Global Policy Forum

War Crimes Indictee's Death

Integrated Regional Information Networks
February 22, 2007

Sam Hinga Norman, the leader of the local civil defence militia that helped defeat the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during the 1991 to 2001 civil war but who was later indicted by the UN-backed court in Sierra Leone, has died. "A verdict in the case was to have been delivered shortly," according to a press release issued on Thursday by the Special Court for Sierra Leone which had had him in detention.

Norman collapsed on Thursday morning following a medical procedure at a military hospital in Dakar, Senegal. "Initial indications are that Mr. Norman suffered heart failure during post-operative care," the statement said. Norman, who had served as the country's deputy minister of defence throughout the war, was revered by many people in Sierra Leone for having galvanized local hunter groups known as the Kamajors to resist the rebel RUF, which had controlled most of the country during periods of the war and twice took the capital Freetown.

Members of the Civil Defence Front, or CDF as the militia was known, claimed to have magic powers to stop bullets penetrating their bodies. They were estimated to number 20,000, more than both the army and the rebels. The army and the rebels joined forces during the war committing heinous atrocities against civilians, although so too did the CDF.

The Special Court was jointly established in 2002 by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone "to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996". Norman's death is a major blow for the Court, according to the Thierry Cruvellier the editor of the International Justice Tribune, an independent newsletter specialized in international justice issues.

"This was the most important case before the court in Freetown because, for many Sierra Leoneans, Hinga Norman was seen as a war hero," Cruvellier said. "So the court had to draw the line between what many saw as legitimate action to stop both the army and the rebels from attacking the population, and war crimes committed for a just cause". "So we are now facing a situation where in six years by 2008 the court will have at most only tried eight individuals in Freetown, all of them considered of secondary importance". The Special Court is also trying the former president of Liberia Charles Taylor but the trial is to take place at The Hague.

"In the eyes of most people there is little doubt that Taylor and the other major indictees are war criminals," Cruvellier said. "The only one subject to debate was Norman". After the end of the civil war Norman became minister of the interior until his indictment by the Special Court in March 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has been in detention at the court since then, maintaining his innocence throughout his trial, which began in June 2004.

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