Sierra Leone: Forced Marriage - 'Crime Against Humanity' in Special Court

Prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone have asked the tribunal's trial chamber to amend all previously issued indictments to include a new crime against humanity - forced marriage.
The chief prosecutor David Crane (Georgetown University law Centre) said he expects to learn soon whether prosecutors will be able to add the charge to the existing indictments against key players in the 1991-2002 civil war that killed as many as 200,000 people and left thousands more mutilated by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
David Crane said that prosecutors decided to pursue forced marriage as a crime against humanity, because of combatants' widespread practice during the war of abducting women as 'wives,' forcing them to have sex and bear children. They were threatened with death if they tried to escape, some were scarred with the initials "RUF" cut into their bodies, putting the women further at risk if they were captured by government soldiers or allied militia, who would think they were rebels. He went on to say that these crimes differ from rape or other war crimes because the women were held for so long under the threat of harm or death, even now, an unknown number of women remain with their rebel 'husbands.'

In another precedent-setting legal move, child abduction and recruitment will be prosecuted as a war crime at the Special Court. Crane said a common tactic for the RUF was to surround a town and force all the children to kill their own parents, then take the children away, making them dependent on the rebels and eventually desensitized to killing. According to the UN more than 10,000 children were abducted and forced into conscription during the war. Child protection experts have expressed concern that children would be prosecuted, many committed horrific crimes, but experts say they are victims as well as perpetrators of violence.

In response to the child protection experts Crane agreed that no child should bear the burden of greater responsibility for the atrocities, he said: "I decided no child could bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes that have taken place, while their crimes cannot be condoned, they will not be prosecuted."

Source: UN Wire, 16.4.04, via IPPF News