Sierra Leone: despite guilty verdicts today, impunity is still the rule
Posted: 25 February 2009
The judgment issued today (25 February) by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) finding three senior members of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes is a positive, but still insufficient, step in the fight against impunity in that country, said Amnesty International.
The verdict by the Special Court found Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the internal armed conflict that took place in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002.
The ruling found that they are criminally responsible for unlawful killings, rape, forced marriage, acts of terrorism, attacks on peacekeepers, enslavement and other inhuman acts, among other crimes - reinforcing international condemnation of crimes of sexual violence.
Christopher Keith Hall, Senior Legal Adviser for Amnesty International said:
'These guilty verdicts send a clear message to the international community in general and to perpetrators of crimes against Africans in particular: those responsible for crimes under international law will not go unpunished.'
The organisation noted, however, that only a handful of those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility in the armed conflict in Sierra Leone have been tried by the Special Court.
Amnesty International said that many others - numbering perhaps in the several hundreds - must be investigated in Sierra Leone or in any other state willing to exercise universal jurisdiction and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecuted in fair trials without the possibility of the death penalty.
By convicting two of the three accused of conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate in hostilities, the Trial Chamber confirmed once again that these acts are serious war crimes and that those responsible must receive penalties that take into account the grave nature of such crimes.
The Trial Chamber decision also reaffirmed that an amnesty granted to any person responsible for crimes under international law - as is the case in Sierra Leone and several other African states - is not a bar under international law to prosecution.
An amnesty provision in the Lomé Accord of 7 July 1999 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.
Christopher Keith Hall said:
'The government of Sierra Leone must set aside the impunity 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. Otherwise, victims will be forced to file complaints in other states where extraterritorial jurisdiction, including universal jurisdiction, is permitted.'
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Amnesty International UK media unit