The five judges of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone yesterday Wednesday surprised the accused, their relatives and even the defence lawyers when they substantially increased the sentences of the two accused persons – Moinina Fofanah and Alieu Kondewa
The two had been convicted on 4 and 5 counts respectively by the trial chamber and sentenced to serve 6 and 8 years jail terms respectively.
The two were arrested on the 29th May 2003 and today marks their 5th year in detention. Given the trial Chamber sentences Moinina Fofanah who was given a 6 year sentence was surely hoping that he would have to serve only a year before being freed, while Alieu Kondewa would have had to serve a further three years (initial 8 years) before being freed.
Perhaps this was why Fofanah’s lawyers did not lodge an appeal. Kondewa’s lawyers however did lodge 6 grounds of appeal and the Appeals chamber judges upheld 4 and dismissed 2. The prosecution however lodged 9 grounds of Appeal against both Fofanah and Kondewa. The judges in their wisdom dismissed 6 and upheld 3.
Most importantly, the Judges dismissed the earlier conviction of Kondewa on count 8 which dealt with the recruitment and use of child soldiers. They changed the verdict from guilty to not guilty and subsequently freed him. This left both Fofanah and Kondewa to account for four counts of which they were confirmed guilty.
Hopes had been raised that since the judges had quashed one conviction and freed the accused (Kondewa) then the sentencing would at least e tilted in the favour of the accused.
This was not to be, as the judges shockingly increased the jail terms for Fofanah from 6 years to 15 years and Kondewa from 8 years to 20 years.
Alieu Kondewa’s lawyer Yada Williams said “We really feel cheated … the sentencing bit of the judgement doesn’t make sense to us and we think it’s a miscarriage.”
For his part prosecutor Stephen Rapp reading a prepared statement said “We are pleased that the Chambers judges increased the length of the sentences imposed by the trial chamber. Today’s sentences reflect the gravity of the offences committed by these individuals lesser sentences would not have adequately recognized the deaths and injuries inflicted on the victims or provide the necessary signal that impunity is at an end for grave violations of humanitarian law.”
The judges however were split with the two Sierra Leonean judges dissenting on a number of the decisions.
Justice John Kamanda in his dissenting opinion said that he was opposed to the increase of the sentences.
Justice George Gelaga-King who is also the presiding Judge was very hard in his dissent and for him Kondewa should be freed of all charges.
Austrian born Judge Renata Winter also had a dissenting opinion. Lawyer Yada Williams said his client Alieu Kondewa who was said to be the Chief Priest of the kamajors was “completely incensed he feels dejected he doesn’t seem to be able to make sense out of what was done … and for the little that he could understand he is really really incensed with them.”
He lamented further that this was a sad day “…for a man who sacrificed his life, the life of his family to fight for the restoration of democracy, the very war that was supported by the international community.”