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Forced Marriage and the Special Court for Sierra Leone: Legal Advances and Conceptual Difficulties

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Forced marriage was endemic during the Sierra Leonean conflict. Girls and women forced to serve as 'wives' to rebel soldiers were usually expected to submit to ongoing rape and to provide domestic labour to their 'husbands'. Many of these 'wives' suffer from continuing stigmatization. The Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone brought forced marriage charges as a crime against humanity through the category of inhumane acts against Brima, Kamara and Kanu, affiliated with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and Sesay, Kallon and Gbao, affiliated with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). This article considers two benefits stemming from the resulting jurisprudence: the naming of forced marriage as an inhumane act and the acknowledgement of forced marriage as a violation not captured by other legal terms. However, conceptual difficulties remain: how should forced marriage be defined so as to fulfil the principle of nullum crimen sine lege? Is forced marriage more accurately labelled as enslavement? And, is conjugality accurately captured as a defining feature of forced marriage? If forced marriage is to be successfully prosecuted in other contexts – for example, in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – then more attention must be paid to resolving these questions.


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