Special Court for Sierra Leone Recognizes Forced Marriage as a Crime Against Humanity
Monday, April 13, 2009 2:29 PM

The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted three members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) on 25 February 2009 for crimes against humanity (CAH), including for the first time the separate crime of forced marriage. Under Article 2(i) of the court’s statute [PDF, 9 pages] other inhumane acts are categorized as CAH, and the Court decided that forced marriage falls under this grouping.

The Prosecutor stated, “This Court today for first time in world history convicted each of these individuals of ‘forced marriage’ as a separate “crime against humanity.” In doing so, it recognizes the very deep and long lasting suffering inflicted upon women through conscription as ‘bush wives’ during the Sierra Leone conflict.”

In a previous decision, Brima, et. all, or the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) case, (2007) , the court originally found that forced marriage was not a separate crime against humanity, rather that it constituted a type of sexual slavery. Upon appeal, the court found that decision erroneous and held them to be separate crimes because “forced marriage involves a perpetrator compelling a person by force or threat of force, through words, or conduct of the perpetrator, or anyone associated with him, into a forced conjugal association resulting in great suffering or serious physical or mental injury on the part of the victim. It is not necessarily a sexual crime because sex is not the only incident of the forced relationship.” However, the court did not enter another conviction for forced marriage in the Brima case. Therefore, the RUF case became the first to hold forced marriage as a CAH on its own.

The RUF was one party to Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war, during which 75,000 people were killed and two million displaced. Between 1998 and 2007, UNICEF ranked Sierra Leone at number 56 for its rate of child marriage (34% urban and 66% rural). The Special Court found that the RUF committed crimes against civilians on an ongoing basis between November 1996 and September 2000 while it fought an insurgency against the government. Specifically, the court found these three RUF members to guilty of forcing marriage upon civilians in Koidu Town and Wendedu in Kono District, locations in Kailahun District, and Kisi Town.

The three RUF members have yet to be charged, but the Court heard oral arguments on this matter on 23 March 2009.

Compiled from: Special Court Prosecutor Hails RUF Convictions, Office of the Prosecutor Press Releases, The Special Court for Sierra Leone, 25 February 2009 [PDF, 2 pages]; Sierra Leone, The Advocates for Human Rights, last accessed 13 April 2009; Revolutionary United Front Trial (RUF), Cases, The Special Court for Sierra Leone, last accessed 13 April 2009; The Prosecutor v. Alex Tamba Brima, Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu (Appeals Chamber 2008); At a Glance: Sierra Leone – Statistics, UNICEF, last accessed 13 April 2009.