The rebels were known for asking their victims if they preferred “long sleeves” or “short sleeves.” They then cut off the hands of those who chose the first option and the full arm of those that picked the second.
On Wednesday, an international court modeled after the Nuremberg tribunal convicted three top Sierra Leone rebel leaders of crimes against humanity — the closest thing to justice in the West African nation of amputees, orphans and widows.
Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Issa Sesay and one of his battlefield commanders Morris Kallon were found guilty on 16 of 18 counts, including mutilation, terrorism, rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and the enlistment of child soldiers. Another commander, Augustine Gbao, was found guilty on 14 of the 18 counts.
All three had pleaded not guilty and shook their heads as the verdict was read.
About 500,000 people were victims of killings, systematic mutilation and other atrocities during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Illicit diamond sales fueled the conflict, dramatized by the 2006 film Blood Diamond, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
Rebels controlled the diamond fields and used the sale of the gem to buy guns. The rebels were allegedly trained and backed by Charles Taylor, the warlord of neighboring Liberia.
For over a decade, the rebels roamed Sierra Leone’s jungles, raiding villages, vying for control of the nation’s diamond fields.
Amputations became their hallmark and field commanders were known by names like “Captain Two Hands” and “Dr Blood.” They used machetes, axes and knives and sat three astride their victims, who were forced to place their hands on concrete slabs or tree trunks.
New conscripts — especially children — were given bags and told not to return until they had filled them with severed limbs.
Sesay, Kallon and Gbao are the last three rebel leaders to be convicted.
The court was set up in 2003 after the end of the 11-year war that began in 1992. Five other masterminds of the conflict have already been convicted.
“The greatest significance of this is that it recognizes that the people of Sierra Leone were victims of these horrendous crimes and it holds individuals accountable,” said the Special Court’s chief prosecutor, Stephen Rapp.
“Beyond that we are also sending a message to this country, across the region and across the world that these crimes will not be tolerated,” Rapp said.
So gruesome were the crimes committed in Sierra Leone during the civil war that a new body of law needed to be drafted in order to address them.