- Three Commanders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) – Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu – were convicted by the UN-backed Special Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes during a civil war in Sierra Leone. The men will be sentenced on 16 July.
The guilty verdict has been hailed as a “positive step” by Amnesty International, but the group sounded that the move should not be the closing chapter in the struggle to achieve justice for the terrible crimes committed against Sierra Leoneans during the 11 year violent conflict.
The trio, who all pleaded not guilty of the charges, were convicted for unlawful killings, extermination, rape, acts of terrorism, collective punishment, and mutilation. But the court acquitted them on charges of slavery and other inhumane acts.
"These verdicts send a positive signal to the people of Sierra Leone that someone will be held responsible for the brutal crimes perpetrated against them and members of their families - but there are many others who carried out terrible acts during the country's 11 years of conflict," Hugo Relva, Amnesty International Legal Adviser, said.
"Thousands of others can and must be held criminally responsible. Reparations must also be provided to the victims in order for justice to begin to prevail throughout Sierra Leone."
It said the decision marks the first time in history that individuals have been convicted of war crimes for conscripting and enlisting children under the age of fifteen into armed forces or groups and using them to participate actively in hostilities.
AI said the landmark ruling reaffirmed the well-established principle that a national amnesty granted to any person in respect of crimes against humanity and war crimes is not a bar under international law to investigation or prosecution.
AI Researcher on Sierra Leone, Tania Bernath, believed the “verdicts send a powerful message to those still suffering the effects of years of violence - especially those thousands who bear the terrible scars of having been forced to participate in violent acts as children and the many women and girls who were victims of rape.”
"It is not only important that victims are made aware of these verdicts, but that either a fast track system or legal aid is provided so that victims can claim the compensation that is their legal right.
"These convictions should encourage the government of Sierra Leone to set aside the amnesty provisions contained in the Lomé Accord and make all crimes under international law - including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and enforced disappearances - criminal under national law," said Hugo Relva.
Of the 13 suspects indicted to appear before the Special Court, 9 have been in custody for trials, 3 dies and one remains at large.
Rights groups have been scolding the Sierra Leone government for its failure to review the national justice system to ensure that procedures are put in place so that victims of crimes prosecuted by the Special Court can seek compensation before the national courts without delay.
But it is still not clear whether a fast-track system will be established so that victims can claim reparations, including restitution, rehabilitation, compensation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition without delay or whether they will be provided with legal aid to seek compensation.
An amnesty granted by the 7 July 1999 Lomé Accord still bars the prosecution of anyone in a Sierra Leone court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under international law. Even if the amnesty did not apply, however, prosecutions for these crimes would not be possible since Sierra Leone has not yet defined them as crimes under national law.
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