Sam Bockarie

08.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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Sam Bockarie was born on 10 February 1964 in Koidu in the Kono district of Sierra Leone. He joined the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in 1991 in Liberia and between 1992 and April 1997 held the position of Battle Group Commander, with only the Battle Field Commander and the leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, as his hierarchical superiors.

Foday Sankoh was either in prison or under house arrest in Nigeria and in Sierra Leone from the month of March 1997 until the month of April 1999. During this period, under orders from Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie was alleged to have directed all military operations in Sierra Leone. With the authority delegated to him by Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie was reported to have worked directly and in close collaboration with Charles Taylor. This being the case, he also received recommendations and instructions from Charles Taylor.

In April 1997, Foday Sankoh appointed Sam Bockarie to the position of Battle Field Commander, a post he held until the month of December 1999. In this position, he was formally subordinate only to Foday Sankoh, the imprisoned leader of the RUF, as well as to the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), the group of soldiers of the Sierra Leone army which overthrew the democratically elected government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on 25 May 1997.

Shortly after the time that Johnny Paul Koroma, the leader and President of the AFRC, had invited the RUF guerrilla movement to share power, Foday Sankoh issued orders to Sam Bockarie as well as to all members of the RUF to collaborate with the leaders of the AFRC within a new AFRC/RUF alliance.

During the rule of the AFRC/RUF, commonly known as the period of the “Junta”, Sam Bockarie was one of the leading members of the Junta. When the Junta was swept from power in mid-February 1998, Sam Bockarie continued to function as one of the principal leaders of the AFRC/RUF coalition until December 1999. During this period, Johnny Paul Koroma appointed Sam Bockarie to the position of Chief of Defence Staff.

In the various positions which he held subsequently, Sam Bockarie, together with other leaders of the AFRC/RUF coalition, exercised authority, command and control over all of his subordinates, these being soldiers of the AFRC/RUF coalition.

Between May 1997 and April 1999, according to the indictment, troops of the AFRC/RUF alliance carried out attacks against the civilian population which were characterised by summary executions, mutilations, looting and burning of villages, sexual violence, forced marriages, abductions and forced labour notably in the diamond mines and by the enrolment and use of child soldiers as well as by the bloody attack against the capital, Freetown, in January 1999.

The objective of these crimes was to punish the civilian population for its alleged support of the regime of President Kabbah. The same troops were also said to have committed atrocities in the Port-Loko district from February to April 1999. Throughout this time period, according to the indictment, Sam Bockarie continued to hold a leadership position within the AFRC/RUF alliance.

Finally, the AFRC/RUF troops were accused of attacking the United Nations peacekeeping forces (UNAMSIL) between the months of April and September 2000.

legal procedure

Sam Bockarie was indicted by the Prosecutor of the SCSL (Special Court for Sierra Leone) on 3 March 2003. He was accused of crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions, of violations of Additional Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions and of other serious violations of international humanitarian law, under articles 2, 3 and 4 of the SCSL Statute.

According to the indictment, the AFRC/RUF coalition and Sam Bockarie, in his role as leader of the RUF, were alleged to have shared the same plan and purpose thereby constituting a common criminal enterprise which consisted of taking the necessary concerted actions to take over power in the Sierra Leonean territory, and to gain control of the diamond-rich regions, in particular the districts of Kenema and Kono.

The atrocities perpetrated against the civilian population were considered to be an integral part of the plan devised by the AFRC/RUF coalition or at the very least was a foreseeable consequence of a plan which included the terrorising and collective punishment of the civilian population as a means to take control over the Sierra Leonean territory.

The indictment consisted of 17 charges:
– acts of terrorism and collective punishment of the civilian population (counts 1 and 2)
– acts of extermination, murder and other life threatening offences (counts 3 to 5)
– sexual violence, including rape and sexual slavery (counts 6 to 8)
– violence to physical and mental well being, including amputation (counts 9 and 10)
– enlistment and use of child soldiers under 15 years of age (count 11)
– pillage (count 12)
– abduction and taking of hostages (count 13)
– attacks against the personnel of UNAMSIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone (counts 14 to 17).

Furthermore, according to the indictment, Sam Bockarie was held to be criminally responsible for the above mentioned crimes, whether it was through his personal contribution to their planning, instigating, and organizing in which he would have participated in one way or another or, alternatively, where they were alleged to have been committed as part of a common criminal conspiracy, in which he participated.

The indictment held him to have equal or additional responsibility due to his role as hierarchical superior, for the crimes committed by his subordinates, for which he had, or should have had, knowledge and also because he did not take the necessary measures aimed at the prevention or punishment of such crimes.

The indictment was approved by a decision of the First Trial Chamber of the SCSL dated 7 March 2003.

On 2 June 2003, a copy of the death certificate of Sam Bockarie was produced. According to non official information, he was reportedly killed on the order of Charles Taylor in Liberia.

As a consequence, and based on the request of the Prosecutor of the SCSL, on 8 December 2003 the First Trial Chamber of the SCSL rendered its decision to withdraw the indictment. The proceedings were thus terminated.



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 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.