Former rebel leader – Augustine Gbao has arrived in Sierra Leone a free man

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Former rebel leader – Augustine Gbao has arrived in Sierra Leone a free man
Former rebel leader – Augustine Gbao has arrived in Sierra Leone a free man

Africa-PressSierra-Leone. Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) convict Augustine Gbao is the first member of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to benefit from Conditional Early Release. The former RUF convict was transferred on Sunday from Mpanga Prison in Rwanda back to his native Sierra Leone. He travelled yesterday Tuesday to his community in Blama, where he will serve out the remainder of his 25-year sentence under strict conditions and close monitoring.

Gbao has already served 17 years in prison, or two-thirds of his sentence. He is the third Special Court convict, but the first member of the RUF rebel group, to receive conditional early release.

In a decision dated 8 September 2020, Residual Special Court (RSCSL) President Jon Kamanda found that Gbao had fulfilled the requirements to apply for conditional early release, but he ordered a three-month delay so that Gbao could receive specific training geared to his understanding and acceptance of responsibility for the harm he inflicted by his crimes.

Under the terms of his Conditional Early Release Agreement, Gbao must report regularly to a Monitoring Authority consisting of the Sierra Leone Police, and he may not travel out of his requested area of residence without prior written permission from the Monitoring Authority and the RSCSL Registrar.

In addition to the General Conditions set out in the Agreement, Justice Kamanda has imposed a number of special conditions: Gbao is forbidden from approaching, either directly or through others – witnesses and victims or their families, and from trying to intimidate or interfere with those who testified against him. He may not meet with ex-combatants who served under him, or with other persons convicted by the Special Court, in a way that would violate the Agreement.

In addition, he may not engage in political activities, and he must conduct himself honourably and peaceably in the community.

Before leaving Rwanda, Gbao recorded an apology to the victims of his crimes and the people of Sierra Leone, saying in part “I am deeply sorry and I sincerely and honestly apologise to all Sierra Leoneans who suffered as a result of my action and negligence. I am humbly appealing to the victims and all Sierra Leoneans to find a place in their hearts to forgive me”.

His apology will be aired throughout Sierra Leone on radio and television in the coming days. Gbao, who was the Overall Security Commander for the RUF, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, cruel treatment, enslavement, pillage, and attacks against UN peacekeepers. He was acquitted on several other charges, including the use of child soldiers, the murder of UN peacekeepers, and taking peacekeepers hostage.

This is Gbao’s full apology:

“Good morning fellow Sierra Leoneans. I am Augustine Ato Gbao, serving Special Court sentence in Rwanda. I wish to express my candid remorse for the pain and trauma you people went through during the war, which I hold myself highly responsible for, for failing to act.

“I deeply regret my action that failed to at least lessen your pain and trauma at the time you people needed it most during the war. I wish to say wholeheartedly that I am deeply sorry, and I sincerely and honestly apologise to all Sierra Leoneans who suffered as a result of my action and negligence.

“I am humbly appealing to the victims and all Sierra Leoneans to find a place in their hearts to forgive me. Thank you all. May Allah bless us all. Long live Sierra Leone.”

Whilst the people of Sierra Leone are expected to conditionally forgive Gbao, he is also expected to abide fully by the terms of his release and resettlement in Sierra Leone. Most importantly, he must not be allowed to participate in politics – ever, in Sierra Leone; nor employed in the armed forces, police, or security services.

There is also an expectation now, that Gbao will give back to society as much as he took away, by committing the rest of his life to voluntary community service and humanitarian causes.

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