Why amnesty for former war lord of Sierra Leone – Johnny Paul Koroma?

Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow – The Netherlands

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 August 2016

Johnny Paul Koroma2

A campaign has started by some Sierra Leoneans imploring the president to pardon or grant blanket amnesty to former war lord – Johnny Paul Koroma.

Some proponents of the case for pardon are arguing that ‘for true peace and reconciliation for our people and the country, set Johnny Paul Koroma free or grant him blanket amnesty for any crimes he might have committed, so that we can turn to a completely new page.’

‘Let us appreciate the fact that, we cannot always solve our problems by retaliation, especially if we desire to be forgiven for our own trespasses,’ they claim.

The campaigners want president Koroma to set Johnny Paul Koroma free or grant him blanket amnesty. But how can a group of sympathisers beg the president to free Johnny Paul Koroma who is legally and ‘factually’ dead?

rebels enter freetownOn 7 March 2003, the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Johnny Paul Koroma for his role in the RUF/AFRC. He fled Freetown in December to Liberia.

On 1 June 2003, he was officially declared dead under mysterious circumstances.

Although the Special Court prosecutor at that time noted that DNA tests on the remains found in Lofa County did not match Koroma’s DNA, he is yet presumed dead.

How then are the campaigners begging the president to set him free? Was he tried by a Sierra Leonean Court and imprisoned in Sierra Leone?

The answer is no. So, the campaigners should not be begging for his freedom, as he has never been tried and imprisoned.

Moreover, it is out of place to ask the president to grant Johnny Paul Koroma a blanket amnesty. Such amnesty is against the constitution of Sierra Leone and international law.

Section 63(1a) of the 1991 Constitution accords the president the Prerogative of Mercy. On grounds of Section 63(1a), the President may, acting in accordance with the advice of a Committee appointed by the Cabinet over which the Vice-President shall preside, grant any person convicted of any offence against the laws of Sierra Leone a pardon, either free or subject to lawful conditions.

Sierra Leone president Ernest Bai Koroma in suit and red tieThe president, therefore, does not have the constitutional right to grant Johnny Paul Koroma a pardon or an amnesty for crimes he has not been tried and convicted of.

In addition, giving JPK an amnesty or pardon will be in contravention of Section 13(j), which stipulates that every citizen should render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.

Although the President enjoys extra rights, he still is a citizen and this section is also applicable to him. He should therefore not do anything that will compromise the maintenance of law and order in Sierra Leone.

If he grants Johnny Paul Koroma pardon or amnesty, he will impede the proper functioning of the police, who are saddled with the task of arresting people who have been accused of committing crimes.

In other words, he will not be rendering assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.

If the president grants a pardon to Johnny Paul Koroma, he will be acting in violation of international law. When the Special Court for Sierra Leone closed its operation in 2013, a residual mechanism known as the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL) was established.

The United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone signed on 11 August 2010 the Agreement on the Establishment of a Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL). It was ratified by parliament on 15 December, 2011, and made into law on 1 February, 2012.

The RSCSL is responsible for the ongoing legal obligations of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which include supervision of prison sentences, witness protection and support, maintenance and preservation of the archives, assistance to national prosecution authorities and the trial of Johnny Paul Koroma.

Johnny Paul Koroma3Article 8 of the Statute of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone states that the Government of Sierra Leone shall cooperate with the Residual Special Court in all its operation, and shall comply without undue delay with any request for assistance by the Residual Special Court or an order issued by the Chambers, including, but not limited to identification and location of persons; service of documents; arrest or detention of persons; and transfer of an indictee to the Residual Special Court. (Photo: Johnny Paul right, with his deputy the late Saj Musa – left). 

It follows from this that any amnesty granted to Johnny Paul Koroma by the President, will amount to a gross violation of the agreement, as government agencies who have the task of executing the request for assistance will not be able to perform their functions properly.

What are the legal implications if the President grants Johnny Paul Koroma amnesty?  Can Johnny Paul Koroma invoke the amnesty before the Residual Court?

Any amnesty granted by the President to Johnny Paul Koroma will have no legal effect before RSCSL, as article 10 of the Statute states that an amnesty granted to any person falling within the jurisdiction of the Residual Special Court in respect of the crimes referred to in Articles 2 to 4 of the present Statute, shall not be a bar to prosecution.

It must be pointed out that if, for example, the president makes use of his Executive Power to grant any amnesty, Johnny Paul Koroma cannot invoke it before a court with an international character.

The UN Special representative made it crystal clear at the signing ceremony in 2002 of the Special Court for Sierra Leone that the amnesty clause in Lomé Agreement “shall not apply to the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

This standpoint of the UN Representative was later buttressed by a landmark decision, made by the Appeals Chamber in The Prosecutor v. Morris Kallon and Brima Buzzy Kamara case.

SL rebel war victims6The Chamber reaffirmed that “an amnesty granted to any person falling within the jurisdiction of the Special Court in respect of the crimes referred to in articles 2 to 4 of the present Statute shall not be a bar to prosecution.”

Moreover, the grant of an amnesty for international crimes therefore, is not only in breach of international law, “but is in breach of an obligation of a State towards the international community as a whole.”

The Chamber further argued that amnesties granted by Sierra Leone, therefore, cannot cover crimes under international law, as they are subject to universal jurisdiction and by reason of the fact that “the obligation to protect human dignity is a peremptory norm and has assumed the nature of obligation erga omnes.”

In this article I have argued that any amnesty or pardon granted to Johnny Paul Koroma by the president, will violate national and international laws.

Moreover, any grant of amnesty to Johnny Paul Koroma will not have any legal effect before the Residual Special Court, as amnesties granted under national law shall not be a bar to prosecution under international law.


  1. Even though this article was written and published six years ago, I just want to prop up the comments by various contributors and the author, by stating that the Sierra Leone government had granted blanket amnesty to all perpetrators in the Sierra Leone war when they signed the Lomé Peace Accord. Therefore, it was a misplaced campaign to ask President Koroma to again grant another amnesty to JPK. Mr. JPK was indicted for war Crimes, crimes against humanity and other violation of international law. These are not crimes prosecuted under the domestic jurisdiction. Lastly the Sierra Leone government has no locus standi over the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

  2. Tenneh Kpaka,

    Let me quickly refresh your memory on a couple of events that took place in Sierra Leone, between 1997 and 2002, as follows:

    1. That Johnny Paul Koroma was the Leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) from 1997 to
    2002; and

    2. That Johnny Paul Koroma formed a political party, after the war ended, in Sierra Leone called the Peace and
    Liberation Party(PLP) in May 2002, with 2 out of 112 parliamentary seats.

    This did not go down well with the Late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah for obvious reasons of thirst for power.

    However, the fact that SLPPs Late Chief Samuel Hinga Norman, who was Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister of Defense and then Minister of Internal Affairs, could face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone why not Major Johnny Paul Koroma too? Who is hiding him away from the long arm of Justice?

    Please bring him out to stand trial now that Pa Kabbah is no more alive. Amen.

  3. Mr. Mohamed Kunowah Kiellow,

    This is an article that you published word for word in the Standard Times Press Newspaper on August 10, 2016. That aside, is Major Johnny Paul Koroma still alive? If yes, where is he?

    Please let the public know his whereabouts. Thank you.

  4. If others have gone through special court why not Johnny Paul. A man who brought the rebels into the city without making any proper arrangement; they committed a lot of atrocities. A man who divided the national army also became a rebel against the people – paid by tax payers money.

    If others have gone there why he wants to escape justice. We already knew that APC was behind everything, that is why they want to bring him out now. If he is man enough, let him come out. He will go down just like the others.

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