Arusha, November 02, 2009 (FH) - In an unprecedented move, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) has transferred to Rwanda eight former combatants convicted for crimes committed during the West African country's civil war, the court announced on Saturday.

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The prisoners, both former rebels and pro-government militiamen from the 1991-2002 war, have been taken to Mpanga prison, in Rwanda, under an agreement signed between the SCSL and Kigali in March 2009.

The Rwandan detention facility was originally built for convicts sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). It meets the UN standards for treatment of prisoners while there is no prison meeting the required criteria in Sierra Leone.   

The Sierra Leonean prisoners will serve terms ranging from 15 to 52 years in Rwanda. Among them are Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao, the most senior surviving commanders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The RUF's uprising triggered the civil war which killed an estimated 120,000 people, mostly civilians.

The transfer took place after the court upheld last week, on appeal, the sentences handed down earlier in the year on the RUF leaders. Sesay, Kallon and Gbao were given, respectively, terms of 52 years, 40 and 25 years. The three men had been convicted in April for their responsibilities for a decade of war crimes and atrocities including killings, rapes and mutilations.

The SCSL wound up its proceedings in Sierra Leone when it rejected the appeals of the RUF commanders. However, the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, accused of war crimes in Sierra Leone, will continue in the Hague, the venue chosen for security reasons.

The court in Freetown is an international body established in 2002 by the United Nations with a staff both Sierra Leonean and foreign. It is the first mixed tribunal of its kind with judges appointed conjointly by the United Nations and Sierra Leone.


© Hirondelle News Agency