Forced Marriage a War Crime?

By Impunity Watch Africa

On June 20, the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara, and Santigie Borbor Kanu guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and conscripting child soldiers.  They were acquitted of sexual slavery and “other inhumane acts” related to sexual violence, including forced marriage.  On July 19 Brima and Kanu were each sentenced to 50 years in prison and Kamara was sentenced to 45.

Forced marriage was a new crime being charged for the first time at an international level.   In issuing the verdict, the trial judges stated that they saw no need to treat forced marriage as a separate crime from sexual slavery and therefore threw out the charges. Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp has announced that he plans to appeal that decision on August 2.  Rapp told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting that the separate charge of forced marriage described the experience of women who were kidnapped by the militia and forced into marriage, a crime he intended to prosecute as a crime against humanity.

Rapp will appeal the judges’ ruling that despite evidence of sexual slavery, the indictments for sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence are overlapping.  In the “interests of justice” the judges decided to consider evidence of sexual slavery under the count of “outrages upon personal dignity.”

The difficulty Rapp faces is that while rape and sexual slavery are separately and clearly set out in both the Special Court and International Criminal Court statutes, forced marriage is not explicitly listed as a crime but can be charged as an inhumane act.  Rapp stated that he thinks the judges “left it open that if you have proof of criminal activity that goes beyond sexual slavery that fits within the context of other obligations that arise out of marriage, there could still be a conviction on that count.”

Although Rapp intends to appeal this portion of the verdict, there has been overwhelming support for the convictions and sentencing of the three former junta leaders.  Amnesty International has stated that the verdicts and sentencing send a positive signal to the people of Sierra Leone that someone will be held responsible for the brutal crimes committed against them and their families.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica – Amnesty Welcomes Sentences of AFRC Indictees – 24 July 2007

Institute of War and Peace – Forced Marriage Appeal May Influence the ICC – 24 July 2007

UN News – UN-Backed Court Sentences Former Rebel Leaders – 19 July 2007

Author: Impunity Watch Archive