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Sierra Leone's Special Court Rulings Get Mixed Reviews


The reaction in Sierra Leone to the sentencing of three convicted rebel leaders has been mixed. The men were sentenced to around 50 years each for their involvement in atrocities committed during Sierra's Leone's civil war. While many in the capital, Freetown, say they are pleased by the verdict, others say the country needs to accept the past, and move on towards a united future. Selah Hennessy reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Two men, Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu, were each given 50-year jail terms, while a third was sentenced to 45 years.

Alhaji Lamin Jusu Jakka, the national chairman of the Amputee and War-Wounded Association in Sierra Leone, says he was pleased with the outcome.

"We as victims we feel satisfied with the work that the Special Court has done in Sierra Leone," he said.

The convicted men, tried in the U.N.-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone, last month were found guilty of 11 charges, including murder, rape, and enlisting child soldiers.

All three were senior members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which toppled the government in 1997.

Their nine-month rule was characterized by widespread human rights abuses, including burning children alive and slitting open the stomachs of pregnant women.

Jakka says the sentencing has been an important milestone for Sierra Leone, showing future generations that crimes committed in the country will not go unpunished.

"This has served as a message to all the people in Sierra Leone, a lesson to wipe out impunity," he said. "No one can do atrocities, cause trouble and it will just die down like that. This is a force [strong] example that the Special Court has set."

But other Sierra Leoneans have been critical of the sentencing.

Allieu Kamara was the AFRC spokesman. He says the trial will only serve to divide the country, at a time when it needs to be united and looking towards a peaceful future.

"Punishing these people in such a manner creates some bad blood within our community," he said. "Some people will be happy because of what happened, some people will be distressed. We are a country now working towards consolidating peace."

Most Sierra Leoneans feel that justice must be brought to the victims of Sierra Leone's civil war, but some have complained that the high cost of the trial could have been better spent rebuilding their country.

Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher with the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, disagrees. She says it is crucial that the rule of law is seen to have returned to the country.

"I think it is important to keep in mind the vital importance of justice in the formation of a stable and long-lasting democracy," she noted. "The lack of justice played a key role in Sierra Leone which lead to in many ways the creation of an armed conflict there, so I think it is important that notions of impunity and the rule of law be addressed head-on and the Special Court has played a very vital role in doing this."

The sentences given yesterday were the first to be handed out by the Special Court. The three sentenced yesterday have the right to appeal.

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