1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. West Africa
  4. Sierra Leone

Sankoh's case dismissed and Brima to stay in jail

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has refused a request to suspend the prosecution of former rebel leader Foday Sankoh on the grounds of poor health and has denied an application for bail by another indictee Alex Tamba Brima.

Judge Benjamin Itoe of Cameroon dismissed as "unwarranted and without substance" a request by Sankoh's lawyers for a "stay of proceedings" against the former leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel movement until the Court had completed a full psychiatric and physiological examination of the accused.

He also rejected an application for bail by Brima, who served on the military junta headed by Johnny Paul Koroma, which ruled Sierra Leone from 1997 until its removal by an international intervention force in 1998.

Sankoh, who is in his late sixties or early seventies, is confined to a wheelchair, suffers from incontinence and is unable to feed himself. He barely speaks and his mental functions appear to be diminished. He is currently detained at a hospital in Freetown.

But Judge Itoe said that neither he nor the defence or prosecuting counsels were competent enough to determine Sankoh's medical condition since they were not medical personnel.

In March the judge requested a medical examination of Sankoh, whose forces devasted Sierra Leone in a viscious civil war from 1991 to 2001. However, Sierra Leone does not have a CT scanner, which has been deemed necessary to diagnose his mental condition, and no foreign country has so far volunteered to allow him in for examination.

Judge Itoe said that he would urge the Court's Registrar to expedite efforts to take Sankoh to another country for a physiological and psychiatric examination, but in the present circumstances he would still have to stand trial.

The judge reiterated that Sankoh was not being held in inhuman and degrading circumstances. He recounted how Sankoh was being fed because he could not feed himself and how he was made to wear nappies which were changed regularly. These conditions he said were not degrading or inhuman given that deprivation of sleep and food were among those things considered as inhuman.

Judge Itoe also dismissed the requests for habeas corpus and bail by lawyers representing Brima, who is widely known by his nickname "Gullit". He upheld the prosecution's argument that if Brima were freed from prison on Bonthe Island off the southern coast of Sierra Leone he might flee to either Liberia or Cote d'Ivoire, from where it would be virtually impossible to get him back to stand trial.

The judge said Brima was in the same league as the late RUF military commander Sam Bockarie, who turned mercenary after the end of Sierra Leone's civil war and was killed in Liberia in May, and Johnny Paul Koroma, the former head of the junta in which Brima served. Koroma has been missing since January. Reports that he fled to Liberia and may have been killed there on the orders of President Charles Taylor have not been confirmed.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.