Sierra Leone war crimes court hands out sentences

A UN-backed court has sentenced three ex-rebel leaders to prison terms of about 50 years each, the first punishments handed down by the war crimes tribunal since it was set up five years ago after Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict ended. The men committed "heinous, brutal, atrocious, crimes never recorded in the history of mankind," Judge Julia Sebutinde said Thursday. The three men were leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, a junta that overthrew an elected government in 1997 and was ousted by a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force the following year. Indicted in 2003, their joint trial began in Freetown two years later. Last month, they were convicted of 11 of 14 war crimes charges, including terrorism, enslavement, rape and murder. The ruling marked the first time an international court issued a conviction on the conscription of child soldiers, who in Sierra Leone were often drugged and forced into battle.