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May 28, 2018 | Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone war criminal to go free after serving jail term

AFP
Moinina Fofana, left, dressed in white, pictured on trial in 2004 alongside Sam Hinga Norman. Fofana was to be released on Monday after serving a 15-year term. Norman died in 2007 while awaiting the outcome of his case.  By BEN CURTIS (POOL/AFP)
Moinina Fofana, left, dressed in white, pictured on trial in 2004 alongside Sam Hinga Norman. Fofana was to be released on Monday after serving a 15-year term. Norman died in 2007 while awaiting the outcome of his case. By BEN CURTIS (POOL/AFP)

An ex-Sierra Leone militia leader was Monday to walk free after serving a 15-year sentence, the first to complete a term imposed for crimes in the country's civil war, a UN court said.

The Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone "has reached a significant milestone, with the discharge later today of the first person convicted of war crimes to complete his full sentence," it said.

Moinina Fofana was the leader of a notorious paramilitary unit that shot, hacked and burned to death civilians suspected of collaborating with rebels during the 1991-2002 conflict in the West African state.

More than 120,000 people died, and thousands of civilians lost limbs, in an orgy of violence financed largely by blood diamonds.

Fofana was convicted of war crimes in 2007 after a three-year trial at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone and jailed for six years. His term was then increased to 15 years in 2008 on appeal.

He was granted conditional release in 2015 after serving two-thirds of his sentence at Mpanga Prison in Kigali, Rwanda.

But he was taken back into custody a year later in the capital of Freetown for breaching his agreement to "conduct himself honourably and peacefully in the community" and avoid local politics, the court said. He served the rest of his term in the southern city of Bo in Sierra Leone.

Fofana ends "his sentence at midnight on Monday," the court said in a statement.

In Freetown, human rights lawyer Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai said Fofana's release "shows fairness of the international justice system.

"The special court has helped to end the culture of impunity in Sierra Leone."

Jusu Jaka, who had a limb amputated during the conflict, said: "We the victims of the war in Sierra Leone are very happy to see justice is done against perpetrators."

Joseph Kamara, a trader in the Sierra Leone capital who was only five when the war broke out in 1991, added, "I'm happy he has served his sentence for committing crimes during the war as it will set an example for others."

Seven other people sentenced by the court are still behind bars, serving jail terms of between 20 to 52 years.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, based in The Hague, and its successor were established by the UN in 2002 to try those who bore "the greatest responsibility" for the atrocities committed during the civil war.

Its most notorious defendant was former warlord and Liberian president Charles Taylor, now serving 50 years in a British jail for his role in fuelling civil conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Taylor was the first former head of state to be jailed by an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in Germany after World War II.

He was convicted in 2012 on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity over acts committed by Sierra Leone rebels he aided and abetted during the war.

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