During the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002), the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) reduced civilians to slavery in order to mine diamonds in Kono district mines. Those diamonds were then sent to the former Liberian President Charles Taylor, in Monrovia, and sold on the international market.
Michel Desaedeleer, a Belgian and American citizen, is alleged to have participated, with Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, the founder of the RUF, in enslavement as a crime against humanity and in the looting of “blood diamonds” as a war crime, in Kono district, in the East of Sierra Leone, between 1999 and 2001. Indeed, it is alleged that this businessman was working with the rebels, who needed him to export the diamonds outside the country.
According to the report of the panel of experts appointed pursuant to the United Nations Security Council resolution 1306 (2000), Desaedeleer would have contacted the RUF rebels during the summer of 1999 for the first time, while he was in Togo. A few months later, a deal would have been signed with Foday Sankoh, allowing the two men to freely exploit the gold and diamonds mines of Sierra Leone, for a period of 10 years. A letter would prove that Desaedeleer would have appointed a certain “Charles” to export diamonds by plane, directly from Kono, without having to travel through Freetown, the capital. In October 1999, a deal would have been concluded between Desaedeleer’s compagny (BECA) and Sankoh who, at that time, was the President of the Commission for the Management of Strategic Mineral Resources.
This report also reveals that the RUF would have earned between $ 25’000’000 and $ 125’000’000 per month thanks to the illegal trade of diamonds. This amount would have permitted the group to buy weapons and combat equipment.
Desaedeleer is alleged to have participated, with the Former President of Liberia,Charles Taylor, and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, led by Foday Sankoh, in enslavement as a crime against humanity and in the looting of “blood diamonds” as a war crime, in Kono District, in the East of Sierra Leone, between 1999 and 2001.
In January 2011, citizens of Sierra Leone who had been forced to work in the mines during the civil war filed a complaint in Brussels against Desaedeleer, who was then living in the United States. This complaint led the competent Belgian authorities to open an investigation that finally led to the issuing of a European Arrest Warrant targeting Desaedeleer. This complaint mostly relies on testimonies. Members of the RUF would have recognized that Desaedeleer was present during the looting of the mines.
On 28 August 2015, Desaedeleer was arrested in Malaga in Spain, following the European Arrest Warrant issued against him by the Belgian authorities. On 8 September 2015, he was transferred to Belgium, where he was indicted of crime against humanity and war crime and placed in preventive custody.
This is the first time that a businessman was arrested for his alleged participation in international crimes of looting of blood diamonds and enslavement of civilians.
For about eleven years, between the 1991 and the 2002, Sierra Leone was torn apart by a civil war. The government forces – at different stages supported by Nigeria-led ECOMOG forces, Guinea and the United Kingdom – tried to resist continuous attempts of ‘coup d’état’ by some rebel groups, notably the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), supported by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). A high number of crimes were perpetrated in those years, including murders, mutilations, rapes, abductions and conscription of child soldiers.
Because of such devastation, on 2 June 2000, Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Kabbah asked the UN for cooperation in bringing to justice those responsible for the crimes perpetrated during the conflict.
A few months later, on 14 August 2000, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1315, mandating the Secretary-General to negotiate the creation of a special tribunal with the Sierra Leonean government. As a result, on 16 January 2002, the UN and Government of Sierra Leone signed the agreement creating the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
THE SPECIAL COURT FOR SIERRA LEONE (SCSL)
The SCSL is a criminal tribunal sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Its Appeals Chamber sit however in Leidschendam, near The Hague, in the Netherlands. Like in other “hybrid courts”, the judiciary is composed by both international and national judges. The same holds true for the staff of the other SCSL’s bodies.
The aim of the SCSL is ‘to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, including those leaders who, in committing such crimes, have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone’ (SCSL Statute, art. 1).
The Court therefore applies both international and domestic law, by prosecuting on the one hand crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions (1949) and of Additional Protocol II (1977), and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and on the other hand Sierra Leonean crimes like arson and rape of girls.