Former chief prosecutor talks war crimes

David Crane was the chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Vincent Staupe

The former chief prosecutor from the world’s first hybrid international war crimes tribunal, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, presented a lecture about his work in West Africa at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs on Thursday night.

“This is about the horror story and the success story of West Africa,” David Crane said to students and members of the community in a packed auditorium.

The special court for Sierra Leone was created to stop a joint criminal enterprise backed by warlords, politicians and international criminals for their own personal criminal gain, Crane said.

The result of the criminal enterprise was the destruction of Sierra Leone and Liberia, along with 1.2 million West Africans who were murdered, raped, maimed and mutilated.

In 2000, an international mandate and a bilateral treaty was formed between the United Nations and Sierra Leone to create the tribunal.

Crane was appointed chief prosecutor of a court of judges from Sierra Leone and abroad who helped prosecute those who bore the greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1990s civil war in Sierra Leone.

This court most notably indicted Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, on March 3, 2003. Taylor was indicted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was the second head of state in history and the first African to be indicted for war crimes.

As chief prosecutor and the person who signed Taylor’s indictment, Crane said it was important to show the West African community that warlords like Taylor could be brought to justice.

“I showed them that, at the stroke of my pen, I could bring down the most powerful man in West Africa,” Crane said.

The lecture was co-sponsored by the Humphrey Institute as well as other human rights organizations and metro-area law schools.

Julie Lund, the Humphrey Institute’s director of communications, said bringing Crane to Minneapolis helped highlight the intersections of global policy, international affairs and human rights.

Lund also said the lecture has relevance because what happened in West Africa has implications for the rest of the world.

“This is really relevant,” she said. “I think there is a lot of potential to employ these special courts to other human rights issues around the world.”

Law student Julie Strother said Crane’s lecture was highly recommended in her international human rights law class but said she was also interested in hearing Crane’s first-hand account.

“We’re interested in hearing about the practical problems of the court, the challenges a court like this could present,” Strother said.

Crane said the importance of courts like the one held in Sierra Leone could have far-reaching impacts in other war-torn countries in Africa and the world.

“It’s important that they see that maybe the law is more important than the gun,” Crane said.