Monday, July 02, 2007

Special Court for Sierra Leone: Enforcing politics?

Ugandan Judge Ssebutinde is head of the special court trying human rights violations and war crimes during the civil strike that wrecked Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Below find a close look at the credibility of the court as seen by an independent observer:-

In his article in the Sunday Monitor of June 10, Mr Mohammed Matovu clearly demonstrated how international criminal tribunals are driven by both politics and international law. He is right that if a judge at such a court is not careful he/she might end up delivering political judgements.

This is true because of the circumstances that surround the establishing and functioning of those courts. This is not a new phenomenon in international criminal law. Those who are familiar with international criminal law will agree with me that the Nuremburg and Tokyo Tribunals that were established after World War II were more political than legal.

They enforced what international criminal law experts call “Victor’s Justice” as opposed to real justice. How will the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) (where our own Justice Julie Ssebutinde is based) be remembered?

While appearing before the SCSL in early February 2006, one of the accused, Mr Sam Hinga Norman (former Deputy Minister of Defence and later Minister of Internal Affairs in Sierra Leone who has since died), called upon the SCSL to indict the President of Sierra Leone, Dr Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, for some of the atrocities that were committed during a 10-year-civil war that wrecked Sierra Leone.

What Norman was saying was that if indeed the SCSL is in place to bring about justice in Sierra Leone, the prosecutor should have indicted Mr. Kabbah otherwise the court would be seen as an instrument being used by those in power in collaboration with the United Nations against those who are not in power.

The SCSL was established by an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations with the “power to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996, including those leaders who, in committing such crimes, have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone.” The internationally well-known former Liberian president Charles Taylor is one of the accused.

Dr Kabbah, the President of Sierra Leone, is not one of those who were indicted by the SCSL yet his role in the civil war is well documented and this explains why his former Deputy Minister of Defence, Norman, called upon the court to indict him.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was put in place to make findings in relation to the causes, nature and extent of violations and abuses during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone concluded recommended that Dr Kabbah should be held responsible for the acts of his agents on the ground (paragraph 278).

The Commission also found that (at paragraph 283) the government (headed by Kabbah) was kept informed through its Security Committee briefings and through reports received from Ecomog that the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) were committing unspeakable human rights violations, but failed to take steps to stop them. The Commission concluded that the government was responsible for the violations and abuses of human rights committed by the CDF.

There is no reason why the SCSL should use different standards to prosecute people for the same offences. In cases of the former rebels (RUF and AFRC), the SCSL indicted the top brass and in cases where this was not possible, for example where the leaders died (Sankoh and Bockarie) or their whereabouts are not known (Koroma), the SCSL indicted those who deputised the leaders.

However, this was not done in the case of those in power. The SCSL indicted Hinga Norman who was the Deputy Minister of Defence and ignored Kabbah who was the Minister of Defence. This is so despite the fact that it is clear that Norman implemented orders that were given by Kabbah.

Dr Kabbah’s conduct and activities during the war automatically qualify him to ‘bear that greatest responsibility’ for the atrocities that were committed during that war and should therefore stand trial. Otherwise the SCSL will go on record as having furthered political interests and not delivering justice to the victims of Dr Kabbah actions and omissions.

Monitor Online | Opinions | Special Court for Sierra Leone: Enforcing politics?