In February 2009, a Special Court with United Nations funding found three former rebel leaders of Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war guilty on multiple counts of crimes against humanity. I sat in the courtroom as the convictions were announced by a three-judge panel.
It was the first time any court had ever convinced someone of forced marriage, a widespread practice during Sierra Leone’s civil war. And this is the first court to ever convict anyone of recruiting child soldiers. The rebels also engaged in mass amputations, seen briefly in the movie “Blood Diamonds.”
The courtroom spectators, separated from the defendants and their lawyers by a thick glass wall, were silent as the convictions were read out. Among the audience were a few victims of rebel amputations, a few members of the military, some international press, and others. The courtroom is in a compound which includes a prison where defendants have been held for – six years, as the trial dragged on. Justice comes, but it comes slowly and at great cost. UN and other workers are highly-paid compared to most people in the world’s poorest country.
But what has happened here, combined with similar results from Rwanda, Bosnia, and now the indictment of Sudan’s President for genocide are sending a message to would-be tyrants: you can run but you cannot hide. We will eventually bring you to justice.