Sierra Leone court delivers first war-crimes verdicts

Sierra Leone’s special war-crimes court handed down its first verdicts on Wednesday, finding three leaders of a militia guilty of war crimes that include killing, raping and mutilating civilians.

The verdicts against Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu stem from charges relating to Sierra Leone’s 1991 to 2002 civil war that also target former Liberian president Charles Taylor, facing a separate trial in The Hague.

The three men were commanders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), former government soldiers who split from the army and sided with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during the conflict that devastated the former British colony.

“They were found guilty but not on all counts,” said Peter Andersen, a spokesperson for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The United Nations-backed tribunal found them guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which covered terrorising the civilian population, unlawful killings, rape, the use of child soldiers, abductions and forced labour, and looting.

No judgement was entered on two counts of sexual violence while the three were found not guilty on one count of physical violence, Andersen said. The men, all of whom pleaded not guilty, were due to be sentenced on July 16.

“Captured women and girls were raped ... AFRC/RUF also physically mutilated men, women and children, including carving ‘AFRC’ and ‘RUF’ on their bodies,” the prosecution said in its indictment against them.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up jointly by the former British colony’s government and the UN in 2002 to try those deemed most responsible for human rights violations during the later stages of the civil war.

It initially issued 13 indictments against leaders from all three of the main warring factions during Sierra Leone’s conflict, but three suspects have since died and the whereabouts of one is unknown.

Taylor’s accomplices

The AFRC staged a coup on May 25 1997, ousting President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah just six months after he signed a peace deal.
They then joined with the RUF rebels in a bid to gain control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines.

The prosecution said Brima, Kamara and Kanu acted in concert with Taylor.

Many ordinary Sierra Leoneans take only a passing interest in the tribunal, partly because rebel leaders Foday Sankoh and Sam “Mosquito” Bockarie are dead and partly because they are too busy living day-to-day in one of the world’s poorest countries.

The prosecution listed towns and villages around Sierra Leone where fighters hacked civilians to death, kidnapped others and took them to bases with names like “Superman Camp”.

Children were routinely abducted, trained in camps around the country and forced to fight, while others were forced to work as diamond miners, the prosecution said.

Forces loyal to President Kabbah forced the AFRC/RUF junta from power in February 1998 and his government returned the next month, but hostilities continued, including subsequent attacks by junta fighters on the capital, Freetown.

British military intervention to back up UN peacekeepers checked the rebel advance in 2000, helping to end a decade of war in which an estimated 50 000 people were killed.—Reuters