UN tribunal upholds sentences handed to former rebel leaders

The UN-backed tribunal has upheld sentences of up to 52 years in prison to three men who were rebel leaders during the country’s brutal civil war. The conflict left 120,000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated.


AFP - Sierra Leone's UN-backed tribunal upheld Monday sentences of up to 52 years in prison for three former rebel leaders in its last ever judgement to be handed down in Freetown.

Although the court accepted certain grounds for appeal by the defendants, the five-judge panel confirmed the sentences for Issa Hassan Sesay (52 years), Morris Kallon (40 years) and Augustine Gbao (25 years).

The three men were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for overseeing a spree of rapes and killings during the country's brutal civil war, which ended in 2001 after a decade of bloodshed.

"The court imposes a global sentence of 52 years," presiding judge Renate Winter told former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) interim leader Sesay after a summary of the verdict was read out in court.

Sesay, who has received the highest sentence ever handed out by the court, smiled slightly as he stood up to hear the verdict Monday.

The sentences for Kallon and Gbao were also upheld.

The ruling against the RUF leaders is the last judgement the court will hand down in Freetown as its only remaining case, the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, is being held in The Hague for security reasons.

In Sierra Leone, the court is now expected to close its doors eight years after the end of the civil war, keeping only a skeletal team to deal with the Taylor trial and the wrapping up of all remaining issues like transfer of the convicts to serve their sentences in other countries.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established by the United Nations in 2002 to try those who bear "the greatest responsibility" for the atrocities during the civil war.

The conflict left 120,000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated. The rival factions routinely raped women and forced them to become so-called bush wives of rebel soldiers. Many children were snatched by rebels, drugged and forced to fight as child soldiers.

Since 2004 the court has tried leaders of the three main factions in the war: the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the RUF. With Monday's appeals judgement in the RUF case all these cases will be completed.

For the prosecution, the outcome of the RUF trial could have a significant impact on the trial of Charles Taylor in The Hague. The Liberian former president is accused of masterminding the terror campaign waged against the people of Sierra Leone by the RUF and AFRC rebels.

But a conviction would prove difficult because Taylor is not accused of committing atrocities himself.

The confirmation of the convictions of the RUF leadership as part of a joint criminal enterprise will boost the prosecution's case against Taylor, since he is accused of being at the head of such an enterprise.

In February this year the trial chamber ruled that the RUF leaders formed a joint criminal enterprise and went on a spree of killings, mutilations and rapes in order to gain control over Sierra Leone's lucrative diamond mining regions.

The rebels used so-called blood diamonds to fund the fighting.

The verdict said the RUF established control by "terrorising the civilian population" through mass killings, rape and so-called "short sleeved and long sleeved amputations".

During the conflict RUF rebels were notorious for asking victims to choose between short sleeves, meaning amputation of the arm at the shoulder, or long sleeves, amputation of the hand at the wrist.

The appeals chamber upheld the ruling of the trial chamber Monday on most points.

The RUF and the AFRC cases also help the prosecution establish that the crimes they hold Taylor responsible for through his alleged control of the rebels did happen. To get a conviction for Taylor, prosecutors will not need to prove that the atrocities occurred, only that he effectively controlled the rebels.

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