 11 of the 14 charges against them which included murder, rape and enlisting child soldiers.

Their sentences were the first ever handed down by the court, which is trying the main perpetrators of the war crimes committed during the west African country's 1991-2001 conflict.

"The three men were found guilty of the most heinous, brutal and atrocious crimes in human history," said judge Julia Sebutinde, who spent an hour and a half reading out the verdict.

"Brothers were allowed to rape sisters, men were disemboweled and their parts displayed at check points. Cutting of limbs of unarmed civilians were common."

"Children were forcibly taken way from families, fed with drugs and turned into child soldiers," she said.

The three, who all pleaded not guilty, had received backing from former Liberian president Charles Taylor in exchange for Sierra Leone diamonds.

Taylor is currently standing trial in the UN-backed court in The Hague for war crimes committed during the conflict. He is the first African head of state to face such charges in an international court.

Thursday's landmark judgement was the first by an international court to convict and sentence individuals accused of conscripting children into combat.

The judge said the trio would begin serving their sentences immediately and that they would be given credit for the time they had served since their arrest in 2003.

The men will serve their sentences in Sweden and Austria, according to court officials.

The three belonged to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a rebel faction led by Johnny Paul Koroma which toppled an elected government in 1997 and joined forces with the notorious main rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

After deposing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in May 1997, the AFRC set up one of the most vicious juntas Africa has ever known.

While in office the junta unleashed a nine-month terror campaign that included burning children to death, mutilating, looting and cold-blooded killings across Sierra Leone.

By the time the country's decade-long civil war ended in 2001, some 120,000 people had died and thousands of others had been mutilated, with their arms, legs, ears or noses chopped off.

Created in January 2002, the Sierra Leone court is a hybrid of international and local law under a deal between the country's government and the United Nations.

Liberia's Taylor is the most high-profile defendant to appear before the court, although his trial venue was switched to The Hague amid official concerns of unrest if it was held in Freetown. His trial began on June 4.

Sierra Leone court slaps lengthy terms on rebel chiefs