Court delivers final verdict

2009-10-26 14:04

Freetown - The UN-backed Sierra Leone tribunal was poised on Monday to hand down its last ever verdict in Freetown against the perpetrators of atrocities during the country's brutal civil war.

The last ruling will be in the appeal of Issa Hassan Sesay, 39, Morris Kallon, 45, and Augustine Gbao, 61, three former rebel leaders convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for overseeing a spree of rapes and killings.

Once the appeals verdict against the former leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group is delivered at around 10:30 (10:30 GMT) the court will close its doors in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown eight years after the end of the war.

The tribunal's only remaining case, the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, is being held in The Hague for security reasons.

In the morning visitors, including school children on a field trip, relatives of the accused and representatives of civil society organisations, were queuing up to enter the court.

Bush wives of rebel soldiers

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in 2002 to try those who bear "the greatest responsibility" for the atrocities during the 1991-2001 civil war.

The conflict left 120 000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated. The warring 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. After Monday's appeals judgement all these cases will be completed.

In April Sesay, the former RUF interim leader, was sentenced to a 52-year prison term, the highest sentence ever handed down by the court.

Kallon, whom judges described as a key player within the RUF, was sentenced to 40 years and the rebels' ideology trainer Gbao got a 25-year prison term.

The men maintained their innocence throughout their trial which spanned almost four years.

According to the judges the leaders of the RUF formed a joint criminal enterprise and went on a spree of killings, rapes and mutilations in order to gain control over Sierra Leone's lucrative diamond mining regions. The rebels used so-called blood diamonds to fund the fighting.

Forced marriages

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 case made legal history as the verdict marked the first ever convictions by an international war crimes court for forced marriage as a crime against humanity and for attacks against United Nations peacekeepers.

Both the defence and the prosecution filed an appeal against the verdict.

For the prosecution the outcome of the RUF trial could have a significant impact on the trial of Charles Taylor in The Hague.

If the appeals chamber confirms the convictions of the RUF leaders as part of a joint criminal enterprise it will boost the prosecution's case against Taylor who is accused of leading such a joint criminal enterprise.

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.