Stephen Rapp, US Ambassador for War Crimes

16 September 2009 by Hermione Gee

“It’s important that we get back into a position of leadership”. Since 2005, Stephen Rapp has been prosecuting war criminals – first as Chief of Prosecutions for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, then as Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), where he lead the case against former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

He’s now back in Washington D.C., as head of the US State Department’s Office for War Crimes Issues.

Mr. Rapp spoke to the IJT’s Hermione Gee on September 7th – his last day as prosecutor for the SCSL.

What was the greatest challenge in making the prosecution case against Taylor?
There is no dispute about the horrendous atrocities committed in Sierra Leone – the amputations, the rape, the sexual slavery, the murders, the use of child soldiers, the ways in which people were enslaved to dig diamonds - but you have to show the responsibility of someone that never set foot in the country.

Here you have to rely upon oral testimony and you also have to rely on individuals who themselves have been involved in some of the atrocities.

And when you have to go beyond Sierra Leone - which is the country in which we have the power to ask for cooperation of the police and other authorities - and go to Liberia where we don’t have that, and find credible witnesses and assure them of protection and bring them to the Hague and present their testimony…That is an enormous challenge.

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