Sierra Leone court upholds war-crimes convictions

A United Nations-backed court on Friday upheld the convictions of three former rebel leaders who were sentenced to half-century prison terms last year for rape, murder and other war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s decade-long conflict.

The three were leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, a junta that overthrew an elected government in 1997 and was ousted by a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force the following year.

Defence lawyers had appealed the July verdicts. The prison sentences were the first punishments handed down by the war-crimes tribunal since it was set up.

“This final decision closes a violent chapter in the history of Sierra Leone,” said prosecutor Stephen Rapp.

The West African nation’s war lasted from 1991 to 2002.

Indicted in 2003, the three men’s joint trial began in Freetown two years later. On Friday, a five-judge appeals chamber of the court dismissed the appeal, saying in a statement it was “without merit”.

Presiding Judge George Gelaga-King said the judging panel “took into consideration the gravity of the crimes committed, as being the most heinous, brutal and atrocious crimes ever recorded in human history”.

The three are Alex Tamba Brima, Santigie Borbor Kanu and Brima Bazzy Kamara. They were convicted of 11 war-crimes charges, including terrorism, enslavement, rape and murder. The July ruling marked the first time an international court issued a conviction on the conscription of child soldiers, who in Sierra Leone were often drugged and forced into battle.

“Those who came forward to tell their stories as witnesses are nothing short of heroic,” Rapp said. “These men, women and even children took great risks so that the world would know the horrors that the people of this country suffered. Their bravery has ensured that the men responsible for these atrocious crimes would not escape justice.”

He added: “Today’s judgement resulted from the courage of the people of Sierra Leone. It is this courage that gives us all great hope of a future of justice and progress in this country. And, above all, of peace.”

As each of the former rebel leaders left the court, they waved to their relatives and friends who had come to watch the public hearing.—Sapa-AP

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