A former rebel commander during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war has pleaded innocent to 17 counts of crimes against humanity - including four attacks against United Nations peacekeepers.
In his initial appearance last Friday before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, Augustine Gbao pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity, and declared that he did not have money to pay for his defence. The 17 separate charges, which include rape and murder as well as the attacks against the peacekeepers, also relate to other serious violations of humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions.
According to its rules, the Court will pay for Mr. Gbao's defence until an investigation into his financial standing has been completed. In the meantime, the Court appointed Andreas O'Shea, a barrister from the United Kingdom, to lead Mr. Gbao's defence team.
Sierra Leone's tribunal differs from those of set up by the Security Council for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in that its proceedings will be held in the country and include a mix of local and international prosecutors and judges. The court was created by an agreement between the UN and the Government to indict and try those considered to have the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during 10 years of brutal conflict.