Fleeing the Jurisdiction

Adjourned sine die
July 30, 2007, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Government, Law, Timor-Leste

It seems the law has caught up with me again. This next few days will see me off at last to Dili, Timor-Leste, after many delays and postponements. It’s now a few months since I stepped, bewildered and sunburnt, off the plane connection from Sierra Leone. My plan to spend some few weeks indulging in the fruits of Western consumerism before plunging back into the developing world had evidently inspired a spiteful deity or deities to laugh. Continue reading


A single, glittering premise
February 20, 2007, 3:22 am
Filed under: Law, Sierra Leone

To paraphrase another traveller in strange lands: when first I arrived here, I thought I could easily write a book; after a month – perhaps a pamphlet; now, it has become difficult to write a single word. This is not, as some have suggested, due to some repetitive strain injury resulting from overuse of a heavy thesaurus, but rather a paralysis of another kind.

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The trial of Foday Sankoh
February 2, 2007, 2:12 am
Filed under: Law, Sierra Leone

The judge sat in silence for a full five minutes, his wordless rage expressed only through flailing gestures of dismissal, directed at his infamous courtroom guest. Stroking his unkempt and greying beard, there was nothing to outwardly mark the man who had gone from corporal in the Sierra Leone Army (and part-time wedding photographer) to commander in chief of a revolutionary movement vying with stiff competition for the title of the bloodiest in West Africa. If, aside from the training he recieved at Gaddafi’s notorious “House of Blood” in Benghazi, charisma played a part in his rise, there was none of it on show now.

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Fire, fire
January 31, 2007, 1:53 am
Filed under: Development, Law, Sierra Leone

Packed into the NGO standard-issue white four-wheel drive along with the full complement of interpreters and investigators, we made a late exit from Freetown, speeding along roads fit to make a civil engineer weep. At regular intervals, we would pass the sagging shapes of other vehicles mournfully stopped kerbside like defeated triathletes. Palms punctuated the landscape. The RUF’s symbolic use of these ubiquitous but top-heavy, shallow-rooted trees, easily toppled by strong winds, now seems absurdly prophetic. I was to find, though, in the following days spent upcountry with ex-combatants, that some still see – or wish to see – life in the fallen movement.

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Making a killing
January 11, 2007, 3:27 am
Filed under: Development, Law, Sierra Leone

Most Sierra Leoneans seem to support the general thrust of the Special Court’s work, recognising the need to provide a deterrent to despotism and root out impunity. The need for this to occur in an environment that upholds human rights – even the rights of the accused – largely receives grudging acceptance. What rankles, however, is the the expense. There’s no denying that the trials, both in terms of duration and associated infrastructure, are a massively costly exercise. Donor countries, including Australia, justify this, reasonably enough, as an investment in the future stability of the country. The enduring benefits are, however, often confined to this abstract and unquantifiable category. The practical, tangible dividends are few. The Court building itself, for example, is fitted with full-length bullet-proof glass partitions that make natural ventilation impossible. In order to make it habitable, enormous generators are required. It is widely hypothesised that when the Court is handed over to the Sierra Leonean government in a flag-waving ceremony of partnership and magnanimity, it will immediately become a white elephant utterly unused by a community that, without the UN to ship in tankers of fuel, simply does not have the electricity to run such a facility.

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Security, and the lack of it
December 18, 2006, 8:32 pm
Filed under: Government, Law, Sierra Leone

Joining the already-swollen ranks of local expat victims of home invasion, I was awoken on Sunday morning by an understandably shaken housemate who quickly showed the strewn contents of our rooms relocated to the living area, whence they had evidently been taken while we slept for a more private, thorough search. A number of items were missing from each of us; all the more unsettling was the notion that someone had leaned over my sleeping body to snatch my phone. What would have happened had I awoken then does not bear reflection. Thankfully, no-one was harmed. The guards could shed no light on the situation, so we called Court security, who arrived to liaise with the local police. Bleary-eyed and stumbling on a Sunday morning, we trooped to the filthy warren of the Congo Cross police station, whereupon our guards, who had joined us to help explain the situation, were promptly arrested as suspects and detained –  despite our protests. Following another peering examination of our apartment and personal belongings by a throng of security personnel of various stripes, hand- and footprints were found (not by the police) on the balcony railings, revealing that the thieves had likely climbed the building to the second floor and managed to fiddle the locked door to gain entry. The police wanted to take crime scene photos, but had no camera, so asked to borrow one – a futile gesture since we had reported it stolen. Likewise their demand for a mobile phone contact from me.  Statements were taken by yet another set of police, as we struggled to locate the passport of another housemate, who had been in hospital. Fortunately this turned up at the office. Court security, on our expressing concern for our guards, who might yet be held for days during whatever investigation ensues, simply advised us to let the police do their job their way. What that means, I don’t know. As many have mentioned, we cannot, after all, rule them out. Ironically, one of few things of value not stolen were envelopes containing Christmas bonuses for our compound staff, including the guards.

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Young people today
December 8, 2006, 5:52 am
Filed under: Development, Law, Sierra Leone

54% of Sierra Leone’s population at the outset of the civil war was under the age of eighteen. This conflict is notorious for the use of child soldiers, many abducted and given ideological training before being sent for frontline duty in so-called Small Boy and Small Girl Units. Charles Taylor is known to have proselytised on the loyalty of soldiers raised to such service. By way of caveat, I should note that the extent to which such units operated, and in what capacity,  remains under question. Certainly the prospect of an eight year old effectively using an AK-47 merits skepticism. The effect of such combatants, however, some reputedly as young as eight, cannot be underestimated. Though far from an expert on the psychosocial ramifications of wartime trauma, I can hazard some hypothesis that an immature and perhaps easily manipulated view of events might breed a collective disjuncture, a sense of unreality. Reading the grotesque deeds of rebels who have dubbed themselves, inter alia, Superman and Rambo, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the conflict, for all its palpable and horrifying consequences, for many took place in some fantastic, otherworldly landscape constructed to avoid the alternative shroud of greed and cruelty. Though I would never suggest that institutionalised Peter-Panery excuses the truly nightmarish misdeeds that have become the international face of this shattered country, it does go some way to explaining the shameful bewilderment and disbelief with which many ex-combatants, now grown men,  confront their participation. It is like they have woken up from a dream of killing to find blood on their hands. Ironically, due to the war, the proportion of Sierra Leoneans under the age of eighteen is now higher than ever before.