The Special Court for Sierra Leone wrapped up its Freetown-based trials today when the Appeals Chamber handed down its judgment on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) case. It upheld the Trial Chamber’s February 2009 convictions and final sentences of the three defendants in that case: former RUF interim leader, Issa Sesay; senior RUF commander Morris Kallon; and former RUF security chief Augustine Gbao.
Each of the men had originally faced 18 counts against them for crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Among other things, the charges had included terrorism, sexual slavery, murder, rape, the conscription, enlistment and use of child soldiers, and attacks on peacekeepers. The Trial Chamber had originally convicted Mr. Sesay and Mr. Kallon on 16 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and Mr. Gbao on 14 counts. The Appeals Chamber upheld the 16 counts for both Mr. Sesay and Mr. Kallon today. The Chamber also confirmed the conviction for 13 counts for Mr. Gbao (it overturned the Trial Chamber’s conviction for the 14th count of collective punishments, and also found him not guilty of one of two attacks on UN peacekeepers, for which he had also been convicted by the Trial Chamber). To see the Special Court’s summary of the original charges against each defendant, go to: http://www.sc-sl.org/CASES/RUFCase/RUFSummaryoftheCharges/tabid/185/Default.aspx.
The Appeals Chamber also upheld the total length of sentences handed down to each man in the sentencing hearing held in Freetown in April 2009, although the sentences for some counts were revised. This means that Mr. Sesay’s sentence of 52 years imprisonment, Mr. Kallon’s 40 year sentence and Mr. Gbao’s 25 year sentence were all upheld.
In addition to the majority opinion read out by Justice Renate Winter today in Freetown, four separate opinions were also read out. One of them was a dissent by Justice George Gelaga King, which was joined by Justice Jon Kamanda.
The press release issued by the Special Court’s Registry highlighted that this Appeals judgement “upholds first-ever convictions by an international tribunal for forced marriage as a crime against humanity, and for attacks against United Nations peacekeepers.” The Chamber also upheld convictions for the recruitment and use of child soldiers (which are also crimes being prosecuted currently in the International Criminal Court’s first case against Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga). You can read the Registry press release giving an overview of the RUF Appeals Judgment here: http://www.sc-sl.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=HEuoXydNgQ4%3d&tabid=53 (or simply by going to the home page of the Special Court at www.sc-sl.org which currently has a link to the press release as the top item on the front page).
Meanwhile, the Office of the Prosecutor also issued a press release. Acting Prosecutor Joseph Kamara was quoted as saying:
“Today’s Appeals judgement is a final condemnation of one of the most brutal and notorious rebel groups in modern times,” said Mr. Kamara. “The suffering inflicted by the RUF on the people of this country is beyond words.”
“With the end of this trial, there is now a final recognition of their crimes. And there is a strong measure of justice and accountability for their victims – the families of those who were slaughtered, the women who were raped, the children forced to fight and kill, the many thousands who were mutilated and terrorized.”
You can the Office of the Prosecutor press release here http://www.sc-sl.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ITUGDfogLfQ%3d&tabid=53 (or else go straight to the Special Court’s home page, as above, as a link to the release exists there as well).
No RUF defense counsel press release was issued. However, the defense counsel for the RUF did object to the sentences when they were originally handed down in April this year. See this story in AllAfrica.com to give you a sense of the Defense perspective at that stage: http://allafrica.com/stories/200904090739.html
Meanwhile, for initial press reactions to today’s judgment, see:
Radio France Internationale: http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/articles/118/article_5625.asp
And here’s a Voice of America story which features an interview with former chief Prosecutor at the SCSL, David Crane: http://www.voanews.com/english/Africa/2009-10-26-voa41.cfm
The RUF features heavily in the trial of Charles Taylor, as Mr. Taylor is alleged to have controlled and supported the RUF in their commission of crimes in Sierra Leone after November 30, 1996. Mr. Taylor’s trial is still ongoing in The Hague and resumes from recess today.
As a reminder: Today’s Appeals Chamber decision is not proof of Mr. Taylor’s involvement in the commission of RUF crimes: that is still to be litigated during Mr. Taylor’s trial in The Hague. What today’s Appeals Judgment does is simply to confirm that Mr. Sesay, Mr. Gbao and Mr. Kallon have been found guilty of horrific crimes that occurred in Sierra Leone during its brutal war.
As is the right of all defendents in international criminal trials, Mr. Taylor maintains the right to be presumed innocent unless the Special Court judges find sufficient evidence to support a conviction for his alleged role in RUF crimes in Sierra Leone. The defense case is still ongoing and no judgment has yet been rendered in Mr. Taylor’s case.
We will post an update on the first day back in the courtroom of Mr. Taylor’s trial in The Hague in a few hours.