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Is U.N. War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone Necessary Part of Country's Recovery?

Aired November 8, 2003 - 12:30   ET


TUMI MAKGABO, CNN HOST (voice-over): The United Nations War Crimes Court in Sierra Leone. Is it a necessary part of the country's recovery? We'll hear from the supporters of some of the accused.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to try Cortizone (ph) who is no longer with us, who is dead...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. The idea is to hold accountable those leaders...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to try Charles Taylor, who is in Nigeria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... those who were most responsible for the violations.

MAKGABO: Two different sides of the same issue. Should the international community be involved in bringing African war crimes suspects to justice?

And Moroccan filmmakers in their quest for global recognition.

These and other stories coming up on today's edition of INSIDE AFRICA.


Hello, and welcome to the program. I'm Tumi Makgabo.

Our focus this week: the United Nations Special Court in Sierra Leone. Its mission? To bring to justice people responsible for some of the most heinous crimes against humanity.

Just this week, Washington announced a $2 million bounty for the capture of an unspecified indictee of the court. According to some, that refers to former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the court's most famous fugitive. But just how are U.N. prosecutors faring and how are Sierra Leoneans reacting? Zimbabwean independent filmmaker Farai Sevenzo was recently in the country.


FARAI SEVENZO, INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER: This is Freetown, officially founded around 1807.

(voice-over): On the surface, it is another bustling West African city, but Charles' soldiers cut off of people's limbs here. There were cases of rape and cannibalism. The list of atrocities is long and unbelievable.

The United Nations arrived here with all of the firepower and administrative clout at their disposal. Their presence is everywhere. They are the defense, the administration and now the law.

A special court to try people, who, in U.N. speak, bore the greatest responsibility of their atrocities, is in place. A new building has gone up. There is a prosecutor, nine judges from all across the world and 13 names it feels are responsible for the carnage.

Getting into the Special Court is not easy. I tried to see Sam Hinga Norman, a former interior minister. He has been indicated for crimes against humanity. As the rebels overran the country, he ran the Civil Defense Force, a militia that protected the government from the rebels, but also stands accused of some of the worst horrors. Predictably, I couldn't get in.

From the pictures I saw of the inside, it was clear that a great deal of money and effort has been poured into this in the name of international justice.

The cells for the indicted were nicer than my hotel. If the Special Court here succeeds, then it will serve as a model for Liberia, the Congo and all of Africa's war zones. But will it succeed? The prospect of another war is a frightful thought.

Foday Sankoh, who epitomized the evil that took place here, died before the court could try him. A friend of mind put me in touch with his widow. We found her still grieving and still defending her husband's tattered reputation.

(on camera): The Revolutionary United Front was, to a large degree, responsible for many of the atrocities in Sierra Leone's 10-year war. Is there any truth to that?


SEVENZO: Don't be obvious with me. Don't just say no.

SANKOH: No, I'm not saying no, because let me talk about war. People are not (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But how many were infections we had here? We had (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Arafasee (ph), the Awef (ph), all of them. But they were like (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They...


SEVENZO: Sorry. They were not?

SANKOH: Fair with him.

SEVENZO: Oh, yes.

(voice-over): Many people say that what happened here during the war was a visitation of evil. And then there is the very African nature of the continent. How can international law be applied in the case of fighters who wear pictures around their necks, who say they hear voices commanding them to kill? International law does not take into account Africa's capacity for the occult.

(on camera): This morning, we tried to see Sam Hinga Norman, the leader of the Civil Defense Force. We're heading now into the center of Freetown to meet his followers. They're known as the Kamajors (ph), and they're a fighting group of men, who still believe that they can fortify their bodies against bullets and believe in charms before they go and fight. And these are the people whose leader is accused of crimes against humanity.

So, you've got peace now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we've got peace now.

SEVENZO: So, what's the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, really, our problem now is because they have captured our leader. Because that does not bring him peace, really. Because we had really wanted...

SEVENZO: Who has captured your leader?


SEVENZO: Who are the Special Court? Are they Sierra Leoneans or are they not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are foreigners. They have come to this country to bring conflict to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The money they are wasting on the Special Court, let them bring it and open more factories, more industry. And then, you bring responsibility to this on their (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This would build up the country. That is all we want from them.

ANNOUNCER: This announcement is produced by the Public Affairs Office of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

SEVENZO (voice-over): David Crane is the man chosen by Kofi Annan to prosecute the indicted men. He's an American citizen with a missionary zeal about his job. It was this sort of audience. They were all policemen.

DAVID CRANE, PROSECUTOR, U.N. SPECIAL COURT: We say in the United States, the policemen say, we have taken them off the street.

SEVENZO: And after his sermon to the cops, the prosecutor was ready to talk to me.

CRANE: You cannot have true peace or true forgiveness unless you hold those who, in fact, started it, sustained it throughout these past 10 years. Someone has to account for the 500,000 murdered, dead, raped, maimed and mutilated. This is the 21st century. This isn't the 15th or 14th century. We are better than that now.

(on camera): The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leona is here, established and at work, but there are questions being asked here. Who in a war, which lasted over 12 years, can be held responsible for the carnage that took place here? Foday Sankoh, the leader of the Revolutionary United Front, is dead. The man who was there before him, the leader of the military Junta, Johnny Paul Koroma, is in hiding. And Charles Taylor, the man that many people hold responsible for sponsoring this war, is in safe exile in Nigeria.

(voice-over): For Africa and here in Sierra Leone, almost $100 million has already been spent on an experiment. As I see U.N. personnel relaxing on the beaches and see the four-by-fours littering the streets of Freetown, I wonder if the U.N. has got this all wrong. What is the point of spending millions on trying a handful of men, some of whom are dead, in a land that is desperately poor? The money being spent here is not consolidating the peace. It is money that will not be seen by Sierra Leoneans. The West, it seems, is imposing justice when they have little part in ending Sierra Leone's war.


MAKGABO: That was independent filmmaker Farai Sevenzo.

So, is the U.N. court a just cause or a waste of much-needed resources? Well, coming up after the break, Farai Sevenzo joins us to debate the issue with an international policy analyst. Don't go away.


MAKGABO: And welcome back.

More than 50,000 people died in Sierra Leone's war, thousands of others were maimed -- their limbs hacked off by gangs of armed men and boys. So, is the United Nations' presence bringing justice for victims of that brutal war?

Farai Sevenzo asserts in his film that the West is imposing justice. Earlier this week, I discussed that with him and Emira Woods, a Liberian from the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington.


MAKGABO: Farai, if we could begin with you. When you were doing your piece when you were in Sierra Leone, what struck you most?

SEVENZO: Well, what struck me most, it's just one of those obscenely beautiful countries, and you can't understand why it's gone through the pain of 12 years of civil war. And the atrocity -- the level of atrocities that were there before seem to have completely disappeared.

And what struck me most is the feeling of Sierra Leoneans that they have achieved peace, how can they maintain it? Can they maintain it by trying people with the greatest responsibility for their pain? Or can they maintain it by forgetting and starting afresh, a brand new charter in the sad story of Sierra Leone's history.

MAKGABO: Emira Woods, what's your take on all of this?

EMIRA WOODS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Well, my take is that just as important as it is for the recovery of a country after conflict, you really must have norms of international behavior that hold people accountable. We cannot have a sense of impunity, whether it's in Sierra Leone or Liberia, Rwanda, Uganda, Yugoslavia -- the list could go on and on. People who are gross violators of human rights, basic human indignity and human values, people who rape, mutilate and murder with total disregard for the value of human life must be held accountable. And it is as important for the recovery process.

Looking at the situation in Liberia now, you recognize that as difficult as it is to go through a war crimes tribunal and a process that holds people accountable, that very process is a way of deterring future dictators, future violence. And I think it's as critical for rebuilding the fabric of society as it is rebuilding the roads and schools in the country.

SEVENZO: I absolutely agree with you, Emira. I mean, it's very, very important to stop Africa falling into the same pit of bloody histories. And you get people getting off scott free for the atrocities they've committed.

I mean, let's have a look. Where is the man who led the "Red Terror" in Ethiopia? I believe he's in exile somewhere in Zimbabwe, quite free from international law. And I feel that if we must have international norms, to use your term, those international norms must come in immediately, while the wars are beginning.

In the seven years that Charles Taylor took to get to power, we had not an inkling of protest from the international world. Now that the war in Sierra Leone is over, we know the Sierra Leone war was effectively ended by African leaders, and we had ECOMOG (ph) and ECOWAS coming together and having their soldiers from Nigeria dying in that country. That's why we've got peace there.

My feeling is that if international law is to have any effect in Africa, they must come in there while these battles are about to start, before the end, to come up and stick up a few...


MAKGABO: All right, Farai, but it sounds to me you're saying -- it sounds to me like the argument you're making is quite a different story; that your argument is more about who is running the International Criminal Court versus the fact that there is one in existence. You're saying that the international community did not do anything while the war was being perpetrated, while these crimes were being perpetrated. And now, after the fact they want to come in and be the ones to dispense justice. But the argument surely is also the fact that justice has to be dispensed, regardless of who is doing the dispensing?

SEVENZO: I think so. But I think it has to be regarded who is doing the dispensing. I have a problem personally (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Africa with the imposition of justice by people who did not end that war, people who did not sacrifice their soldiers' lives in that war. And I have a feeling -- it's troubling around Sierra Leone, but Sierra Leoneans are more than capable of coming to bring a closure to their bloody history themselves.

The international court, yes, it's very, very needed, but I also feel that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Sierra Leone should have been allowed to complete its work. It should have been allowed to give Sierra Leoneans themselves without the intervention of this huge operation that's happening in Sierra Leone now, and that should have been allowed to have been completed.

I completely agree with you. My point is that every single war that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) how many wars we have on our continent. And the LURD Resistance Army is still fighting in Uganda. We've got the South Africans in Burundi. I mean, we know that Africans are desperate to put an end to these wars by African means, and...


WOODS: Without a doubt...

SEVENZO: I have a problem with international justice.

WOODS: Farai, let's be clear. You know, these norms are universal. They aren't Western or African. They are universal norms of behavior. When people overstep boundaries of human dignity...

SEVENZO: I agree with you entirely.

WOODS: .. they must be put into check. They cannot be held with impunity without regard for the crimes that they have committed.

SEVENZO: Ma'am, I...

WOODS: These are not Western values.

SEVENZO: I have not suggested for one single minute that I agree with the impunity. I'm saying to you is that I know these are international norms of justice, but I feel as an African that the efforts of the East African Economic Community should be allowed to carry on. It was the Lome agreement that put an end to this war. The Lome agreement guaranteed all Sierra Leoneans a truth and reconciliation process. At the moment I discovered in my film that after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was guaranteed to them, was promised to them, that is when they shifted to this Special Court, which is...


WOODS: We must be clear. There is a different role -- there is a different role between the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that account for crimes at a lower level of society, more widespread crimes within society, and a War Crimes Tribunal that is holding responsible those that are the gross violators of human rights. There is a difference in the mechanisms. It's true. But both are needed. I would argue both are needed to hold people accountable.

SEVENZO: No, no, no, you've got your point wrong there. There are no gross violators. They're trying people who they believe bore the greatest responsibility. They're trying people -- the civil defense man, Hinga Norman, who was in charge of protecting the government of Sierra Leone against rebels overrunning it. And they're trying to try Polisa (ph), who is no longer with us, who is dead.

WOODS: Right.

SEVENZO: They're trying to try Charles Taylor, who is in Nigeria.

WOODS: The idea is to hold accountable those leaders -- those leaders who were most responsible for the violations. It is a different process and a very much needed process. And in the case of Sam Norman, it is both a union of the Africans and Westerners that are part of the prosecutors, part of the judges and an integral part of the overall process.

Let's be clear. There are other examples...

SEVENZO: I'm sorry. Let's be clear. I totally disagree.

WOODS: Outside of Africa...



SEVENZO: I totally disagree with your point.

MAKGABO: To both of you, if I can just come in here for a moment.

SEVENZO: It's like a big...

MAKGABO: Farai, Faria, if I can ask you just to hang on for one second. It seems like we're debating a really fine point here, whether a person is regarded as a gross violator or whether versus one who bears the most responsibility, who didn't necessarily perpetrate them himself, who ordered those things.

But let's move on to the reality of what this debate is. And what possibility is there? That perhaps what Farai is saying is a valid point. If you move this from a situation where many Africans may feel that Western countries are dictating to them, how they need to reconcile and rebuild their countries and perhaps look at a body like the African Union and see whether they would be able to take a process forward, whereby Africans feel like they're addressing their issues with their own understandings and their own complexities considered?

WOODS: I think that's an interesting suggestion.

SEVENZO: I think that's absolutely vital.

WOODS: I think both the Rwandan case and also the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) case are hybrid examples of Africans and others working together. It is both a union law and international law that is fused together in the case of the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal. So, I see the distinction as being a bit artificial, but I think both questions can be open for debate within the African Union.

I think what is much more critical is understanding that there should be these international courts made available, even at the level of the international world, where you can prevent pre-emptive strikes against countries like Iraq if there is a holding of account of the Saddam Husseins in the world by an international criminal court process. There are ways through which mechanisms can be put into place -- whether at the regional, national or international level -- that hold these war criminals accountable and prevent other responses that are much more militaristic in nature.

MAKGABO: Farai, I know you've got a response for that.

SEVENZO: I have a response for everything. I can't help myself. I talk too much.

But the point I'm trying to make is that it is not an artificial distinction between what is international law and what the Africans have been trying to do on the continent in war zones. Let's have a look Burundi. It's the South African army that's there keeping the peace talks going in Bujumbura. Let's have a look at Sierra Leone. It was Nigerian soldiers that died in the thousands to bring that peace together. And let's have a look -- I mean, the whole ECOWAS thing. Who is in Liberia right now stopping this slaughter that befell that country after Charles Taylor's escape? It is the Africans doing most of the fighting.

And I think they have to be given a chance to bring some peace to their continent before we start running with international law and international justice. And the problem I have with international justice, especially as dictated by Americans, is that America is a signatory to the International Criminal Court. How are they able to try people who...


WOODS: Which is why, Farai, I don't even understand your point, really, because America is really reluctant to even support the Sierra Leone War Crimes Tribunal. And so, it seems like a very artificial debate that we're having here, because clearly, I agree with you...

SEVENZO: It's not at all artificial. It's American money that set it up. We have American prosecutors...

WOODS: No, no.

SEVENZO: ... in the international...

WOODS: Let's be very clear.

SEVENZO: Ma'am...

WOODS: No, no, let's be very clear. The Americans have been reluctant. The State Department has refused to allow funds, even though they've been approved by Congress, for support of the Sierra Leone Criminal Court. That has not happened. It is Canada, the U.K. that provided some assistance, together with Sierra Leonean funding. And this provided support outside the normal U.N. framework for establishment of the court.

So, let's be really clear. It is not an American...

SEVENZO: Ma'am, let's be very clear. There is an awful lot of American presence in the United Nations Mission at Sierra Leone. Whether you want to make the distinction that it's not sanctioned by Congress or whatever, we have American troops, we have American money, we have Americans supporting the peace in Liberia at the moment. It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that every single...


WOODS: You know, even there, I have to disagree with you, Farai, because I have been...

SEVENZO: ... is a signatory to this international criminal court.

WOODS: Let me tell you, I have been a part of those here within the U.S. trying to lobby for a greater U.S. engagement in the Liberian crisis in bringing resolution. And I agree with you that it is the African leadership that has brought the peace agreement and the road to recovery. That's fragile, but it's the African Mission that has brought it to this point.

But you cannot then say that it's America that's playing such a leadership role, because that is absolutely untrue.


MAKGABO: Emira Woods of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies; also in that debate, independent filmmaker Farai Sevenzo.

And still ahead on the program, movie makers in Morocco demand that their fair share of the international market be recognized. Stay with us.


MAKGABO: And welcome back.

Now, we shift focus for a look at the Moroccan film industry. Last week, we brought you a report on how Western movie makers are taking advantage of Morocco's beautiful landscape. While many in the country welcome this, some say in some way it's hurting the local industry.

Here's Sylvia Smith.


SYLVIA SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Reef (ph) is the most popular cinema in Marrakech, but not because the movies here feature Moroccan stars. Rather, it's Indian films that are selling the tickets.

Moroccans are fascinated by Indian movies, says cinema's Komper Mohammed (ph). "There is lots of action, and people are prepared to sit or even stand for hours to watch them."

The Marrakech Film Festival prides itself on being first, like showing an Iraqi film, shot under duress while Saddam Hussein was still in power. Dominating the festival are Western celebrities, actors and directors, showcasing their latest work.

Movie makers from the host country, Morocco, have to compete with them, a difficult task in a nation where foreign films enjoy a wide popularity.

The new generation of bright, young Moroccan directors feels that foreign films only skim the surface of Moroccan life. They say international movie makers should delve deeper in their country's culture and use more local talent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If directors involved Moroccan producers, Moroccan actors and technicians, it would be a much more fruitful exchange.

SMITH: An exchange that Moroccan movie makers hope would help them gain more international recognition for their work.

Actress Nyema Unshoki (ph) says it's unfair that Moroccan films are not popular abroad. "We see lots of productions from the Middle East and other countries," she says. "But when it comes to our films being shown over there, it just doesn't happen."

So, while Moroccan filmmakers continue to develop their own style and establish a following, they seem a long way from achieving the international success they desire. Some say the first step is changing attitudes, both at home and abroad, to bring about a greater appreciation of the work done by movie makers here.

For CNN's INSIDE AFRICA, I'm Sylvia Smith in Marrakech, Morocco.


MAKGABO: And, of course, as always, we look forward to hearing from you, so send us an e-mail at

And that's our show for this week. I'm Tumi Makgabo.



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