Arusha, November 3, 2011 (FH) - Rwanda's prison authorities have refuted claims by eight Sierra Leonean war crimes convicts that they are being mistreated in a Rwandan jail, the New Times newspaper reported on Thursday from Kigali.

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The Sierra Leonean prisoners, convicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, were transferred to the Mpanga prison in southern Rwanda in 2009, under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Special Court and Kigali. According to an article published October 16 by Sierra Leone's The Exclusive newspaper, the eight complain of "inhuman treatments" by the Rwandan prison authorities, including threats, beatings, lack of adequate medical care and the fact that their families do not have access to them.

However Paul Rwarakabije, the Commissioner General of the Rwanda Correctional Service, told the New Times that the Rwandan government was not only respecting its MOU with the Special Court but also providing extra incentives for the prisoners. He also said that a team from the Special Court was in Rwanda and would be visiting the prisoners soon.

"Prisoners will always complain, but the fact is we have accorded them more than what we are required," the New Times quoted Rwarakabije as saying. "They are frequently visited by their relatives and are also accorded conjugal rights. These are international prisoners and we treat them in a special manner."

The Sierra Leonean prisoners are former leading rebels, soldiers and militia from their country's 1991-2002 civil war: Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao of the RUF;  Alex Tamba Brima, Santigie Borbor Kanu and Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); Musa Kondowa and Moinina Fofana of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF). They are serving sentences ranging from 15 to 52 years.

"We want all Sierra Leoneans to forgive us and call on the Special Court to transfer us to serve our prison sentence in Freetown," The Exclusive quoted Santigie Kanu as saying. "Our families have abandoned us because they cannot get access to us."

According to The Exclusive, the eight Sierra Leoneans are also asking the international community to investigate "massive human rights abuses" against the 7,000 Rwandan inmates of Mpanga prison. It quoted Bazzy Kamara as saying that most of the Rwandan inmates were malnourished.

The Exclusive did not say how it managed to conduct the interviews with the prisoners but  Rwarakabije told the New Times the Sierra Leonean prisoners have access to telephone as well as special meals.

The Rwandan newspaper quoted other sources as saying that the inmates receive their medical treatment from King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, which is considered to be the best hospital in Rwanda. It also cited unconfirmed reports indicating that the Sierra Leonean prisoners "want to be relocated to Europe so that their wives can seek asylum in the host countries".  

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has MOUs on prison sentence enforcement with Finland, Sweden and the UK as well as Rwanda, but all its convicts so far are in Rwanda. Under the MOU, the bulk of prisoner maintenance costs are borne by the Special Court.  

The Special Court was established in 2002 by the United Nations, with a staff both Sierra Leonean and foreign nationals. It was the first mixed tribunal of its kind with judges appointed jointly by the United Nations and the host country. The Speciol Court is now winding up with only the judgment of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor still pending.  


© Hirondelle News Agency