International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

2:00 Prosecution witness Corinne Dufka begins her testimony

Corinne Dufka takes the stand and swears on the Bible to tell the truth.

Through a series of questions from Mohamed Bangura, she relates the following:

My name is Corinne Dufka, and I’m 50 years old.  I live in Dakar, Senegal and am a Senior Researcher with Human Rights Watch.  I am based in Dakar, Senegal.  I’m Senior Researcher of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.  Our work covers Nigeria, Niger, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.  I have a bachelor’s degree in social work, a master’s degree in clinical and psychiatric social work from the U. of California, Berkeley.  My area of specialization is clinical social work.  I worked for ten years as a social worker in the United States, Mexico, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.  From 1988-1999 I worked as a photo-journalist for Reuters news agency in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Bosnia, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others. I was responsible for providing photos of armed conflict and other news development.  I also worked with other reporters to collect information.  In 1999 I began working as a researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division.  My first work was to open a field office for Human Rights Watch in Freetown, Sierra Leone in April 1999.  My job was to document human rights abuses, and my first job was to document abuses by all sides during the invasion of Freetown in January 1999.  Prior to being posted to Sierra Leone and at various intervals since then, I received training in Human Rights Watch’s methodology and principles.  I was trained on how to conduct a broad-based human rights investigation, how to interview women and children, how to identify command responsibility.  HRW principles include objectivity, a high standard of proof, and protection of sources.  My training as a clinical social worker helped me with conducting interviews.  My work as a journalist, and the importance of objectivity and neutrality in conducting investigations.  From October 2002 to October 2003 I worked as a human rights advisor in the Office of the Prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  I helped the team understand the conflict, assemble documents, obtaining leads and information that could be useful, and conducted investigations with witnesses. At Human Rights Watch (HRW) in my current position, I direct a team of 3-5 researchers.  I direct research and advocacy for the team, edit all materials coming fro the team, and speak publicly on behalf of the team.  I took this position in 2003 right after leaving the Special Court.  HRW is divided into different divisions, regionally and thematically.  My work is as head of the West Africa Division.  I set priorities, and conduct investigations myself.  I remain responsible myself for investigations in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  HRW produces a World Report every year has chapters summarizing human rights developments in the countries we cover.  I write the Sierra Leone and Liberia chapters, and edit the other entries for West Africa.  HRW is one of the world’s largest human rights organizations.  We advocate for accountability and fair trial standards for those accused of atrocities.  Our work is based on in-depth investigations that we conduct.  Our investigations are based on interviews with a broad spectrum of sources.  There is an emphasis on corroborating accounts, and identifying patterns of human rights abuses.  Our reports include recommendations.  After an investigation, after the material is thoroughly vetted and balanced to ensure compliance with HRW guidelines and principles, the material is put into reports, briefings, letters, op-eds, or press releases.  The focus is to expose patterns of human rights abuses, then make recommendations to individuals, groups and others who can positively affect the situation.  Once any written document is produced, it goes through vetting and review first within the division.  After that, it goes to the head of the program division, to look at balance, objectivity and fairness.  Then our legal and policy office ensures that legal characterizations are accurate.

My appointment to Sierra Leone was first identified as being important following the events of 1998.  HRW tried to find funds to be able to conduct work in Sierra Leone.  Following the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone in 1998, HRW decided SL was a priority.  I was chosen to head the office.  There had been one consultant to write a report on the 1998 events, but HRW wanted a more consistent engagement.  In 2000, my portfolio was expanded to include the human rights situation in Liberia, specifically northern Liberia.  Later in 2000 I also began working in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, specifically relating to cross-border attacks into Guinea in 2000-2001.  I have authored at least 8 full reports and numerous other documents.  They include my first report in 1999, a report on human rights abuses in Liberia, a paper on sexual violence, a report on abuses by the LURD against Liberians into Guinea, and politicization of ethnicity in Cote d’Ivoire.  I am the official spokesperson for HRW in West Africa.  Part of our methodology in disseminating our information is to distribute it widely to international media organizations.  Then we conduct interviews to summarize those findings.  Since joining HRW in 1999, I’ve done numerous interviews with the media. 

Every researcher has to adhere rigorously to HRW’s principles.  Our investigations always seek to create a balanced view and take account of abuses on all sides of an armed conflict.  That is also what those involved in the vetting of our reports look for.  One of the reports is “Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation and Rape” from July 1999.  I conducted many interviews with a very wide variety of people.  We found the rebels to be responsible for most of the atrocities, but also reported on ECOMOG and CDF atrocities.

I’ve received awards for recognition of my work.  In 2003 I was honored as a MacArthur Fellow in the field of human rights, specifically for work on Sierra Leone.  I’ve also won awards for my reporting work.  I attend conferences in the course of my work.  I usually accept 2-3 such invitations each year.  For example, last year I presented two papers at a conference on consolidating peace in West Africa.  I published two articles in the book: “War Crimes: What the Public Should Know”, one on disappearances and one on the use of child soldiers.

Pros: Are you able to trace a link between the human rights situations in Liberia and Sierra Leone prior to 1999?

Wit: Each report includes a background section to provide historical context for the current situation.  I’ve read numerous books and academic articles on the history of the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone.  I’ve researched the links between conflicts in West Africa. 

The first time I went to Sierra Leone was in 1995 as a photo-journalist with Reuters.  The focus was war-induced famine in the Bo and Kenema areas.  I returned in 1997 to cover the AFRC coup.  I then covered the 1998 ECOMOG offensive that dislodged the AFRC government.  My first trip to Liberia was in April 1996 covering violence in Monrovia.  I returned in 1997 to cover elections.  The next time I returned was with HRW.  I never met with the accused.  I went to his house in Congo Town in May 1996.  I was in a room in which other interviewers questioned Taylor.  I was also present when he cast his ballot in 1997.  Since working in Sierra Leone, I expanded my work to Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.  We’re now expanding to Niger.

I speak English, Spanish, French and Sierra Leonean Krio. In January 2007 I was a witness for a case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  In 2006 I testified as a witness in the case of the Dutch government vs. Gus Kouwenhoven.  My testimony today is based on expertise as a researcher in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

I prepared a report for this trial at the request of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  It characterizes developments in human rights in SL and Liberia from 1998 through 2003.  I submitted the final report in May 2007.

Pros: (References a page of the witness’s report) You’ve described your research methodology reflecting the standards you’ve discussed this morning?

Wit: Yes.

Pros: To a large extent you’ve based this on facts and details already contained in other HRW reports?

Wit: Yes, the report is based entirely on my own research and other HRW researchers, all of whom followed the same rigorous methodology.

Pros: The report contains first-hand accounts from victims and witnesses?

Wit: Yes.  The report is based on first-hand-accounts from victims and witnesses.  Often a victim is also a witness not only of what happened to them, but also to what happened to others around them.

We identify victims and witnesses sometimes through word of mouth, sometimes through press reports that we consider as only a lead, sometimes through hospital patients, international organizations, sometimes from people living around where an incident happened, sometimes from public transportation workers, sometimes from refugees or refugee camp leaders.  Once we have those leads, we try to identify victims and witnesses themselves.

Pros: (refers to pages of the report) You have documented crimes against civilians in Sierra Leone.  Which earlier report is used for this section?

Wit: This section is based on the HRW report, “Sowing Terror. Atrocities against civilians in Sierra Leone” from July 1998. I did not research or write this report, but the author was subject to the same HRW guidelines. 

Pros: (referring to other pages of the report) You’ve documented crimes against civilians in Liberia in these pages.  Which HRW report is this based on?

Wit: These pages are based on the report “Back to the Brink: War Crimes by Liberian Government and Rebels” from May 2002.

Judge Doherty interrupts to say that it’s time for the lunch break.  Court will adjourn until 2:30.  With the half-hour delay to the media center from which this account is written, our live-blog will continue at 3:00 (2:00 in Sierra Leone and Liberia).