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Court Indicts Seven for War Crimes in Sierra Leone

Rebel leader Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front, and Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman were among those who will stand trial. Also charged are rebel commanders Issa Sesay and Sam Bockarie and former coup leader Johnny Paul Koroma, who remains at large, Reuters reported.

Sierra Leone’s civil war began in 1991 after Sankoh’s RUF, backed by neighboring Liberia, fought the government for control of the diamond trade, which in turn fueled weapons purchases. During the conflict, the RUF was widely condemned for its cruel practices, including amputations and mass rapes of suspected government sympathizers.

In all, the fighting killed 75,000 people and displaced another two million. The war ended in January 2002 after United Nations peacekeepers disarmed the remaining rebels. Some 17,000 U.N. troops remain in the country to help stabilize the government.

Sam Hinga Norman was the political leader of the Citizens Defense Force, a militia that fought with the government against the RUF. However, Norman’s group was also widely accused of committing atrocities during the war. He warned in a January NewsHour report that renewed instability and social unrest could follow if the court is perceived as unfair.

Prosecutor David Crane, an American, said in a statement that those indicted would be charged with crimes including murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, sexual slavery, conscription of child soldiers and attacks on U.N. peacekeepers.

“The dark days of rule of the gun are over,” Crane said. “The bright shining light of the law burns back the shadows of impunity in this ravaged country.”

Sierra Leone’s war crimes court, made up of local and international judges and prosecutors, was established to “prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for the tragedy that took place here in Sierra Leone over the past ten years,” Crane said.

The court is expected to take up the cases later this year, although no exact date has been set.