Special Court Convicts 3 of Sierra Leone War Crimes

By Clarence Roy-Macauley
Associated Press
Thursday, June 21, 2007

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, June 20 -- Three former military leaders in Sierra Leone were found guilty of war crimes Wednesday by a U.N.-backed court, the first verdicts stemming from the country's 10-year civil war.

The ruling also marks the first conviction in an international court for the conscription of child soldiers -- a practice made notorious by images of drugged elementary-school-age boys wielding automatic weapons in the regional conflict.

The court found the three defendants, Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu, guilty of 11 of 14 charges, including terrorism, using child soldiers, enslavement, rape and murder.

The three were acquitted of charges of sexual slavery, "other inhumane acts" related to physical violence and acts related to sexual violence, said Peter Andersen, spokesman for the Sierra Leone Special Court.

The tribunal was set up after the end of fighting in 2002 to prosecute the worst offenders in a war that ravaged the small West African country and also consumed neighboring Liberia. The court has indicted 12 people, including former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of backing Sierra Leonean rebels.

Charges against the three men convicted Wednesday in Freetown linked them to fighters who raped women, burned villages, conscripted thousands of child soldiers and forced others to work as laborers in diamond mines.

The three were indicted in 2003 as the alleged leaders of the junta, called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. The group of former military officers toppled Sierra Leone's government in 1997 and then teamed up with rebels to control the country until 1998, according to the indictment.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 16.

David Crane, the founding prosecutor of the Sierra Leone Special Court, called the ruling a watershed moment for human rights.

"This particular judgment sets the cornerstone forever -- those who recruit children into an armed force are criminally liable," Crane said.

Although children have been used in wars throughout history, experts say the recruitment and conscription of children reached a new level in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Liberia, Taylor's men are accused of organizing the so-called Small Boys Unit, which conscripted youngsters, armed them with machine guns and baptized them with names like Babykiller.

About a half-million people were victims of killings, systematic mutilation and other atrocities in Sierra Leone's conflict, which was fueled by illicit diamond sales.

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