CHIEF HINGA NORMAN
By a concerned citizen
One would have thought that an international tribunal like the Sierra Leone Special Court should have been given the necessary authority and international jurisdiction to arrest at will any accused person , wherever he is domiciled in the world. But this was never done. Therefore , hardened war criminals are at large while the men who fought them are in jail. It is a mockery of justice for a man like Hinga Norman to be languishing in jail while Charles Taylor, the devil himself, who instigated all the chaos and suffering , is enjoying amnesty in Nigeria. There is absolutely no excuse for this bizarre twist of events . The fault is not the court’s. It is the UN and the Kabbah government who negotiated the formation of the court that should be flayed in this respect.
Taylor and many of his accomplices like Prince Yormie Johnson , Ben Yeaten , Issac Musa and others who deliberately sought to provoke and bring to action the sequence of events that led to the death of a million people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, are breathing the sweet air of liberty while the men who fought against them are behind bars .What do we call that ? Is it justice ? Like the many notorious war criminals we see flourishing in the world today, Taylor may even be gloating about this double standards . The UN should have given the Special Court all the authority it needed to storm Nigeria with international Police and arrest Taylor. No war criminal should be allowed to prevail , but Taylor, a man who caused the death of a million people is doing just that. It is not fair.
The corrupt nations of Africa can never co-operate with the Special Court. Their leaders themselves have skeletons in their cupboards and many of them benefited from Charles Taylor’s international criminal enterprise during his bloody reign as rebel leader and later President of Liberia. They will always shield these war criminals because they were partners in crime. This was also responsible for the failure of the court to bring Taylor’s Army Commander Ben Yeaton to Freetown from Togo recently. Again, the court fell victim to its own propensity to assume . It thought that all would have well and the Togolese authorities would have allowed Yeaten to enter the UN plane waiting for him at the Lome Airport. How can a court with such international flavour fail to be obeyed by puny nations ?
Most disturbing of the Special Court’s miscues , though, are the legal blunders it has committed so far. Again, the court fell into this embarassing situation because it is relying more on assumptions than evidence. Two months ago, the court announced that it had suspended all outside contacts with Hinga Norman because he was recorded on the phone trying to incite unrest in Sierra Leone. This was a very serious charge for which even Chief Norman would have lost the goodwill he is presently enjoying from some Sierra Leoneans.We are tired of war in Sierra Leone and anyone who incites chaos is the enemy of the nation.
But as it turned out, the court erred .The tape, when it was released, did not contain any incitement by the Chief. The court lost that psychological battle because it failed to satisfy the evidential burden that Chief Norman was engaged in incitement. Readers are ofcourse now conversant with this week’s ruling by Justice Bankole Thompson that the Special Court failed to provide evidence that Chief Norman’s account in the Union Trust Bank in Freetown must have been accrued from criminal avenues ( Transfer from the activities of the Kamajor militia ) .
Again, the court must have ASSUMED that because the Chief was indicted for war crimes and he is presently an agitated man , such allegations against him would have been swallowed hook, line and sinker without legal scrutiny. Why the court hastily come out with this accusation without first ascertaining that Norman indeed did incite people on the tape ? The fact that a court of the stature of the UN-supported tribunal should be defeated in such petty matters in which the burden of proof was not that intricate, scared exponents of the court who do not want to see any of the indicted persons freed because of legal blunders by the court. How will this court fare when it comes to the nitty-gritty of a high-tension war crimes trial , in which mere speculation will not be treated with kid gloves by a hyped Defence team ?
We at the DAILY NEWS-INQUIRER have profound respect and trust in the Special Court. Despite our concern about the continued incarceration of Chief Norman when the real war criminals who purposely endeavoured to harm the innocent people of Sierra Leone and Liberia have not been roped in, we still have great respect for the integrity and ability of the court.We believe that the Special Court has the ability to bring justice to Sierra Leone. However , we cannot conceal the fact that we are worried about the mistakes being made by the court. Our worries are predicated upon by the fact that we do not want the court to fail.We want those who perpetuated the culture of impunity in Sierra Leone to be punished to the full extent of the law.
It is our hope, therefore, that the court really did its work in procuring sufficient relevant evidence to convict any one who actually took part in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even a first year student in law school knows that an accused in a criminal case is not culpable until his guilt has been established by clear and convincing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. There should be no doubt about the guilt of an accused person as the accused is given the benefit of any iota of doubt. There is so much at stake here. The prosecution cannot afford to lose these cases because the future safety of Sierra Leone hinges on them.
A sloppy prosecution team is as bad as none.The celebrated O.J.Simpson case was lost because the prosecution shot itself in the foot when it decided on having Simpson try on the gloves alleged to have been worn by the killer of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman. The gloves did not fit and the theatrical and brilliant Johnny Cochran seized on that blunder with his immortal “If it does not fit, you must acquit ” blockbuster legal argument to plant doubts in the minds of the jury that Simpson was not the killer.
That prosecution also erred in putting on the stand a discredited cop, Mark Furhman , whose background was not researched enough to find out that he had called black people ‘niggers’ before. The remarkable F. Lee Bailey tore that cop limb by limb on the stand and demolished the prosecution’s case. If David Crane doubts that there are Sierra Leonean legal luminaries with the ability to become Johnny Cochran or F. Lee Bailey in court , he has not researched Sierra Leone enough to know that our’s is not only a land of suffering and disaster, but we have a fabled reputation for intellectual excellence and we have produced some of the best lawyers in Africa.
The court should not also ASSUME again that because the deeds done by our combatants were so horrid and satanic , any evidence will be enough to convince the judges of the trial chamber and bring a conviction. . It will be a legal calamity to so assume. The judges of the Trial Chamber have proved that they are not easily moved by sentiments. Remember George Gelega-King’s strong and uncompromising arument about the need for even kids to defend themselves during the pretrial submissions on the use of child soldiers by the Kamajors ? According to the Law of Evidence, the reliability of relevant evidence generally is a question of weight rather than admissibility.Mere circumstantial evidence that has no probative value will never convince the judges to convict, not to mention Hearsay Evidence. There must be sufficient Direct Evidence to establish all the facts and propositions without further reasoning that those in the dock bore the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed during the war. We hope the court has clear, convincing and direct evidence to link the accused with every element of the crimes for which they were indicted.
Short of this, the Sierra Leonean people will lose a second time when the people who harmed them are set free all because the prosecution did not do its job well , and the culture of impunity will not only be be enthroned then , but it will flourish throughout the land , as perpetuators would be encouraged by the fact that not even a UN war crimes tribunal was able to bring them to justice.
In the end, it is the Sierra Leonean people who will fail.
And we do not want them to fail.
In this regard, our prayers are with the prosecution .We hope they succeed.