Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone: Justice and the Special Court

Human Rights Watch
November 1, 2000

The United Nations Security Council may be preparing to place excessive limitations on the Sierra Leone Special Court, Human Rights Watch charged today. The proposed restrictions might limit the Court's jurisdiction to crimes committed since November 30, 1996, leaving untried the crimes committed since the beginning of the war in March 1991. This raises the possibility that some of the worst perpetrators of atrocities in Sierra Leone, such as former rebel leader Foday Sankoh, would walk free.

"If the Sierra Leone Special Court is not given jurisdiction over crimes committed during the entire war, justice cannot be served for the people of Sierra Leone," said Peter Takirambudde, director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The bottom line is that perpetrators of atrocities committed bewteen 1991 and 1996 will never be tried."

Human Rights Watch welcomed the Secretary-General's report on the Special Court, but urged the Security Council to approve a statute that will empower the court to act more effectively. This Court must create a precedent for a strong cooperation between national and international justice. The Court must be vested with powers to vigorously enforce international cooperation at every stage, and member States should cooperate with the Court's orders and requests.

Human Rights Watch also recommends that the Special Court not try persons who were under the age of eighteen when they committed crimes. Children should be held accountable for their offenses, but in view of their inherent immaturity, and because many child combatants were forcibly abducted, brutalized and coerced, Human Rights Watch believes that the Court's already limited resources should be used to pursue adults, not children.

In addition, Human Rights Watch opposes the statute's definition of the crime of recruitment of child soldiers. The statute considerably narrows the well-established prohibition of recruitment or use of children. The statute's definition should be amended to include any recruitment or use of children under the age of fifteen in hostilities as a war crime.

A copy of the letter to United Nations Security Council can be found at

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