U.S. war crimes prosecutor in Sierra Leone visits diamond fields

The U.N.-appointed prosecutor for war crimes in Sierra Leone traveled to the nation’s heavily fought-over diamond fields Thursday, telling villagers “no human beings should have to suffer” as they did, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Swooping in by helicopter over this West African nation’s diamond-rich Kono District, David Crane landed in Koidu, about 300 kilometer (200 miles) east of the capital, Freetown.

The eastern diamond region saw some of the most brutal acts during Sierra Leone’s 10-year war, launched in 1991 by rebels trying to win control of the government and of diamond fields.

The Revolutionary United Front rebels had controlled the region, which produces 80% of Sierra Leone’s diamonds. The rebels killed, raped, kidnapped, and burned thousands of the country’s people, making hacking off of limbs with machetes their signature atrocity.

“No human beings should have to suffer as much as you have suffered in the Kono District,” Crane reportedly told a gathering of about 300 citizens.

After speaking with many Sierra Leoneans, he declared his visit “an important and intense experience—having an honest dialogue with the people I have come to represent as a lawyer,” the AP reported.

Crane, a top U.S. Defense Department lawyer, arrived Aug. 6 to lead prosecution of the country’s war-crimes tribunal, which is expected to begin proceedings within months.

The joint U.N.-Sierra Leone tribunal was created to try alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law since signing of an initial, failed peace deal in Sierra Leone in 1996. Despite repeated peace deals, the war ended only this year, after forceful deployments of British and U.N. troops.

Rebel leader Foday Sankoh was imprisoned in May 2000 and is expected to be among the first people tried by the war crimes court, the AP reported.

Unlike the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, which are entirely run by the United Nations with an international staff, the Sierra Leone tribunal will have a mix of local and international prosecutors and judges.

Crane also visited the sites of alleged mass graves currently being probed by forensic pathologists for evidence, the AP reported.

During his conversations with Sierra Leoneans, Crane was told that people demanded guaranteed protections for witnesses appearing in the court as well as more education about its expected procedures, the AP reported.