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Sierra Leone: UN-backed court upholds jail sentences for rebel leaders

Sierra Leone: UN-backed court upholds jail sentences for rebel leaders

The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) today upheld the long jail sentences it handed down last year to three former rebel leaders convicted of multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the country’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu are each serving 50-year prison terms and Brima Bazzy Kamara is serving 45 years after each being found guilty of 11 charges, including committing acts of terrorism, murder, rape and enslavement and conscripting children under the age of 15 into armed groups.

The three men, former leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who allied themselves with the notorious rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during the civil war, had each appealed against their convictions and the length of their sentences.

The prosecution, in addition, appealed against the men’s acquittal at the trial on several other charges.

The appeals chamber upheld the prosecution’s appeal in part on questions concerning the criminality of the act of forced marriage and the issue of joint criminal enterprise, but declined to enter new convictions for the men.

After today’s judgment, SCSL Prosecutor Stephen Rapp issued a statement welcoming the ruling.

“This final decision closes a violent chapter in the history of Sierra Leone. It establishes forever that ‘some of the most heinous, vicious and brutal crimes in human history’ were committed,” he said, quoting from the appeal ruling.

Mr. Rapp paid tribute to the people of Sierra Leone who came forward at the trial as witnesses to tell their stories, describing them as “nothing short of heroic. 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.”

The SCSL, the second international war crimes tribunal set up in Africa, is mandated to try those bearing the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian and Sierra Leonean law within the country’s borders since 30 November 1996.