Human Rights Watch urged today that the Sierra Leonean leader Foday Sankoh should receive a fair trial for his crimes.
Extensive evidence has been compiled, by Human Rights Watch and others, of crimes against humanity committed by soldiers and officers of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), of which Foday Sankoh is the leader. But that evidence should be carefully compiled and presented in a court of law. Sankoh should be informed of the specific charges against him as soon as possible, according to fair trial standards.
"Foday Sankoh must not be subjected to mob rule," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "There is a good case against him, but it must be presented soberly and carefully, before impartial judges. Otherwise, the cycle of violence in Sierra Leone will only continue."
Takirambudde said that after years of civil war, the capacity of the Sierra Leonean justice system was in question, and the possibility of an international tribunal for Sankoh should be examined without delay.
The July 1999 Lome Accord included an amnesty for atrocities committed during the eight-year civil war. Takirambudde noted that the international community, including the United Nations, never recognized the amnesty and is not bound by its terms. Human Rights Watch has also documented many abuses committed by the RUF since July 1999 which are not covered by the amnesty.
"At the core of the crisis in Sierra Leone is the question of impunity," said Takirambudde. "If the international community can send investigative teams into Kosovo to document war crimes, it should be prepared to do the same for Sierra Leone. The perpetrators of abuse must be held accountable."