Thursday, February 26, 2009

A measure of justice at last in Sierra Leone

Yesterday, three senior members of the former Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, including its second-in-command, were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown. The RUF gained infamy in the 1990s for their savage tactics, including the use of child soldiers, the amputation of the hands and arms of victims and the carving of the RUF's initials into the bodies of victims.

The BBC reported that the judges concluded the rebel chiefs "significantly contributed" to a joint criminal enterprise with former Liberian President Charles Taylor [also standing trial for crimes against humanity] to control the diamond fields of Sierra Leone to finance their warfare. They were also found guilty of forced marriage - the enslavement that countless young girls suffered when their villages were raided and they were forced to "marry" a rebel. The convictions mark the first time the forced marriage charge has been successfully handed down in an international court of law.

The RUF's leader Foday Sankoh died in custody before facing trial.

TIME magazine had this interview with the Special Court's prosecutor, who expressed satisfaction at the verdict. When asked about the potential conflict between justice and peace, he pointed out that the two were complimentary. "I guess [the] proof of the pudding is that the country held an election in August and September 2007 where not only was the opposition not expected to get in, they were allowed to get in. That's pretty positive. What the court has done is reinforce the peace and restore the rule of law to allow events like that to happen," he noted.

The three will be sentenced at a later date.

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