Rebel leaders sentenced to up to 52 years in prison for war crimes

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has sentenced three rebel leaders to up to 52 years in prison for committing war crimes - including rape and mutilations - on a massive scale, to establish control in the 1990s.


AFP - The war crimes court for Sierra Leone on Wednesday handed down sentences of up to 52 years in prison for three rebel leaders convicted of overseeing a trail of rapes and killings.

"The crimes were committed on a massive scale... Sierra Leoneans were raped, enslaved, hacked to death and brutalised," presiding judge Pierre Boulet said in his judgment.

"The impact of the crimes on the Sierra Leonean society has been enormous," he added.

Revolutionary United Front interim leader Issa Sesay was sentenced to a total of 693 years, but as the judges ordered separate sentences for 16 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity to be served concurrently, he will spend a maximum of 52 years in prison.

Sesay's is is the highest sentence ever handed down by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which cannot impose a life sentence.

"The gravity of Sesay's conduct breaches the highest level," the judges concluded.

Morris Kallon, a former RUF commander and according to the judges a "key player in the regime," was sentenced to a total of 340 years in prison, but will spend a maximum of 40 years in jail under the judges' ruling.

Augustine Gbao, whom the court said was the RUF's ideology trainer, will spend 25 years in prison.

"Ideology played a crucial role in the RUF's commitment to fight," the judges said.

The court was hushed as the judges read out the three-hour sentencing judgment and the three men looked dazed as the sentences were handed down.

Between 1991 and 2001, the RUF carried out a series of killings, rapes and mutilations in order to try to gain control over Sierra Leone's lucrative mining districts.

The rebels used so-called blood diamonds to fund the warfare and forcibly recruited child soldiers.

"Children were deprived of normal education and some of them had the letters of the RUF branded on them as if they were the organisation's property," Boulet said.

By the time the decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone ended in 2001, some 120,000 people had been killed and tens of thousands more were mutilated or raped.

The west African country is still struggling to recover from one of the most brutal civil conflicts in recent history.

Human rights organisations in Sierra Leone hailed the verdict, saying it closed a chapter in Sierra Leone's history and urged victims to move forward.

"The punishment has fitted the crime," Samuel James, the secretary of the Justice NGO declared.

In February the court convicted Sesay and Kallon on 16 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity while Gbao was found guilty on 14 counts.

Each maintained their innocence throughout the trial proceedings which spanned almost four years.

According to the court, the RUF established control by "terrorising the civilian population" by mass killings, rape and "short-sleeved and long-sleeved amputations" -- where victims were asked to choose between short sleeves, meaning amputation of the arm at the shoulder, or long sleeves, amputation of the hand at the wrist.

The sentencing of the three RUF leaders marks the final stage in the last trial to be held in Freetown by the Sierra Leone tribunal.

Both the prosecution and the defence can still launch an appeal which will also be heard in Freetown before the court closes its doors in the Sierra Leonean capital permanently.

The ongoing trial of Liberia's former president Charles Taylor has been moved to the Netherlands for security reasons.

It is not known when the Special Court for Sierra Leone will wrap up the case against Taylor in The Hague.


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