African Press International (API)

"Daily Online News Channel".

Sierra Leone war crimes ruling bolsters victim protection, HRW says

Posted by African Press International on May 30, 2008

Publisher: Korir, source.apa

The decision by Sierra Leones war crimes court to reject sentence reductions for two convicted militia members because they fought for a legitimate cause is crucial in ensuring justice for all victims of human rights violations, a Human Rights Watch press release has said.

The appeals chamber of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone handed down its judgment on Wednesday in the sentencing of Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, former leaders of the government-supported Civil Defence Forces (Karmajors) during Sierra Leones armed conflict that ended in 2002.

Both men were convicted of war crimes involving extreme acts of violence such as mutilations against civilians. The trial chamber of the court had reduced their sentences on the grounds that they had engaged in the conflict to secure democracy. The appeals chamber however rejected that portion of the ruling.

Consequently, consistent with this and other findings, the appeals chamber increased Fofanas sentence from six to 15 years and Kondewas sentence from eight to 20 years. This decision rightly affirms that there is no excuse for attacking and mutilating civilians regardless of the purpose in fighting, said Elise Keppler, international justice senior counsel at Human Rights Watch.

The Special Court trial chamber found the defendants guilty of very serious violations of international humanitarian law following testimony from more than 100 witnesses who described barbaric crimes that included mutilations, targeting, and deliberate killing of unarmed men, women, and children, and the murder of women who had sticks inserted and forced into their genitals.

The ruling reinforces the principle that all parties in a conflict must abide by the same rules and be subject to the same punishment, said Keppler. To do less would provide victims unequal protection under the law depending on who their attackers are.

The HRW release said it is unprecedented at international courts for the political motivation of a perpetrator in taking up arms to be accepted as a mitigating factor in reducing sentences.

The Special Court, created in 2002 through an agreement between the United Nations and the Sierra Leonean government, is charged with bringing to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for grave crimes committed since November 1996, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and certain violations of Sierra Leonean law.

Sierra Leones Special Court has thus far tried eight individuals associated with the three warring factions during the conflict the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and the Civil Defence Forces (Karmajors) in Freetown.

The former president of Liberia Charles Taylor is being tried by the Special Court, for crimes allegedly committed in Sierra Leone, at the facilities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Taylors trial was relocated from Liberia due to security concerns in the region.



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