Salone News

The CDF Verdicts: A Preliminary Response

3 August 2007 at 10:53 | 309 views

Commentary.

By Lansana Gberie.

In the heat of intense electoral campaigning in Sierra Leone, the verdicts Thursday by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the trials of two Civil Defence Force (CDF) defendants, Allieu Konewa and Moinina Fofana, risk being ignored as a sideshow. But the gross cynicism and the insult to the sensibility of many people - and not just Sierra Leoneans - that the trials, not to mention the verdicts, represent need to be analysed to be believed.

This is how Reuters reported the verdicts:
"Sierra Leone’s U.N.-backed Special Court convicted two former leaders of a pro-government militia on Thursday of war crimes including murder but acquitted them of crimes against humanity. The pair were leaders of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), which fought for President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah during a 1991-2002 civil war. Kabbah is due to stand down after August 11 elections in which his deputy is standing as his chosen successor. Sam Hinga Norman, Kabbah’s former interior minister and head of the feared Kamajor traditional hunters who dominated the CDF, had also been on trial on the same charges but died in detention in February from heart failure after a routine operation. The verdict was a split decision. Justice Rosolu John Bankole Thompson, the only Sierra Leonean on the three-judge panel, wished to acquit Allieu Kondewa, who prosecutors said was the Kamajors’ "High Priest," and Moinina Fofana, of all charges. The prosecution said Kamajor fighters had paraded severed heads and eaten their victims’ roasted flesh and intestines. But the judgment, read in court by Cameroonian judge Benjamin Mutanga Itoe, noted that "The CDF and Kamajors fought for the restoration of democracy," reflecting the complexity of the case."

Let’s ignore for a moment the Court’s pointy-headed prosecutor’s (and of course Reuters’) vulgar obsession with mythical cannibalism - the charges were never proven in court, and the verdicts do not mention them. Fofana was convicted on four counts comprising war crimes and Kondewa of five counts, including war crimes and other violations of international law. But in a curious twist, the Court threw out the sensational charges of terrorism. It also found - another variation on the same theme - that charges relating to CDF attacks against a civilian population, a requirement for all crimes against humanity, were baseless. The Court issued not guilty findings on those charges. Kondewa, suggestively called "the High Priest" of the Kamajors by the Prosecutors, was convicted on another charge of recruitment of child soldiers - even though he never appeared in battle, and recruited and led no one.
If this sounds confusing, that’s because it truly is. For the records, the Presiding Judge was an often clueless and insipid Cameroonian named Itoe, who even ventured the opinion that Fofana should have been convicted of another charge. (Itoe, of course, reminds one of another bumbling Cameroonian international civil servant: Jacques Booh Booh, who, as the UN representative in Rwanda at the height of the genocide, was busy furnishing his house in Kigali with luxury items even as extremists planned and proceeded with killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people). In the coming months, there should be some focus on these $240,000 a year (tax free) judges. Also for the records - if only for the records - the lone Sierra Leonean judge on the cases, Bankole-Thompson, who is in position to more fully appreciate the sacrifices of the CDF fighters and their role in saving the nation and hundreds of thousands of people from the deprecations of murderous criminals (the Revolutionary United Front and rogue soldiers), sought to free the CDF defendants on all charges.

An immediate question that came to mind was why the Court decided to issue these verdicts at this time. The CDF issue is a highly charged political problem: in the recent weeks, an entreprising political figure has been going around the country trying to incite former CDF members against the current Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) government and presidential candidate, leading to serious incidents of violence. The Court must be aware of this, but instead they chose to set aside their case against RUF detainees and pass guilty verdicts on the CDF personnel. This is obviously a very twisted and inchoate political decision, and the Court must bear full responsibility if there is a nasty fall-out.

And by the way, when will this Special Court business end? The Court was set up in 2002 with a mandate to go on for three years. But even as verdicts are passed five years into its operation, the Chief Prosecutor is schemeing to prolong the Court’s duration. One hears that the prosecutor is preparing to appeal against the acquittals of three military leaders (of the notorious Armed Forces Ruling Council junta), who were, among others, accused of forcing women into marriage, "in a move that he hopes will help bring convictions on similar charges at the International Criminal Court." The Court on 20 June had found Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers. But the trial judges said they saw no need to treat forced marriage as a crime separate from sexual slavery (it is obviously, also to this lay man, a distinction without a difference), and threw out the prosecutor’s charges. All three men have been given long sentences, which they undoubtedly deserve. But now Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp wants to appeal against this decision, which he described ‘formulistic’ (a linguistic curiousity). This is obviously stretching cynicism too far.

The government that colluded in setting up this self-perpetuating behemoth must really look at itself in shame. What in the world were they thinking when they asked for this? Any government that comes to power after the 11 August elections must take as a matter of national priority the closure of this Court in Sierra Leone. The only worthy case before it is that involving former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and the old rogue is being tried in The Hague. Sierra Leone long passed that transitional post-war phase, and an instrument for transitional justice - which this Court claimed it is - has no place in the current political schema.

Photo: Justice Benjamin Itoe.

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