Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rebuilding Sierra Leone

The University of South Carolina School of Law recently hosted a very interesting conference entitled “Rebuilding Sierra Leone: Changing Institutions and Culture” (logo at right). Organized by Professor Joel Samuels, this April 1 conference was one of the first interdisciplinary academic conferences in the United States to focus solely on the unique challenges of redeveloping Sierra Leone after its decade-long armed conflict in the 1990s.
The goal of the conference was to highlight salient issues that have hindered Sierra Leone’s post-war rebuilding, and to begin discussion among academics working in different disciplines on future collaborations on Sierra Leone-specific projects.
The conference was divided into four panels:
► “Sierra Leone in Context”
► “Paths to Rebuilding Sierra Leone”
► “The Special Court for Sierra Leone”
► “The Problem of Child Soldiers”
Some highlights included a talk by Professor Erika George (University of Utah) (left) that began with the observation that erosion or failure of the education system is one of the first indicators of a failing or failed state. She linked this idea to the state of education in Sierra Leone prior to and after the conflict, noting some post-conflict improvements but also some very worrying gaps that still remain.
Another thought-provoking speaker was Professor Jennifer Moore (University of New Mexico) (right), who argued that post-conflict Sierra Leone needs not only courtroom (retributive) justice, it also needs to focus on social justice (material well-being), and historical justice (addressing peace in community life. She highlighted the work of two nongovernmental organizations within Sierra Leone – the Centre for Development and Peace Education and Fambul Tok – in contributing to the two latter forms of justice.
Yours truly, Valerie Oosterveld, had the honour of presenting a paper on the jurisprudence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone with respect to gender-based crimes against humanity and war crimes. I traced positive and less-than-positive legal reasoning with respect to gender-based acts in the trial judgments in what are usually referred to as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and the Civil Defence Forces cases. I contrasted these cases with the Revolutionary United Front case, arguing that the RUF case represents a step forward in efforts to contextualize rape, sexual mutilation and other forms of sexual violence directed against women, girls, men and boys, as well as gender-based crimes such as forced marriage. My presentation represented a continuation of arguments outlined in a recently-published article - “The Gender Jurisprudence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone: Progress in the Revolutionary United Front Judgments” (2011) 44(1) Cornell International Law Journal 49-74.
The conference participants also heard interesting presentations by: Prof. Christopher DeCorse (Syracuse University), Herb Frazier (author), Kevin Lowther (author), Joseph Opala (Bunce Island Conservation Project), Ambassador June Carter Perry (former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone), Lt. Col. Mark Daubney (British Embassy), Ambassador David Scheffer (Northwestern University), James Hodes (Cochran Law Firm), Anthony Triolo (International Center for Transitional Justice), Professor Daniel Hoffman (University of Washington), Professor Mark Drumbl (Washington & Lee University) and Professor Noah Novogrodsky (University of Wyoming).
There was discussion among the conference participants about publishing an edited volume focused on possibilities and challenges facing Sierra Leone in its rebuilding efforts: I will keep IntLawGrrl readers informed about this potentially exciting development!

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