The Daily Gamecock

USC Law School hosts Sierra Leone Conference

Experts discuss connections between West African country, South Carolina

The "Rebuilding Sierra Leone: Changing Institutions and Culture" conference takes place at the University of South Carolina Law School auditorium today from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The conference will discuss the connection between Sierra Leone and South Carolina.

"The connection to South Carolina is important and will be explored on the first panel," said Joel Samuels, associate professor at the law school and organizer of the conference.

During the late 1600s, planters from South Carolina started bringing in captors and slaves from Sierra Leone because they were highly valued rice farmers, Bunce Island Coalition Coordinator Joseph Opala said.

"The connection is important because of the economic development that rice brought for South Carolina," said Opala, who has lived in Sierra Leone on and off for the past 20 years.

Opala will be one of the 17 speakers today, and he will talk about Sierra Leone and his coalition project that involves the country.

"The conference features the most recent U.S. ambassador to Sierra Leone [June Carter Perry] and the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes [David Scheffer]," Samuels said.

The conference will also focus on specific areas of concern for rebuilding Sierra Leone, the legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (the international tribunal created to prosecute war criminals of Sierra Leone's civil war) and the problems of child soldiers before and after the conflict.

The conference will be divided into four panels: Sierra Leone in Context, Paths to Rebuilding Rule of Law in Sierra Leone, The Special Court for Sierra Leone and The Problem of Child Soldiers.

Samuels said that the legacy of rebuilding a state is interesting and important as to Sierra Leone but also offers broader lessons that might be applicable to places currently and recently in the news such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

"The child soldier panel will address one of the most important and complex issues facing many post-conflict states: How do you handle children who were forced into combat and who actively took part in that combat? Can those children be rehabilitated? If so, how?" Samuels said.

He said there are even connections between Sierra Leone and the law school.
"Some panels in the conference will address the legal responses to the war in Sierra Leone and the adequacy of those responses," Samuels said. "The focus on some aspects of rebuilding rule of law implicates the law directly while at the same time recognizing that legal reform alone is insufficient to rebuild a state and society shattered by war."

Aside from lunch, the entire conference is free and open to the public, especially students. Samuels said that students are welcome to attend any or all of them and can come and go as their schedules permit.

"I am very hopeful that we will have a large student attendance as this is a special event on many fronts," he said.