Magazine article New African

Sierra Leone: Special Court in Bribery Scandal; the Special Court for Sierra Leone Has Been Controversial since Its Inception. the Latest Is a Bribery Scandal Involving Witnesses. Mike Butscher Reports from Freetown

Magazine article New African

Sierra Leone: Special Court in Bribery Scandal; the Special Court for Sierra Leone Has Been Controversial since Its Inception. the Latest Is a Bribery Scandal Involving Witnesses. Mike Butscher Reports from Freetown

Article excerpt

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up two years ago by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone with the mandate to try those who "bear the greatest responsibility" of war crimes committed in the country since 30 November 1996.

As of February this year, 11 people associated with all three of the country's former warring factions had been indicted by the court, but only six had gone on trial. These include Sam Hinga Norman, the former deputy defence minister and head of the civil defence forces (popularly known as Kamajors); and Issa Sesay, the deputy leader of the defunct Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

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Nearly all the indictees have challenged the constitutional powers of the court to try them. The most popular local indictee, Foday Saybana Sankoh (the former RUF leader) and his battlefield commander, Sam Mosquito Bockarie, have died, while the whereabouts of Major Johnny Paul Koroma, the former AFRC coup leader, are still unknown.

So far, the most high-profile "international" indictee, has been the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who is now in exile in Nigeria as guest of the Nigerian government, which says it will only hand him over to an elected government in Liberia.

The two trials so far held by the court in its lavish and sprawling court house in Freetown, have been dramatic and revealing. The UN is reported to have spent nearly US$100m on the court so far.

Critics maintain that this huge money could have been used to provide for thousands of amputees who are still struggling to have a daily meal.

Alternatively, half of the amount could have been used to support the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which made tremendous impact within its short existence. But this is the UN--and the real world. So the court continues to provide jobs for mainly Americans and Europeans with a token number for Sierra Leoneans. Now the court is caught up in a bribery scandal involving witnesses. This threatens the credibility of the prosecution.

In mid-July, Timothy Clayson, counsel for Issa Sesay, told the spellbound court-room how the prosecution paid a total of US$10,500 to two witnesses to testify against RUF indictees.

"We can't feel confident in cross-examining witnesses until we know what the prosecution is up to," Clayson said. Many people are asking why a prosecution witness should be paid US$6,000 to testify in court.

The defence also objected to prosecutor David Crane's use of words like "hounds from hell and dogs of war" in referring to their clients. Crane is a former US Army lawyer. His outbursts are making people doubt the neutrality of the court. He is on record to have publicly threatened that "people like Hinga Norman may never see the light of day". Legal analysts say the presumption of innocence of the indictees may be compromised by such utterances.

It was Crane who orchestrated the failed plan to arrest Charles Taylor while he was attending the Liberian peace conference in Accra, Ghana, in June last year.

The court's request to extradite Taylor was embarrassingly snubbed by the Ghanaian government which felt that Crane's order was grossly undiplomatic and highly disrespectful of the African leaders from Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana who had met in Accra with Taylor to find ways of kick-starting the Liberian peace process. …

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