KIGALI - Eight war crimes convicts of the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) were expected in the country last night to begin serving their prison sentences.
The 8 who are all former Sierra Leone rebels convicted for atrocities committed during the civil war, include Hassan Issa Sesay, a former commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who was handed 52 years by the United Nations-backed tribunal his colleagues Morris Kallon who was sentenced to 40 years and Augustine Gbao who was handed 25 years.
The trio who had their appeals rejected and sentences upheld by the court last week, will serve their time alongside other convicts who include Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leaders Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Bobor Kanu-both sentenced to 50 years and Civil Defence Forces (CDF) leaders Alieu Kondewa and Moinina Fofana, who received 20 and 15 years respectively.
The convicts are to be housed in the special “UN block” of Mpanga Prison, in Nyanza District, Southern Province, for a period of time varying between ten and fifty years.
“Having been chosen to host the convicts from the Sierra Leone Special Court, Rwanda is pleased to make a modest contribution to international justice,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, the Government Spokesperson.
“The prisoners coming to Rwanda will be treated humanely and with dignity”.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said that the arrival of the convicts show the country’s commitment to play its part in International Justice.
“We accept this development and consider it as a sign of trust in our institutions and shows Rwanda’s commitment to support international justice which can also be exemplified by our presence in Darfur. The coming of these prisoners provides us with another chance to contribute to International justice,” Karugarama said.
The Government of Rwanda’s offer to house the Sierra Leonean convicts is consistent with the country’s commitment to international justice and accountability, and is in line with efforts to contribute to long-term peace and stability on the continent.
This commitment is demonstrated by the role of Rwandan Police in the UNAMIL peacekeeping mission in Liberia and Rwanda Defence Forces in the UNAMID peacekeeping mission Darfur.
According to Karugarama the prison has medical and recreational facilities to ensure that the minimum fundamental rights of prisoners are met.
“The detention facility where they will be kept is a modern facility with all the attributes of a modern facility. The idea is to ensure that much as they are condemned people, we accord them full protection of their rights,” Karugarama said
The Special Court is an independent tribunal established jointly by the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone in 2002.
It is mandated to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in a civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2001.
The civil strife in the diamond rich West African country left over 120,000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated. The court convicted leaders of the three main factions in the war: the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The court’s only remaining defendant, former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is accused of controlling the RUF, is on trial in The Hague for security reasons.