Foday Saybana Sankoh was born on 17 October 1937 in Masang Mayoso, Tonkolili district, Sierra Leone.
He was a corporal in the army of Sierra Leone, a wedding photographer and cameraman for the State television. In the 1970ies he was a student activist. After serving a short prison term for his student activities, he entered a Libyan cold war guerilla camp sponsored by Mohammar Gadhafi. It was here that he met Charles Taylor, his financial mentor and ally in the conflict in Sierra Leone.
In 1998, Sankoh was condemned to death for treason by the High Court of Justice in Freetown. He received however an amnesty on the basis of a clause in the Lomé Peace Agreement concluded in October 1998 by the government and the rebels, which provided for the pardon and amnesty of all the members of the RUF (Revolutionary United Front).
According to the indictment, Sankoh was the leader of the RUF and one of the principal leaders of the alliance between RUF and AFCR (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council). He thus had the authority, control and command over the members of the RUF and the RUF/ AFRC alliance.
Even during times when he was imprisoned in Sierra Leone and Nigeria or when his freedom of movement had been restricted in Sierra Leone between March 1997 and April 1999, and again during his detention from May 2000 in Sierra Leone, he allegedly remained at all these times, the leader of the RUF and co-leader of the AFRC.
During the period covered by the indictment, the RUF and AFRC are said to have, in coordination with or on orders of Sankoh, launched armed attacks on the territory of Sierra Leone. The principal targets of these attacks were the civilian population, humanitarian assistance operations and UN peacekeepers. The attacks allegedly served to terrorize the civilian population or to punish it for the lack of support given to the RUF/ AFRC.
According to the indictment, the attacks were accompanied by murders, physical violence (especially mutilations and rape) against civilian men, women and children, as well as pillaging and the abduction of civilians as sexual slaves, forced labourers or to be enrolled by force (which was particularly the case for many children).
According to the indictment, the RUF and the AFRC shared a common plans and purpose, thus forming a joint criminal enterprise which was aimed at taking any actions necessary to gain and exercise political power and control over the territory of Sierra Leone, in particular the diamond mining areas.
The joint criminal enterprise is said to have included gaining and exercising control over the population of Sierra Leone in order to prevent or minimize resistance to their geographic control, and to use members of the population to provide support to the RUF and AFRC. The acts of terrorism, collective punishments, unlawful killings, abductions, forced labour, physical and sexual violence, use of child soldiers, looting and burning of civilian structures, as alleged in the indictment, were either actions taken within the joint criminal enterprise or were at least a foreseeable consequence of the joint criminal enterprise.
According to the indictment, Sankoh was criminally responsible for the crimes mentioned, in that he planned, instigated or ordered or otherwise aided and abetted in them, or in that they were committed within the joint criminal enterprise, in which he took part.
The indictment also accused him of joint or several responsibility as hierarchical superior for the crimes committed by his subordinates, which he had or should have had knowledge of, but failed to prevent or punish.
On 17 May 2000, Sankoh, fleeing, is arrested following a hostage taking of 500 Blue Berets.