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Former UN Official Backs Use of Regional Courts for Crimes Against Humanity

“The Special Court for Sierra Leone shows that no one is above the law, and the rule of law is above the rule of the gun.” That’s the view of the former chief prosecutor of the UN-backed court in Sierra Leone, David Crane, who says the regional war crimes tribunals for Sierra Leone and Rwanda complement the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague.

Crane, who signed the indictment against former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, says the existence of the tribunals will deter atrocities against civilians by those in power: “I cannot see that it will not deter other cynical African leaders who are using their citizens for their own personal, political or criminal gain. This will set an example that if you abuse your citizens, you will pay the price.”

Crane was speaking to English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe, who asked him about the criteria for setting up such tribunals. He said the creation of a tribunal is based on a tragic occurrence, a request by a head of state, or concern on the part of the UN Security Council: “For example, the president of Sierra Leone wrote to the UN secretary-general seeking help, and the Security Council authorized the SG to create the world’s first international war crimes tribunal in West Africa, called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, in August 2000.”

Crane says the court has been successful in keeping off the streets those who created and promoted the conditions under which the atrocities took place. “So we now have models with which we can face down the beast of impunity wherever it hits…. We are already seeing that…there’ll have to be another one set up only for Liberia, for what Charles Taylor and his cohorts did to their own people. The international [regional or ad hoc] tribunal could be the court of first resort. The ICC [in the Hague] is the court of last resort.”

Crane says the courts are very flexible and could be “molded” to deal with any atrocities. He says they will be emerging as needed in parts of the world other than Africa.