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Dispatches: In Sierra Leone, Out of the Shadows and Back Again

Sierra Leone passed up a chance today for victims of its brutal civil war to see justice done. Ibrahim Bah, an alleged arms dealer to the notoriously brutal Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during the war, was supposed to face the music in court. Instead, President Ernest Bai Koroma, according to news reports, deported him.

Bah has been under a United Nations travel ban since 2004, for his alleged role in illegal arms and diamond dealing and for supporting the former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s efforts to destabilize Sierra Leone during the 1991 to 2002 war. The RUF committed widespread and systematic abuses, including murder, mutilation, amputation, torture, rape, and forced abductions.

Bah’s whereabouts weren’t known for years, but he turned up hiding in plain sight in Sierra Leone in May 2013, a UN report revealed. The Sierra Leone government had yet to take any action, but one of his alleged victims brought a case against him for kidnapping, assault, death threats, and false imprisonment in the diamond-rich Kono district in 2000. Bah was scheduled to appear in that case today.

Sierra Leone for years supported a UN-backed tribunal that successfully tried some of the major figures from the war era, including Taylor. But now it has helped a major wartime figure elude justice. Sierra Leone should show it’s committed to justice for the victims by making sure there is a criminal investigation for the full range of Bah’s alleged crimes, then seek his extradition. The victims deserve no less.

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