UN-backed Sierra Leone court says war crimes suspect’s death means justice denied
The death of a former militia leader suspected of war crimes in Sierra Leone has deprived the West African country’s people of their right to see justice done, the prosecutor of a United Nations-backed court there said today, while pledging to press forward on their behalf.
The Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Stephen Rapp, issued a statement in Freetown voicing deep regret at the death today of the West African country’s former Internal Affairs Minister and militia leader Sam Hinga Norman, who has been on trial for war crimes since the summer of 2004.
Mr. Norman’s death signals an end to the case mounted against him in the Special Court, where, as one of the leaders of the now-defunct Civil Defence Forces (CDF), he was being tried on eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including unlawful killing, physical violence, mental suffering, terrorizing civilians and using child soldiers during the brutal 10-year civil war.
“Hinga Norman’s death means that the people of Sierra Leone are deprived of their right to see justice done in an important and high-profile case before the Special Court,” Mr. Rapp said. “When an Accused dies before judgment, then justice is denied.”
Mr. Norman died this morning at a military hospital in Dakar, Senegal, and initial reports indicate that he suffered heart failure during post-operative care.
He was transferred to the hospital on 17 January for medical procedures generally considered routine but which are not available in Sierra Leone. He received treatment on 8 February with no complications.
The Court’s Registrar, Lovemore Munlo, has ordered an independent investigation by international medical experts to determine the exact cause of death.
Mr. Rapp said, “While we profoundly regret the death of Hinga Norman, we will continue our work to see that justice is done in the name of and on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone.”
The Court is the world’s first hybrid international war crimes tribunal, and was established by an agreement in January 2002 between the United Nations and the Republic of Sierra Leone. It is mandated to bring to justice those who bear greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in the country after 30 November 1996.