Opinion

How Long Will Kabbah Prolong Norman’s Detention?

15 May 2006 at 05:44 | 505 views

By Alfred Munda SamForay

The integrity of the so-called special court for Sierra Leone is on the line and has been since Counsel for Chief Sam Hinga Norman filed a motion of subpoena ad testificandum which, if approved by the Trial Chamber would require President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to appear as a witness for the defence. For that matter, so is the integrity of the President of Sierra Leone who at the inception of the court stated in no uncertain terms that with respect to the UN-backed tribunal and in particular with regards to the arrest and incarceration of Chief Norman “there are no sacred cows”. But perhaps that was before Mr. Kabbah and his Attorney General realized that Kabbah will be Defence Witness Number 1. As we say in Lugbu Chiefdom, a chief makes laws when the situation is favourable to the chief.

As things stand presently, neither Mr. Kabbah who invited the UN to set the court up in Sierra Leone and the justices of the court have made it very clear that a person’s office or position in government has no bearing on that person’s standing before the tribunal either as a witness or, if necessary, as an indictee. Indeed international law makes no provision for amnesty for heads of state as is presently the case with former Liberian president, Charles Taylor who was recently kidnapped from Nigeria by the same people who had previously guaranteed his exile provided he stayed out of Liberian politics. But with the court virtually bankrupt and the trial of Chief Hinga Norman(photo) - the only other person of note at the Detention Center in Freetown - the court has evidently changed the rules to fit the situation.

It also appears that as Mr. Kabbah’s term of office draws to a close, the fate of his chosen successor tied up in the Sierra Leone Supreme Court and as a string of defence witnesses have tied Kabbah to the planning and execution of the war, hence a prime candidate for indictment, Kabbah has now chosen the dishonorable route of refusing to cooperate with his own court. And the court itself appears to have chosen the even more dishonorable route of bait and switch with respect to Mr. Kabbah’s appearance before the tribunal.

In his testimony before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which he himself set up and on several occasions afterwards, Mr. Kabbah has indicated that he had no direct role to play in the execution of the war and that all logistics for the war, the planning and execution of the war against the rebels were in the hands of his Deputy Minister of Defence, Chief Sam Hinga Norman. For a while, this song and dance sounded acceptable to some people not privy to the war effort. But as defence witnesses including former British High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, former military envoy, Gen. David Richards and high ranking officials of the government backed Civil Defence Forces (CDF) testify to intimate relations with the President, Kabbah’s house of cards appears to be crumbling before the eyes of the international community.

The case of Kabbah’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Fred Carew, is a concussion of ignorance of the law, arrogance and selective justice. Carew last year successfully argued before the Sierra Leone Supreme Court that the so-called special court which has concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Court and in essence is superior to all national courts, has now and for some time tried to convince the court and the international community that the President should not be made to testify because the Sierra Leone constitution which protects sitting presidents is in effect superior to the tribunal. The same tribunal that Carew had argued was superior to our courts.

With all that Orwellian double-speak in the air, one must admonish the courts - the Supreme Court as well as the so-called special court for Sierra Leone - that the president of Sierra Leone is not a king or an emperor and is far removed from deity. While the integrity of his office is highly esteemed, he is still a person subject to the laws of the land and by no means should the president of Sierra Leone on his own or with the assistance of the judiciary - domestic or international - be made to be a law breaker in the eyes of the world. Indeed Mr. Kabbah should not stoop so low as to violate the oath of the office which made him what he is. Neither should the so-called special court risk international goodwill by becoming an avenue of escape from justice by those who truly bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity or any other breaches of the protocols of warfare.

How Long Must We Have to Wait for the Court’s Ruling?
The present stalemate between the court and its principal proponent in Sierra Leone reminds me of an old adage: Never build the fence so high that you cannot jump over it yourself. The high and lofty ideas behind the setting up of the court are now on test. And while Mr. Kabbah and his court play hide and seek with each other, the heroes of Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war, Sam Hinga Norman and his colleagues continue into their fourth year of captivity with no end in sight. So how long must we have to wait before the court gathers the intestinal fortitude to decide once and for all if and when Mr. Kabbah will have to appear before the court?

As long as the court is unwilling or unable to enforce its own rules and present Mr. Kabbah before the tribunal, the CDF defence team is unable to plan a proper strategy for the conclusion of its case in chief. For now, lawyers for Chief Norman, Mr. Fofana and Dr. Kondewa have to call witnesses for the defence on a day to day basis not knowing when or if at all Defence Witness No. 1, President Tejan Kabbah, will ever appear before the court. Besides the obvious uncertainties this situation presents for the defence, it also unnecessarily prolongs the trial and makes the administration of justice for Chief Norman and his colleagues questionable, at best. This is not the type of justice Sierra Leoneans were told to expect and it certainly is not the type of justice for which the international community is paying twenty million dollars a year.

Furthermore, should the president of Sierra Leone refuse to testify before the court with the expressed or implied consent of the court and the international community, the era of impunity which the proponents of the court vowed to end would have just begun and it would have begun at the very pinnacle of power. As long as President Kabbah is allowed to be a judicial draft dodger, there is no reason for the people of Sierra Leone to respect the outcome of the present trials - whatever it might be - and our country traumatized by war, hardened by a bitter peace, would also have been misled and deceived by a joint criminal enterprise between the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations. The old and well-worn adage justice delayed is justice denied, is still applicable in this case for as long as the court refuses to give its ruling on the subpoena and President Kabbah continues to evade the court with absolute impunity. How long must we have to wait? The court needs to answer this question and now.

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