18 October 2013

Liberia: Exchange of Thanks - Victims and Special Court Prosector Express Gratitude in Sierra Leone

It was an exchange of thanks as Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) Prosecutor Brenda Hollis traveled the length and breadth of Sierra Leone, explaining the Court's Appeals Chamber judgment to people in various communities that were affected by Sierra Leone's 11 year conflict. In many of these communities, the scars of the conflict still remain. Civilians whose limbs were amputated by rebels still roam the streets. Many still bear the loss of family members while some deal with the stigma of having being raped by rebels. For these crimes, Taylor has been convicted and sentenced to a 50 year jail term. For what they did to make this historic judgment possible, Prosecutor Hollis visited these communities to thank the people, most of whom are victims.

Prosecutor Hollis Speaking at Outreach Event

To loud applause among hundreds of residents attending the various outreach events around the country, Prosecutor Hollis said in Krio, Sierra Leone's local parlance, "The Charles Taylor case don don," meaning the Charles Taylor case has come to an end.

She expressed thanks and appreciation to the people and government of Sierra Leone for the opportunity to serve them and help bring a measure of justice for their sufferings during the country's bloody conflict. She had special thanks for those men and women who served as witnesses in the Taylor case, describing them as "those brave men and women who came to the court to tell their stories."

She called them "strong people who will never forget but have forgiven and are working towards a brighter future."

"This judgment brings some measure of justice to the many victims of Charles Taylor's very wicked conduct," she told residents in Tongo, a town in Sierra Leone where several people were killed and subjected to forced labor as they mined diamonds for the rebels. These diamonds, judges have said, were a motivation for Taylor's involvement in Sierra Leone's conflict. Rebel commanders took mayonnaise tins full of diamonds to Taylor in Liberia, and in exchange, he assisted them with materials including arms and ammunition.

A Sierra Leonean lawyer, Mohamed Bangura, who was one of the prosecutors in the Taylor case, was also full of praise for his countrymen. Sharing the pain of their sufferings during the conflict, Bangura thanked Sierra Leoneans in Kailahun town for their show of support throughout the court's work. He referenced those times that he personally travelled to their communities to speak with victims and witnesses and the help they provided to the accountability process.

While the Prosecutor expressed thanks and appreciation to residents in various communities, the people thought it was the Prosecutor who deserved their thanks. A gentleman, who himself had traveled to The Hague to witness the proceedings commended Prosecutor Hollis for starting and finishing her job with distinction. He explained to the audience that Prosecutor Hollis had faced a very strong defense team but still won the case on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. He thanked the Prosecutor for paying special attention, both in case presentation and outreach, to areas were rebel atrocities were prominent.

"It is good that you paid special attention to the areas hardly hit by the conflict," he told Prosecutor Hollis.

Participants at Outreach Event Thanking Prosecutor Hollis

After completing an outreach event in Tongo, several young and old people crowded around Prosecutor Hollis's vehicle, giving her handshakes and thanking her for a job well done.

In their view, prosecuting, convicting and sentencing Taylor was the right and necessary thing to do.

Chiefdom Speaker in the RUF's former headquarters of Buedu told the Prosecutor that the people in his chiefdom were grateful to her and to the Court for a job well done.

"We waited for years to see this happen. Now we know the wait was worth it," he told the Prosecutor and her team.

"Big men can no longer run away if they do terrible things and for making this reality, we the people of Sierra Leone thank you," he added.

Throughout these outreach events, people expressed concerns about the plight of victims who are yet to receive reparations from the Government of Sierra Leone. They still have expectations that the justice and accountability process will include reparations for victims. While they await this, they acknowledge the SCSL as part of a process meant to provide a measure of justice for them. In their minds, the Court has done its part, and for that, their thanks go to the Prosecutor and other persons at the Court who made this possible.

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