Sierra Leone verdict warns world's warlords
Rebel leaders Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao were found guilty Wednesday on more than a dozen counts each of crimes against humanity.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
Found guilty of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone's civil war, three rebel commanders will soon begin serving time for ordering the systematic mutilation of civilians, forced marriage of captured women, and the recruitment of child soldiers.Skip to next paragraph
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But the ripples of the international tribunal's decision on Wednesday in Freetown, Sierra Leone – finding rebel leaders Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao guilty on more than a dozen counts each of crimes against humanity – are already reaching around the continent and the world. Coming just a week before the expected arrest warrant for Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, and in the middle of the ongoing trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, this trial sets a very tough tone about the consequences of cruelty in wartime.
"The Sierra Leone decision is another notch on the slowly tightening belt of international accountability," says John Prendergast of the Enough Project, a Washington-based rights group. "This is a good day for potential future victims of crimes against humanity everywhere, as it takes the world a little further down the track of deterring future crimes."
Made famous by the movie "Blood Diamond," the civil war in Sierra Leone was a precursor to many wars of the current decade – most notably the Democratic Republic of Congo – where warlords and their ill-trained armies carry out horrific attacks on civilian populations. Nearly 500,000 people were either killed or mutilated between 1991 and 2002.
In Sierra Leone, rebel units often asked civilians if they wanted a "long sleeve" or a "short sleeve," and then chopped off a hand for the former answer, and the entire forearm for the latter answer. What paid for the mayhem was the global economic boom, and the world's appetite for Africa's natural resources, such as timber, gold, and diamonds.
Few other nations have witnessed brutality on the scale of the Sierra Leone conflict – made worse by Mr. Taylor's drive to control Sierra Leone's diamond trade – but experts say that warlords in other conflicts, such as in Congo, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, and some would argue in Iraq, should take note of the proceedings in Sierra Leone.