Sierra Leone war crimes court inaugurated
Wed Mar 10, 8:49 AM ET
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FREETOWN (AFP) - Sierra Leone's UN-backed war crimes court, set up to try the main perpetrators of atrocities in the west African country's 11-year civil war, was officially inaugurated in a solemn ceremony here.

AFP/File Photo

"This is a special court for Sierra Leone, a symbol that the rule of law is an essential element in the pursuit of peace, justice and national reconciliation for the people of Sierra Leone," said President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.


United Nations (news - web sites) Secretary General Kofi Annan (news - web sites), who played a key role in setting up the court, was unable to attend the ceremony but sent a message to Sierra Leoneans.


"If there is to be an end to impunity, if there is to be national reconciliation and peace and security are to be restored, it is essential that there be a credible system of justice and accountability for the very serious crimes that were committed in Sierra Leone since November 30,1996," said the message, read out by Annan's representative at the ceremony.


The court was set up in January 2002, with a mandate to try those who bore "the greatest responsibility" for atrocities committed after 1996 during Sierra Leone's civil war.


As many as 200,000 people were killed in the war waged by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) from 1991 until peace was officially declared in January 2002, in a conflict characterized by a campaign of rape and dismemberment and considered among the most brutal in modern history.


On Wednesday, the tribunal's court building was inaugurated, despite construction work still not being completed on the courthouse where trials are due to begin in a few weeks.


A red carpet was rolled out along the dirt in front of the courthouse, and with the court's roof not yet finished, dignitaries gathered underneath tarpaulin covers to listened to inaugural speeches and a choir of schoolchildren singing the national anthem.