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Sierra Leonean Militia Leader Testifies Before War Crimes Court

In Sierra Leone, a former militia leader who played a key role in the defeat of the brutal RUF rebels has been testifying before the UN-backed Special Court investigating war crimes in Sierra Leone. Chief Hinga Norman led the Civil Defense Forces militia that fought alongside the army in the country’s decade-long civil war. Included under his command were tribal hunters known as the Kamajors. In the absence of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Hinga Norman is the best-known figure to appear before the court.

Norman was indicted on 7 March 2003 on 8 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Among the crimes he is charged with are looting and burning, terrorizing civilians, and use of child soldiers.

Journalist Kelvin Lewis is founder and editor of the Awoko newspaper and reports for the Voice of America. He told English to Africa reporter James Butty from Freetown that Hinga Norman has been explaining to the Special Court how he came to be the coordinator for the Civil Defense Force.

“He said that while he was in exile in Guinea four ambassadors knocked on his hotel door, and those were the American ambassador, the British high commissioner, the Nigerian high commissioner and the UN special representative to Sierra Leone. He said they took him to President Kabbah, where the Nigerian high commissioner told President Kabbah and him that the various governments and institutions were ready to support Sierra Leone to come back to democracy only if the people would come together to form a pro-government force. And Chief Hinga Norman said this was when President Kabbah appointed him as coordinator of the Civil Defense Force.”

Reporter Kelvin Lewis says Norman told the court that President Kabbah should also be indicted as leader of the Civil Defense Force. In terms of whether the court is any more significant now that Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh, its two most prominent targets, cannot appear, Lewis says:

“For the most part Sierra Leoneans have an interest in the court because some things are being revealed there which were not revealed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and they are learning some things which they never knew about, how the war came about. That is the only sustained interest. But in terms of the court being very, very significant, like an instrument that will come and end impunity and that sort of thing, I don’t think that goes down with Sierra Leoneans any more.”