On February 25th, the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs (CGA) was honored to host David M. Crane, Binta Mansaray, and James C. Johnson for a panel to discuss the remarkable legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court was formed to deliver justice for some of the worst crimes perpetrated during the civil war in Sierra Leone, a war of horrific brutality, with large-scale terrorization of the civilian population through crimes such as the hacking off of limbs, the use of mass rape and other forms of sexual violence, and chaining individuals to work in slavery-like conditions in diamond mining pits.
While accountability is always second best to halting atrocities to being with, the Court represented a remarkable accomplishment: not two decades ago, the international community was able to come together and help to end a cycle of horrific violence that lasted more than a decade by delivering credible accountability. That this was done in a cost-effective way and that it has led to sustained peace in Sierra Leone makes it even more remarkable.
The panel, titled “The Little Court That Did—The Legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” was moderated by CGA Professor, Jennifer Trahan, and introduced by CGA Adjunct Professor Andras Vamos-Goldman, who also had served as founding chair of the Sierra Leone Special Court Management Committee. The panel examined the accomplishments and legacy of the Court, as well as the Court’s remaining work in its “residual mechanism” phase. Given that the circumstances of the civil war in Sierra Leone were not that different from some of the most violent and atrocity-filled conflicts of today, the panel provided a relevant examination of how it was possible for Sierra Leone, the international community, and the United Nations to come together in creating the Court. The panel additionally showcased David Crane’s recently published book, “Every Living Thing: Facing Down Terrorists, Warlords, and Thugs in West Africa – A Story of Justice,” which recounts his years as founding chief prosecutor of the Court.
David Crane and James C. Johnson, formerly chief of prosecutions of the Special Court and currently prosecutor of the Residual Special Court, elaborated on some of the accomplishments of the Court. These included: the Special Court’s successful prosecutions of leaders of all three of the major warring factions during the Sierra Leone civil war, and its eventual prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor (indicted while a sitting Head of State) for his role in aiding and abetting the crime by two of the warring factions.