The Sierra Leone Special Court, designed to try those responsible for the nation's brutal civil war in the 1990's, has handed down its first verdicts. The court found three members of the rebel Armed Forces Revolutionary Council guilty of 11 of 14 charges including rape, use of child soldiers, enslavement and murder. For VOA, Kari Barber reports from the court in Freetown.

"The chamber finds that the evidence established that young boys were assigned to units known as small boys units or SBU's, which were then used in Tambadou by the troops to amputate the limbs of civilians. According to the chamber findings the elements of this particular crime of use of child soldiers has been proved beyond reasonable doubt."

The verdicts came down individually for former rebel leaders Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu.

Brima was found guilty of charges that included cutting off limbs, burning civilians alive, decapitations, taking United Nations vehicles for his own use and using children as soldiers to fight the war.

All three of the men had pleaded not guilty.

School teacher Daniel Manga brought some of his students to witness the proceedings.

"I am happy about it because I have seen it for myself," said Daniel Manga. "No one will [have to] tell me."

University student James Mansaray sat in a room for the overflow crowd. He says the guilty verdicts are a good lesson for young men like himself.

"We who are coming up, we who are young boys, this is an example for us that if we do take the law into our own hands, we will be treated the same way these people have been treated," said James Mansaray.

Spokesman for the Sierra Leone Special Court Peter Andersen says these trials are designed to show that no one is exempt from the law.

"What we are trying to do through these trials is to address impunity," said Peter Andersen. "People have to be held to account for what they do. When you attack civilians, when you loot property, when you maim, when you cut off people's hands - which, unfortunately, is what Sierra Leone has become known for in much of the international community - then you have to be held accountable."

Sierra Leone civil society and others have complained that former LIberian president Charles Taylor, who is charged for his alleged role in fueling Sierra Leone's civil war, is not being tried in Freetown.

Andersen says that while it is critical that Sierra Leoneans are able to watch justice unfold, Taylor's presence could destabilize countries in the region. He says it could be dangerous for Liberia, in particular, where the end of their civil war is still very fresh.

The Taylor trial opened in early June, but he did not show up for the first day of proceedings . The case is set to resume Monday in The Hague.