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Norman Trial: Penfold May Testify This Week

By  | 7 February 2006 at 07:59 | 425 views

If all goes well, former British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold would appear this week at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown as a defense witness for war crimes indictee Hinga Norman. Norman himself ended his evidence-in-chief on Friday morning.The prosection is expected to begin its cross-examination as from Monday.

A source at the Special Court told the Vanguard that the Norman defense expressed their wish for Penfold to testify last Thursday but it’s not yet clear whether the former British diplomat’s name is among the list of defense witnesses scheduled to testify this session.

Penfold, who was once described by a British Foreign Office official as a good man "gone native", is considered a star witness with a lot of credibility by Norman supporters because of his perceived deep knowledge of some of the events that took place before, during and after the 1997 coup that overthrew the Kabbah government.

To provide a peep into the mind of Peter Penfold we publish below an article by Penfold himself published by Z-Net January last year:

Is This Justice? Sierra Leone’s Special Court Drags On
By Peter Penfold

January 20, 2005

During his recent visit to Sierra Leone, Chris Mullins, the British Foreign Office Minister for Africa, noted in a panel discussion on Access to Justice that "justice delayed is justice denied". He was referring to the scores of prisoners in Freetown’s Pademba Road prison who have now been held on remand for several years waiting to be charged. (One inmate has been waiting so long that both he and the prison authorities have forgotten why he is there and because no papers can be found giving details of his arrest, lawyers have been unable to secure his release). Mullins was in Freetown to announce the latest 25m British aid package for security reform covering the judiciary, police and prisons. This is in addition to the 40m per annum provided by Britain and further evidence of the UK’s continuing commitment to Sierra Leone.

But in lamenting the delay to justice in Sierra Leone, Mullins studiously avoided mentioning Sierra Leone’s Special Court, the independent war crimes tribunal, set up by the United Nations at the request of the Sierra Leone Government and charged with bringing to justice "those who bear the greatest responsibility" for the atrocities and human rights violations during Sierra Leone’s bloody 11 year rebel war.

Established in January 2002 following an Act passed by the Sierra Leone Parliament, it was not until February 2004 that the Special Court building was officially opened and not until June that the trials of those detained since March 2003 finally got underway. A month later, Foday Sankoh, the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the person observers agree was most responsible for the brutal rebel war, died in detention.

The Court has indicted Charles Taylor, the ex President of Liberia, whose support for the RUF in exchange for Sierra Leone’s "blood diamonds" continued to fuel the conflict, and the Court’s Chief Prosecutor, the American David Crane, would love to get his hands on him. The manner in which Crane issued Taylor’s indictment severely embarrassed the Ghanaian authorities and nearly undermined the delicate Liberian peace negotiations. Taylor is now in detention in Nigeria as part of the deal to secure an end to the equally bloody Liberian conflict, and in spite of intense pressure from the US Government to secure Taylor’s presence before the Court, President Obasanjo of Nigeria seems unlikely to break the unwritten code among African heads of state not to do to fellow heads of state what may one day happen to you.

Without Taylor and with Sankoh’s death, plus the previous death of the infamous RUF commander, Sam Bockarie and the reported death or disappearance of the AFRC junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, the only person of note being prosecuted by the Special Court is Chief Sam Hinga Norman. He is the former Minister of Internal Security and erstwhile coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the groupings of indigenous civil militia who fought against the rebels and helped restore the legitimate democratic government of President Tejan Kabbah.

Thus the impression is given that Norman is the person most responsible for the awful atrocities committed during the rebel war, an impression which even Norman’s detractors do not accept. No one denies that some members of the CDF committed excesses in their struggle to restore peace and democracy but these were far fewer than those committed by the rebels. The Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its report published in October noted that the RUF committed over 60% of the atrocities, the army nearly 17% and the CDF just 6%. (The TRC also noted that Ecomog, the Nigerian led West African intervention force was responsible for 1% of the atrocities though for political reasons, they do not fall within the purview of the Special Court).

Sierra Leone is the first country to have had both a War Crimes Court and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the conflict resolution process. Rwanda and Bosnia have their war crimes tribunals and TRCs have been established in South Africa and El Salvador, while other conflicts such as in Mozambique were successfully resolved without recourse to either. In Sierra Leone the relationship between the Special Court and the TRC has been far from easy and there was much confusion in people’s minds over their respective roles. The TRC was always the poor relation. Nevertheless, with a budget of only $6.5m, it completed its work earlier this year and in October tabled its 5,000 page report based upon the thousands of testimonies presented to it. (The only significant testimony missing was that of Hinga Norman who was refused permission by the Special Court to appear before the TRC). The report has been called "a document of great importance" and is widely seen as contributing positively towards the reconciliation process in Sierra Leone. By contrast, the Sierra Leone Special Court is seen by many to be merely assuaging the conscience of the international community rather than serving the interests of Sierra Leone.

With a budget of $76m spread over 3 years, supporters of the Sierra Leone Special Court claim that this is cheap compared to the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal which spends $120m in one year. Most of the Sierra Leone Special Court’s funds have come from the US Government with some support from others such as Britain. But where has all this money gone?

Millions have been spent erecting the purpose built Court House, detention facility and prefabricated administrative blocks, all encased in a 12 foot high concrete security perimeter wall guarded by razor wire and patrolled by UN troops. All the buildings other than the detention block are air conditioned and the whole complex is swathed in bright lights supplied from constantly running electricity generators, which would be enough to provide one third of Freetown’s desperate power needs. Situated somewhat inappropriately on Jomo Kenyatta Avenue in the middle of the capital, it is in stark contrast to the surrounding environs of shanty huts lit by oil filled lamps and evokes an image of an East European stalag at the height of the Cold War.

And all this is just for the nine indictees detained inside!

The salaries and wages paid to the Court’s judges, officials and administative staff are wildly exorbitant compared to salaries outside. A security guard earns more than the Sierra Leone Chief of Police, the judges more than the President. Of particular concern are the thousands of dollars being paid by the Court to Prosecution witnesses who testify with anonymity behind screens, some of whom are provided with homes outside the country in Ghana.

An expensive "outreach programme" has been conducted throughout the country, led curiously by the Chief Prosecutor, to explain to the Sierra Leone people why a Special Court is needed as they try to put the past behind them and pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Their reaction to the Court remains mixed. In Freetown, not surprisingly, those who can, take advantage of the well paid jobs available with the Court, while others follow the intermittent reporting in the local press on the Court’s activities. The majority of Freetown residents just get on with their lives. Outside in the provinces, especially in the south and east, many people are concerned and bitter with the continued detention of Norman and his two fellow CDF indictees. To them, Norman and the CDF are the heroes who, alongwith Ecomog, the UK and the UN, helped bring peace and restore democracy to their country. Their anger bubbles under the surface, kept in check only by the combination of a reducing UN presence, a new British trained but yet to be tested Sierra Leone army and, more importantly, Norman’s own message to his supporters to remain calm and not disrupt the fragile peace in the country.

The legality of the Special Court is under question. The Sierra Leone Act setting up the Court states that although the Special Court and the national courts of Sierra Leone have concurrent jurisdiction, the Special Court shall have primacy. The Sierra Leone Constitution clearly states that its Supreme Court is the supreme authority in Sierra Leone and therefore defence counsel are arguing that the Sierra Leone Special Court is unconstitutional. To change an entrenched clause in the constitution requires a referendum before being passed through the Sierra Leone Parliament. This was not done in the case of the Bill setting up the Special Court.

Norman himself has refused to cooperate with the Special Court on the grounds that he and the CDF members have not been properly indicted. At the hearing at the beginning of December the presiding judge, Justice Ito from Cameroon, supported Norman’s contention. He declared the present consolidated injunction against the three CDF indictees null and void, but his views were not shared by his two fellow judges. Norman has now lodged a further appeal on the strength of Justice Ito’s assertion.

When and where will all this end?

At the present pace it appears unlikely that the defence will start its case before September next year after the prosecution has completed the testimony of the nearly one hundred witnesses it says it will call. This raises the question of whether the Court will run out of funds before it completes its work. The UN has managed to secure funding up to the end of 2005, but not beyond. The Americans want to make the Sierra Leone Court a success. They seem determined to demonstrate to the rest of the world that there is an alternative to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which they continue to boycott. They appear to equate "success" by the conviction of Norman and the others. Even before the trials commenced, Crane injudiciously remarked that none of the indictees "would ever see the light of day again". But even the Americans are feeling the pinch financially and are reportedly putting the squeeze on the UK to provide more funds. Once again, Britain seems to be being dragged along an American agenda.

Mindful of the Prime Minister’s much heralded Commission for Africa and his expressed wish to put Africa high on the agenda when the UK holds the Presidency of both the EU and the G8 during the second half of next year, the British Government claims that the Sierra Leone Special Court is contributing towards peace not only in Sierra Leone but throughout Africa. They argue that other African rebel leaders will think twice before embarking upon the path of violence that has wreaked havoc on the continent if to do so could find them facing war crimes tribunals. But it could have the opposite effect. Most conflicts in Africa start at a low level and the perpetrators will pay scant attention to international war crimes courts. As the conflicts escalate, their resolution will depend upon persuading both sides to lay down their guns and stop killing one another. This inevitably will require some form of assurance that they can do so without fear of reprisals, as was the case in Sierra Leone. But what good would assurances from governments be if it is seen that the international community can trample over delicately negotiated peace agreements?

Apart from the US and UK, other members of the UN are less enthusiastic about the Sierra Leone Special Court. Some fear that part of the US strategy is to prepare the way for Special Courts to be set up in Sudan and Uganda, Afghanistan and Iraq, with the same caveat that no American national may appear before them.

In Sierra Leone, whilst the indictees spend their second Christmas in detention awaiting their fate, the Kabbah Government, in the face of a political and judicial dilemma, keeps its head buried in the sand.

Photo: Peter Penfold

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