Eight persons convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) were transferred to Rwanda’s Mpanga prison last month, where they will begin serving sentences ranging from 15 to 52 years.
By Thijs Bouwknegt
Those transferred include three former leaders of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front, whose sentences were upheld on appeal three weeks ago. Also transferred were three former leaders of Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and two former leaders of the Civil Defence Forces.
The SCSL’s registrar, Binta Mansaray, says that while there are no prisons in Sierra Leone that meet international standards, Rwanda is able and willing to enforce the sentences: “They have excellent facilities as far as a prison is concerned.”
Mpanga prison, an hour and a half outside Kigali, was built in 2004 to house up to 7,500 genocide suspects or convicts. One wing was designed to hold potential transfers from the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Although the ICTR has not transferred any of its detainees, it brokered the agreement between Kigali and the SCSL.
Rwanda’s justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama could not understand why the Tanzania court had not returned convicts when Rwanda’s jails were deemed sufficient for those convicted by Sierra Leone’s war crimes court. “We signed an agreement with the ICTR to transfer the convicts to serve out their sentence here. So far they have not done it. We don’t know why,” he said.
Living conditions are better for those transferred than for regular Rwandan prisoners. The UN-block at the prison can house 30 prisoners, in rooms measuring 32 square meters. By contrast, the average living space for Rwandan prisoners is estimated at 2 square meters.