ABIDJAN, 12 March (IRIN) - The Special
Court for Sierra Leone made its first indictment on Monday, that of seven
people who are to stand trial for crimes against humanity which they are
accused of committing during a decade-long civil war.
"This is a very important step in bringing those who committed atrocities with impunity in Sierra Leone in the last decade to justice," Chief Press and Public Affairs Officer David Hecht told IRIN on Tuesday. "It is a new model for international justice and a major step for people who suffered the atrocities to see that justice will be done."
A statement from the Court said on Monday that five of the seven, including former rebel leaders Foday Sankoh and Issa Sesay, and Sam Hinga Norman, the current minister of internal affairs, were arrested and taken into the custody of the Court. The two others, Johnny Paul Koroma - who headed the military junta that ruled Sierra Leone from May 1997 to February 1998 - and ex-rebel commander Sam Bockarie alias "Mosquito", are at large.
In accordance with their rights, each of the accused would have a duty counsel assigned to them by the Court "should they require it to represent their interests at this initial hearing". They would be brought before a judge of the Court "as soon as is practical and in any event within seven days", it noted.
It said Norman would be held outside Sierra Leone while the other four would be held within the country but at a location outside the capital, Freetown.
Although the Sierra Leonean government had given amnesty to ex-combatants and others who committed various atrocities, the Special Court would not take this into consideration since according to the Court, there is no amnesty for crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday welcomed the announcement of the indictments saying it was a tremendous step forward for the cause of justice in Sierra Leone.
"This is a key step towards accountability for the horrific crimes of the civil war in Sierra Leone," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of HRW said. "We applaud the court for having the courage to indict persons who were on all sides of the conflict."
The Special Court was created through an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone and has a three-year mandate. It is expected to work side by side with the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Court will run as a tribunal that will seek to punish those most responsible for violations of international humanitarian law.
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