Academic journal article African Studies Review

War Don Don

Academic journal article African Studies Review

War Don Don

Article excerpt

Rebecca Richman Cohen, dir. War Don Don. 2010. 85 min. In English and Krio, with English subtitles. U.S. Racing Horse Productions and Naked Edge Films. $29.95.

Freetown 2009. After five years of trial, Issa Hassan Sesay, the former RUF commander, is found guilty of sixteen of the eighteen counts for which he was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Who is Issa Sesay? What crimes did he commit? What is the RUF? What is the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and what is its purpose? These are the main questions that Rebecca Richman Cohen's documentary War Don Don is attempting to answer.

In Krio, "war don don" means "the war is over." For Sierra Leoneans, it was the announcement that declared that the decade-long civil war between the local government and the rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was finally over. Initially, the RUF presented itself as an organization fighting government corruption and the poor living conditions in the country. However, it eventually engulfed Sierra Leone in a long and horrible conflict, during which many atrocities were perpetrated: amputations, the use of child soldiers, rapes.

War Don Don looks at the period following the war and focuses on the trial of Issa Hassan Sesay, the former RUF interim leader who disarmed the rebel group and ended the hostilities. Fourteen months later, Sesay was charged with multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The SCSL had been established by the U.N. in Freetown to try the individuals who bore "the greatest responsibility" in the war, to "bring an end to impunity, and contribute to the peace and reconciliation process,''according to one of the judges who appears in the film.

Indeed, this is what Rebecca Richman Cohen is truly concerned with, not only as a filmmaker, but also as a lawyer with a background in human rights and criminal defense. She looks at how justice is served in Africa in the aftermath of one of the many civil wars that have plagued the continent. In this type of conflict, who should be prosecuted and thus declared guiltier than others? How do authorities find out the truth about what happened in order to move forward and make sure that such events never happen again? On the official Web site of the film (www.wardondonfilm.com), Cohen expresses her hope that War Don Don "offers an insider's view about the complex moral, political, and legal questions that issue from rebuilding lawless and war-torn nations-and will inspire thoughtful debate about the future of international criminal justice. …

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