LIANE HANSEN, Host:
The court recently convicted three leaders of a rebel group of crimes against humanity. They will be sentenced in the coming weeks. Stephen Rapp is the prosecutor for the court, and he joins us in the studio. Welcome to the program.
STEPHEN RAPP: Good to be here, Liane.
HANSEN: Give us a thumbnail sketch: Who were these men, what did they do?
RAPP: These three men were the senior surviving leaders of the Revolutionary United Front, the group that began the civil war with, in our view, the assistance of Charles Taylor in 1991. But the group that was responsible for the greatest number of atrocities, for tens of thousands of murders, thousands of cases of mutilation and a campaign of terror against the civilian population, characterized also by widespread crimes against women. It's the first conviction in the history of the world for forced marriage as a crime against humanity, the first conviction for attack on peacekeepers.
HANSEN: This court seems to be setting a certain amount of precedent for international law. I mean, it's the first court of its kind. What are some of the other precedents it's setting?
RAPP: So we've been able to go beyond what's been done at the Rwanda tribunal and the Yugoslavia tribunal, in that regard. You know, we're present at the scene of the crime, trying all our cases, except the case of Charles Taylor, where the crimes happened in West Africa, in Sierra Leone, sometimes within earshot or view where thousands were murdered or amputated.
HANSEN: Tell us more about the ongoing trial of Liberia's Charles Taylor. I know he's accused of backing some of the rebels, but can you elaborate on it?
RAPP: Well, our allegation against him is that he was really the effective leader of the RUF. We presented 91 witnesses, 30 of them linking Taylor to the crimes on the ground and about 50 witnesses who testified to the victimization.
HANSEN: This is an organization that's funded by voluntary contributions, and you've said that you've very concerned about how the financial crisis will affect the court. Can you explain?
RAPP: Well, we have to get money from governments. We're not U.N. We have to have the contributions or it could interrupt our trial, the defense could move for bail or release, if somehow things were interrupted. We've got to have the resources and that's why I was here in Washington. Fortunately, there was nine million in the appropriations bill that passed Congress, which if we get that on time, may allow us to continue without interruption. I could have the best proof and the best advocacy, but if the court doesn't have the resources, we don't succeed.
HANSEN: So Charles Taylor could walk free?
RAPP: But at the same time, the Taylor case is very important. I'm asked constantly these days, because of the arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir, what's going to happen with that.
HANSEN: And this is in Sudan.
RAPP: But as we win these cases, we begin to send a message that if you commit these crimes, you can face consequences. And in the past, the word was impunity. Kill one man, good chance you'd be arrested and tried in any national system. Kill 10,000, and you may stay in power or have a safe and comfortable exile somewhere. That's changed, but it won't stop everything, but it will begin to deter these crimes, and individuals like those in Sierra Leone or in some other place, won't have their hands lopped off, short sleeves, long sleeves. They won't be subject to being raped or turned into a sex slaves. They'll have a chance to live and prosper without that kind of fear of violence.
HANSEN: Stephen Rapp is the prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court was established to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes during the country's decade-long civil war. Thank you very much for coming in.
RAPP: Thank you.
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