Global Policy Forum

Indictment Hangs Over Court

News 24
March 9, 2004

Of the 13 people indicted by the UN-backed war crimes court for the west African state of Sierra Leone, only Sam Hinga Norman, a former government minister, is seen to have been wrongly accused of crimes against humanity. His indictment on March 7, 2003 has prompted both international and local criticism of the court, as there are many in Sierra Leone, particularly in the south and east, who consider him a hero for having liberated the areas from the clutches of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (Ruf). Norman was pressed into service by President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who asked him in 1996 to lead the pro-government Civil Defence Forces (CDF) or Kamajors in the fight against the Ruf alongside the emasculated Sierra Leone army.

Norman had come out of retirement at Kabbahs request, having served as deputy defence minister during a previous, short-lived government. The sheer dominance of the Kamajors over the national army during the latter half of the Sierra Leone conflict caused a rift within the pro-government forces, with the army believing the Kamajors were able to commit crimes, even against soldiers, with impunity and government approval. His political negotiating skills were also well-utilised in the negotiations of the Lome Peace Accords that were signed in July 1999 to end the decade-long rebel war that left more than 200 000 dead and thousands more without arms or legs, noses or ears. Norman was one of the more outspoken critics of the Ruf and vehemently opposed giving amnesty to the rebels, an opinion he voiced frequently after being appointed minister of internal affairs in 2002, once peace was restored in Sierra Leone.

The fate of Norman, whether he is convicted or acquitted, would have lasting repercussions for future generations of Sierra Leoneans, his lawyer, Suleiman Tejan-Sie, said in an interview. "A conviction of Hinga Norman would be a conviction of democracy in Sierra Leone; it sets a bad precedent that if anything, God forbid, should happen again and people are asked to stand up and defend their communities, they may have second thoughts for fear of prosecution," Tejan-Sie said. "An acquittal would be a vindication of democracy and would show that, indeed, during the 10-year conflict in Sierra Leone that there were good guys and bad guys." Joining Norman in the detention centre at the sprawling, half-finished court complex in the capital Freetown, are CDF leaders Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa.

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