The special court for sierra leone appeal chambers

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Case No. SCSL–2003–08–PT



Before: Judge Geoffrey Robertson (Presiding)

Judge Emmanuel O. Ayoola

Judge Gelga King

Judge Alhaji Hassan B. Jallow

Judge Renate Winter
Registrar: Robin Vincent
Date: 31 October 2003
The Prosecutor






Table of Contents



The Recruitment of Children Under 15 was Prohibited Under Both Conventional and Customary International Law 7

A. The recruitment of children was prohibited in Sierra Leone under conventional international law. 7

B. The recruitment of children under 15 was prohibited at customary international law. 10


a. International humanitarian law clearly permits the prosecution of individuals for the commission of serious violations of the laws of war, irrespective of whether they are expressly criminalized. This has been confirmed by national and international courts, state practice, legal scholars and United Nations organs. 17

b. Where certain requirements are met, international humanitarian law prohibitions attract individual criminal responsibility. 19

c. The ICTY and ICTR have jurisdiction to prosecute violations of “Fundamental Guarantees” contained in Additional Protocol II. 20

d. Recruitment of children under 15 is a crime under international law. 22

the principle of nullum crimen sine lege is inapplicable in this case. 23

i. The principle of nullum crimen sine lege. 23

ii. The defence cannot rely on nullum crimen sine lege to challenge the Court’s jurisdiction to prosecute under Art. 4(c) of the Statute. 26

Conclusion 27


Warrior’s honour was both a code of belonging and an ethic of responsibility. Whenever the art of war was practiced, warriors distinguished between combatants and noncombatants, legitimate and illegitimate targets, moral and immoral weaponry, civilized and barbarous usage in the treatment of prisoners and of the wounded.…The struggle to make warriors obey the codes of honour is not a futile or hopeless task. Rules honoured more in the breach than in the observance are still worth having. There are human and inhuman warriors, just and unjust wars, forms of killings that are necessary and forms that dishonour us all.1

  1. The civil war that was waged in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002 was notable not only for the scale and brutality of atrocities committed against civilians, but also for shattering the lives of a generation of Sierra Leonean children. Thousands of children under the age of 18, both boys and girls, served as child soldiers in Sierra Leone’s internal armed conflict. Thousands more, while not directly deployed in combat, were forcibly joined to fighting forces.2 Many of the children who were abducted for labour, including young girls who were raped and forced into sexual slavery, eventually became fighters with the rebel forces.3 Some of these children were as young as five years-old.4 After a visit to Sierra Leone in September 1999, the UN Special Representative reported that more than 10,000 children had served as child soldiers in the three main fighting groups, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF).5

  1. Children in Sierra Leone were recruited and trained as combatants by both the armed opposition and forces fighting in support of the government. Most of the children who fought with rebel forces were intentionally abducted from their homes and families by persons in positions of command responsibility and forced into service. Hundreds of children were forced to walk, shell-shocked, alongside strangers whom they had just seen massacre their family members.6 Some of the children joined the forces out of desperation or disaffection, but remained because of fear, intimidation and terror. Still others were barred from returning home because they were literally tattooed with the insignia of the fighting forces that pressed them into service. Many children tried to escape but were rejected by their families and communities due to their involvement with rebel forces.7 In some cases, government forces summarily executed rebel child combatants whom they had captured; other children suffered horrific physical abuse while in detention. Human Rights Watch reports that some child soldiers were beaten to death after being caught by members of local communities.8 In an interview with Amnesty International, “Peter”, a 12 year-old former child combatant, recounted: “When I was killing, I felt like it wasn't me doing these things. I had to because the rebels threatened to kill me.”9 “Ibrahim”, another former child combatant, told Amnesty International that he witnessed the death of Mamadu Kamara, aged 14, who was killed by the RUF because he refused to cut off the hand of someone from his own village.10

  1. In October 2000, the UN Report of the Secretary-General on the establishment of a Special Court for Sierra Leone stated that “more than in any other conflict where children have been used as combatants, in Sierra Leone, child combatants were initially abducted, forcibly recruited, sexually abused, [and] reduced to slavery of all kinds.”11 They were forced, often under the influence of drugs and alcohol, to commit crimes that included mutilation, amputation, rape, burning, and killing. The victims often included the child soldiers’ own families and communities. When child combatants refused to take drugs, such as marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine, they were beaten and, in some cases, killed. When interviewed by Amnesty International in June 2000, 14 year-old “Sayo” recounted: “When I go to the battle fields, I smoke enough [cocaine]. That's why I become unafraid of everything. When you refuse to take drugs, it's called technical sabotage and you are killed.”12

  1. Young girls who were abducted and forcibly recruited were often forced into sexual slavery or “marriage” by military personnel. These girls were typically forced to participate in support activities such as cooking, looting, portering and sometimes combat. Rape of captured young girls was routine. In 2002, Physicians for Human Rights reported that 53 percent of displaced women and girls who had “face to face” contact with the RUF suffered some form of sexual violence, including gang rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and molestation.13 Human Rights Watch reported in January 2003 on women who were abducted by rebel forces:

In thousands of cases, women and girls were abducted after being subjected to sexual violence. The rebels often killed family members who tried to protect their women and girls. Abducted women and girls described being “given” to a combatant who then took them as their “wives”.14

Women and girls were also forcibly conscripted into the rebel fighting forces. The RUF established military training camps for women. During active fighting, female combatants were sent into battle after the men and the Small Boys Units (SBUs)…Female combatants had more power than female civilians: combatants, including female combatants, who had received military training, had substantial power to do whatever they wanted to civilians. Within the rebel forces, however, women still held much lower status: female combatants were assigned “husbands”.
Forcibly conscripted female combatants were in many ways as vulnerable as civilian abductees, and may have decided to stay with their rebel “husbands” for the same reasons as their civilian counterparts i.e. shame, lack of alternative options, and economic dependence on their “husbands”.15

  1. Children were specifically recruited because rebel and government commanders considered them to be compliant and believed them to be aggressive fighters. In the process, the victims became victimizers. During the rebel incursion into Freetown in January 1999, over 2,000 civilians were killed, attackers severed the limbs of more than 500 people, and sexual violence and rape were systematically committed against women and girls. Amnesty International estimated that ten per cent of rebel combatants in that incursion were children.16 In 1999, Human Rights Watch reported that “[c]hild combatants armed with pistols, rifles, and machetes actively participated in killings and massacres, severed the arms of other children, and beat and humiliated men old enough to be their grandfathers.”17 Likewise, in an interview with Amnesty International on June 20, 2000, “Komba”, who was 12 years-old when he was captured by the RUF in 1997, and was among the rebel forces which attacked Freetown in January 1999, recounted:

My legs were cut with blades and cocaine was rubbed in the wounds. Afterwards, I felt like a big person. I saw the other people like chickens and rats. I wanted to kill them.18

  1. Though feared for their ruthlessness and brutality, child soldiers were subjected to a process of physical and psychological abuse and duress that exacted a devastating toll on their physical and mental integrity. Amnesty International reports that casualty rates were higher among children due to their inexperience, fearlessness, and lack of training. Child soldiers also suffered disproportionately from the general rigours of military life, and were particularly vulnerable to disease and malnutrition.19 Human Rights Watch reports that child soldiers, many of whom were placed at the front line and forced to commit atrocities against their own communities, have experienced a profound sense of culpability as well as trauma.20 Child soldiers who have been released or escaped and who have been disarmed and demobilized are often aggressive and violent, and exhibit various behavioural problems, such as nightmares, alienation, outbursts of anger and an inability to interact socially.21 In a report published in January 2000, Médecins sans Frontières stated that:

The psychological impact of actually witnessing horrific events imposes a serious psychological stress. Deliberately or not, witnessing at least once events such as torture, execution, (attempted) amputations, people being burnt in their houses and public rape often results in traumatic stress or even post-traumatic stress disorder.22

  1. It is also clear that even after the cessation of hostilities the suffering of children continued. While efforts by child protection agencies to trace the families of former child soldiers have met with some success, reuniting these children with their families has been extremely difficult. In some cases, the parents of former child soldiers have been displaced or killed. In other cases, former child soldiers do not even remember their own names and have no recollection of their families. In 2001, the United States State Department reported that many families and communities of former child soldiers continued to reject the children due to their perceived involvement in rebel atrocities. Even today, many families did not want to assume responsibility for their children, some of whom were psychologically and emotionally incapable of rejoining their families.23 In an interview with Amnesty International, a 16 year-old former child soldier said: “I don't want to go back to my village because I burnt all the houses there. I don't know what the people would do, but they'd harm me. I don't think I'll ever be accepted in my village.”24

  1. Former child soldiers, who continue to suffer even now that the conflict has ended, have described how they were intimidated, threatened, and brutally beaten; how they participated in the killing of their friends and families; how they were involved in the killing and mutilation of civilians; and how they risked being beaten or killed if they refused to carry out these acts. The crimes that these children were forced to commit, at once turned them into the perpetrators and victims of horrific human rights abuses that the Special Court exists to address.

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