Global Policy Forum

Hinga Norman Rejects Jurisdiction of Special Court

Integrated Regional Information Networks
June 15, 2004

Sam Hinga Norman, the former leader of a pro-government militia group in Sierra Leone, said on Tuesday that he rejected the right of a UN-backed Special Court to try him for war crimes and urged its judges to disregard any prosecution evidence brought before them.

Hinga Norman sacked his team of defence lawyers at the start of proceedings on 3 June, only to be told by the court last week that he would not be allowed to conduct his own defence. He nevertheless succeeded in making a 10-minute opening defence statement to the chamber before the first prosecution witness was led in.

"This court operating as a trial chamber in Sierra Leone does not have the constitutional right to try me or any other Sierra Leonean," the former militia leader and government minister said. "It has taken the constitutional power of the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone" he added. Hinga Norman further argued that "Whatever took place in Sierra Leone since 1991 to date under review has not been defined as a war or conflict." He concluded by saying: "I will not respond to any dramatic pieces the prosecutors might have brought before the court against me to incite sentiments and they have no reason to hold anything against Hinga Norman."

Hinga Norman was leader of the Civil Defence Force (CDF), a militia group formed to defend the government of elected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah during Sierra Leone's 1991-2001 civil war. But like the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group which it fought against, the CDF was accused of widespread atrocities.

Hinga Norman had risen to the rank of Interior Minister by the time he was arrested and placed in custody by the Special Court in March last year. He faces eight counts of crimes against humanity for his role during the country's 10-year civil war. Hinga Norman, who was deputy defence minister at the time he created the CDF, told the court he had become a soldier at the age of 14, but had subsequently grown to distrust the army. "I was under tremendous stress so I decided to take up the battle against the Army and the RUF" he declared.

It was at this point that Trial Attorney Charles Caruso brought forward his first witness, a 52 year old man identified only as TF2/198. Speaking behind a screen, the witness told how he had been beaten by CDF fighters who had also dripped hot molten plastic onto his shoulders. He also told the court about how his brother was beheaded before his eyes in the town of Koribundo in southern Sierra Leone, while he himself was beaten by CDF militiamen and was forced to look on. The witness broke down and cried at this point and the court was adjourned for 15 minutes to allow him to recover his composure.

The witness recalled two meetings which Hinga Norman had called in the town during which the militia boss told them that his fighters, widely known as "Kamajors" should not be blamed for what they had done there, because he had sent them. He said Hinga Norman had incited his men to kill civilians and destroy buildings in the town. The witness quoted the militia boss as saying: "So why are you afraid of killing? You have not done my word. I told you I want only three houses left: the Mosque, the Court Barri (village meeting place) and the house I would sleep in when I come to town. But look at all these houses!" The trial continued with a court-appointed lawyer for Hinga Norman cross-examining the witness.

The court has assigned Hinga Norman a five-member team of defence lawyers known as stand-by counsel. This consists of two members of his original defence team and three other lawyers assigned to him by court registrar Robin Vincent. Hinga Norman tried to reinstate his original defence team last week, but two of the four lawyers in it said they were no longer prepared to represent him.

He is on trial with two other top leaders of the CDF; War Director Moinina Fofana and High Priest Allieu Kondewa, who presided over traditional rituals to initiate new members into the force. Prosecutors accuse Norman of presiding over a "killing frenzy against innocent civilians" as the CDF slaughtered, raped, burnt and looted their way across the West African country. A total of 150 witnesses are expected to appear in the trial, one of three which are due to be conducted before the court. The second trial, of former RUF leaders, is due to start on 5 July.

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