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Praise for Lengthly Prison Sentences in Sierra Leone cases of Sexual War Crimes

HI - Sharing a story and comment I picked up from Unifem on Sierra Leone and the ongoing effort to bring justice in cases of war-related rape there. -- AC d'Adesky/PulseWire

August 2, 2007

The lengthy prison terms for war crimes and crimes against humanity handed

down by the Special Court for Sierra Leone last month have been greeted

with widespread praise. Two senior members of the Armed Forces

Revolutionary Council were sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment and another

to 45 years for atrocities, including rape, committed during the country's

civil war.

Indeed, calling senior military leaders to account for sexual crimes

against women is a historic achievement. The July 19 sentencing reaffirms

that rape is among the gravest violations of international law, on par with

acts of mass murder and terrorism.

The precedent set by the International Criminal Tribunals for the former

Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as well as the investigations into Central African

Republic and Darfur being conducted by the International Criminal Court,

suggests that post-conflict justice for sexual violence may at last be

becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Yet during the 11 years of brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, more than 50

per cent of the country's women and girls suffered sexual violence. Five

years later, only 11 suspects have been indicted.

This means that thousands of women will never see their rapists brought to

justice. They will, instead, continue to see them in the streets, parks and

marketplaces of their communities. For these women, there is no closure to

the trauma of wartime rape. Peace brings no peace of mind. And there is no

equality before the law.

The women of Sierra Leone look to the Special Court as an emblem of hope

for ending impunity. But beyond the high-profile cases that the Court is

mandated to take on, it is also hoped that it will help bolster the

capacity of local courts to convict the thousands of lower-ranking rapists

who walk free. This is indeed the best hope for resurrecting the rule of

law in a war-ravaged nation.

Regrettably, international support for the rehabilitation of justice

systems and the rule of law has not prioritized women's access to justice.

This has generally been sidelined in favour of market-oriented reform, such

as revising corporate laws to improve the investment climate.

Such an approach overlooks the fact that age-old social and economic

inequalities - including those between women and men - are often the root

causes of conflict, instability or economic stagnation.

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