Forced marriage judgment at the Special Court for Sierra Leone
On Wednesday, the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s Trial Chamber I issued its judgment in what is referred to as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) case – Prosecutor v. Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao. The leaders and fighters of the Revolutionary United Front were infamous for committing brutal atrocities, such as sexual mutilation and amputation. Their targets were often civilians. Girls and women were often abducted by the RUF to serve as fighters, porters, cooks and “wives” to combatants. Boys and men were also abducted in large numbers to serve as fighters, spies, bodyguards and laborers.
The first accused, Issa Sesay, (pictured right) served as the Interim Leader of the RUF. The second accused, Morris Kallon, was a former RUF commander and the third accused, Augustine Gbao, was a senior RUF officer and commander. These three were originally indicted alongside Foday Sankoh, former leader of the RUF, and Sam Bockarie, former Battlefield Commander of the RUF, but both died before being brought to trial.
The Special Court’s Trial Chamber convicted all three for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Sierra Leonean conflict [Special Court Press Release is here]. Sesay and Kallon were each found guilty on 16 out of 18 counts. Gbao (pictured left) was convicted of 14 of 18 counts. All were convicted for gender-based crimes against humanity – rape, sexual slavery and inhumane acts (forced marriage) – as well as for the war crime of outrages upon personal dignity. The forced marriage convictions represent the first of their kind within an international or internationalized criminal tribunal. [In another Special Court case – that of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council – the Appeals Chamber recognized (at paras. 175-203) that forced marriage could be considered a separate crime against humanity under the category of “other inhumane acts”, but convictions were not entered.] Here is the Prosecutor’s response to the RUF convictions:
The Court today for [the] first time in world history convicted each of these individuals of ‘forced marriage’ as a separate “crime against humanity.” In doing so, it recognizes the very deep and long lasting suffering inflicted upon women through conscription as ‘bush wives’ during the Sierra Leone conflict.
Two of the accused, Sesay and Kallon, were convicted of the war crime of “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities”. Gbao (pictured right) was found not guilty on this charge.
Interestingly, all of the accused were found not guilty on certain charges relating to the abduction and holding of UN peacekeepers as hostages in 2000 (though all were convicted of “intentionally directing attacks against personnel involved in a humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission”). It was this hostage-taking by the RUF that prompted the UN Security Council to consider asking the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Secretary-General to jointly create the Special Court.
Sentencing will take place in the coming weeks, likely in March. The only remaining trial of the Special Court is that of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, taking place in The Hague.
The RUF trial judgment is not yet posted on the Special Court’s website, but once it is available, I will blog about the treatment of gender-based crimes within that judgment.