Picture Credit: flickr.com/Duda Arraes
Sierra Leone suffered through a gruesome, ten-year civil war. The Revolutionary United Front(RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, used amputations and mass rape to terrorize the population and gain control of the country's lucrative diamond mines. Charles Taylor, then president of neighboring Liberia, backed the insurgency providing arms and training to the RUF in exchange for diamonds. The pro-government Civil Defense Force (CDF), under the leadership of Sam Hinga Norman, committed serious offenses as well. In 1999 the UN eventually brokered the Lome Peace Accord between the warring parties.
In January 2002 the UN approved the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to try those responsible for the crimes committed during the civil war. Based in the country where the atrocities were committed and combining international and domestic law, the SCSL ushers in a new generation of international tribunals. Experts believe this model will deliver justice faster and at a lower cost then its counterparts for Rwanda and Yugoslavia .
Since the trials opened on June 3, 2004 the SCSL has received both criticism and praise. Some argue that the Court is too constrained in terms of its time frame, jurisdiction and enforcement powers, which will weaken its ability to deliver justice. Others see the Court as an exemplary model for other international tribunals.
On June 4 2007, the Court started the trial against Charles Taylor who has been indicted for war crimes. This page follows this case and other important cases being heard by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and provides analysis of the court's effectiveness.
The UN Security Council authorized the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) to transfer Charles Taylor to The Hague for trial, "due to the security implications if he is held in Freetown." This resolution declares that the SCSL will use the Hague-based International Criminal Court's facilities but will "retain exclusive jurisdiction" over the former Liberian leader.
Security Council Resolution 1638 gives the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) a mandate to "apprehend and detain" former Liberian President Charles Taylor to facilitate his transfer to the Sierra Leone Special Court for prosecution.
This Crimes of War
paper gives a background and analysis of the structure and problems the Special Court for Sierra Leone may encounter. Also includes a link to Alison Smith's critique
of what she feels are inaccuracies in the paper.
The official statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone describes all the applicable rules and regulations pertaining to the tribunal, including the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction, in which the Special Court shares judicial power with the national courts of Sierra Leone.
Charles Taylor's lawyer Courtenay Griffiths stormed out of the courtroom to protest the court's decision not to accept a written summary of the defense's case. Griffiths accuses the court of flouting Taylor's right to defend himself, but the court argues that the summary was submitted 20 days past the January 4 deadline. Taylor, Liberia's former president, is on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for supporting rebel groups responsible for atrocities during Sierra Leone's civil war. The court is expected to hear closing statements soon and render a verdict later this year. (Telegraph)
Despite the attention brought by supermodel Naomi Campbell's testimony, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is facing significant funding and timing challenges. The process has taken three times as long as anticipated, which is testing the patience of the court's donors and raising questions about whether a link between Taylor and the RUF can actually be proven. The UN Security Council supports the process, but in the face of spiraling costs associated with other ad hoc tribunals, the Council decided to make the Special Court dependent upon funding from donor nations rather than UN coffers. Will the Court maintain the necessary funding to complete a proper trial, or will the realities of diminishing political will lead the Court to end its investigations prematurely? (Crimes of War Project)
The prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone have asked the UN-backed court to order British supermodel, Naomi Campbell, to testify before the court in the case against Charles Taylor. The prosecutors claim that there is evidence that Ms Campbell was given rough diamonds by the former Liberian President in September 1997 at a charity dinner hosted by then South-African President, Nelson Mandela. Such proof would rebut Taylor's testimony that he was never in the possession of blood diamonds. Ms Campbell has so far refused to appear before the court. (The Independent)
After Sierra Leone's civil war, the UN established the Special Court for Sierra Leone to end impunity, advance reconciliation and create a public account of the atrocities committed. The Court's actual impact remains uncertain. Set to end operations in 2010, the US$212 million-Court has indicted 13 alleged war criminals, and convicted five. Sierra Leoneans are critical of the massive cost and are puzzled at the Court's tendency to prosecute high-level officials like Charles Taylor instead of the soldiers who conducted the widespread killings and amputations. (Washington Post)
After a 6-month postponement, Charles Taylor's trial reopened at the ICC in The Hague. This Independent article reports on the testimony by Charles Taylor's former bodyguard, who informed the ICC of the direct connection between the former president of Liberia and the rebels on the front line during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Charles Taylor stands accused of fuelling the conflict by backing Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels in order to plunder the country's diamond wealth.
The Liberian parliament has rejected a bill aimed at seizing the assets of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Independent legal experts in Liberia claim the bill is unconstitutional as it attempts to remove Taylor's assets while he is still being tried before the International Criminal Court. As well as numerous accusations of war crimes, Taylor is accused of receiving of diamonds from Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front in order to fund the war that claimed over 120,000 lives. (Agence France Presse)
The Special Court for Sierra Leone will resume proceedings against Charles Taylor on January 7, 2008. The trial against the former president of Liberia has been postponed and adjourned numerous times after Taylor argued that he had no money for his defense and that he had unequal legal representation. To ensure that Taylor, who is described as the "Hitler of Africa," is held accountable for his crimes, the Special Court is wary to ensure that he receives a fair trial. (Nation - Nairobi)
The defense team of former Liberian President Charles Taylor asked to postpone the trial until January 2008. Taylor's new lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, discovered "an archive of the former president's papers packed into 20 boxes." The new evidence includes personal letters including one from former US President Jimmy Carter and other material that "could be vital." Griffiths explains that a four-month period is quite reasonable considering the fact that the prosecution had many years to build its case against Taylor. (BBC)
The Special Court for Sierra Leone issues its first verdicts against three senior commanders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The conviction of Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu marks the first time that individuals have been convicted of war crimes for recruiting children below the age of 15 into military groups. Amnesty International warns that the government of Sierra Leone should "set aside the amnesty provisions contained in the Lome Accord" and try the numerous other criminals also responsible for war crimes.
This Pambazuka article identifies problems with the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. It argues that the absence of Taylor from the court should be no surprise considering the unfairness towards Taylor displayed through the court's infringement on Taylor's privacy during his meetings with his lawyer. The author speculates that "Taylor is a scapegoat for the international criminal (in) justice system" and questions the decision to hold the trial in The Hague instead of Sierra Leone.
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor boycotts his trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague complaining that having only one defense lawyer is unfair. Charged with countless acts of mass murder, sexual violence and enslavement, Taylor defies the Special Court, calling it a "charade that does injustice to the people of Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone." (BBC)
As former Liberian President Charles Taylor faces trial in The Hague for committing war crimes in Sierra Leone, Liberians express diverse opinions about the accusations against him. Although many are relieved to see Taylor face justice, others want to erase the memories from their minds. Taylor's supporters, on the other hand, argue that he was not alone. Paul Tolbert, an ex-child soldier from Taylor's army, claims that numerous other Liberians who were behind the mass killings should be convicted too. (CNN)
This paper, written for the conference "Building a Future on Peace and Justice," studies the peace process in Liberia and Sierra Leone and makes recommendations for other post-conflict situations. In Sierra Leone, the initial granting of amnesty to war crimes suspects did not prevent the Special Court for Sierra Leone from prosecuting indicted suspects later on. In Liberia, the arrest of Charles Taylor actually simplified the peace process. These examples show that peace and justice are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Human Rights Watch says that the Special Court for Sierra Leone faces serious financial shortcomings in its trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Unlike the Special Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, this tribunal is funded by voluntary donations instead of UN assessed contributions. The trial will take 18 months to complete and requires US$89 million, but the court only has enough funds to last through November 2007. If the court is unable to meet its financial requirements, it will have no option but to set Taylor free. (China Post)
With the trial of Charles Taylor set to begin on June 4, 2007, victims of his crimes in Sierra Leone and Liberia cry out for justice to be done. Taylor's supporters doubt that he will receive a fair trial in The Hague, claiming that sending him to a European court is already considering him guilty. However, the Tribunal authorities reason that having a trial in Taylor's own country Liberia would result in civil unrest. Meanwhile, the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia, suffering from extreme poverty, hope that a fraction of the millions of dollars spent on the Special Tribunal will be spent in reconstructing the countries' economies after years of war. (Independent Online)
The UK agreed in June 2006 to imprison Charles Taylor, contingent upon his conviction for war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. As the government needs to formally pass a legislation allowing the detention, a leaked memo reveals that domestic concerns about both the cost and the security risk of jailing Taylor could lead some British parliamentarians to vote against it. However, the document concludes that such a high-profile detention would constitute "a major contribution to the cause of international justice." (Telegraph)
When the UN Security Council authorized the relocation of Charles Taylor's trial, it emphasized that the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) would retain its jurisdiction and that the International Criminal Court (ICC) would merely serve as host. But the former Liberian president's defense team complains that the ICC's detention rules undermine the special tribunal's authority. This apparent power struggle raises questions about how well the courts will deal with other logistical and legal inconsistencies that may arise as the trial goes underway. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting)
Former Defense Minister and militia leader Sam Hinga Norman has died just weeks before the Special Court for Sierra Leone could deliver a verdict in his trial. His indictment polarized public opinion in Sierra Leone, as many considered him a hero who helped to defeat rebel forces in the country's decade-long civil war. Hinga Norman's death represents a major setback to the UN-backed court, which aims to bring to justice all those bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes – rebels, government troops, high-ranking officials and militia leaders alike. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
A judge at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has postponed the beginning of Charles Taylor's trial from April 2 to June 4, 2007. The ruling comes in response to the defense team's request for more time to prepare for the trial, in which the former Liberian leader faces charges for his role in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. (Institute for War and Peace Reporting)
Human Rights Watch urges the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to publicize Charles Taylor's trial, especially since the Court will now hold proceedings in The Hague. The relocation of the trial, a response to security concerns in West Africa, threatens to diminish the sense of justice among communities affected by the war crimes. This report calls on the SCSL to "share as much information as possible" to reduce local frustration and misinterpretation of any new developments in the proceedings.
The Security Council's relocation of Charles Taylor's trial to the Netherlands has elicited conflicting responses from Sierra Leoneans. Supporters of the decision contend that the transfer, "a welcome relief," will help to prevent the hard-won regional peace from collapsing. But critics complain that conducting the trial in The Hague will rob war victims of the opportunity to see their "number one tormentor" brought to justice. (Inter Press Service)
The UN Security Council has unanimously accepted a UK-drafted resolution to allow the transfer of Charles Taylor's trial to the Netherlands. The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) will use the premises of The Hague-based International Criminal Court for the trial proceedings. International observers and officials of the SCSL feared that putting the former Liberian leader on trial in West Africa could shatter the fragile regional peace. (News Wire)
UN member states contribute to the financing of the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), on the other hand, relies heavily on voluntary funds and tends to struggle with financial shortfalls. The President of the UN-backed court, the first Sierra Leonean to hold that title, has requested more funds to make the judicial system more effective. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
Denmark, Austria and Sweden have all refused UN requests to imprison former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, currently indicted for war crimes. The Special Court for Sierra Leone wants to transfer Taylor's trial to The Hague, but the Dutch government will only allow the transfer if any jail term will be served in another country. (BBC)
Former Sierra Leonean Ambassador John E. Leigh argues that the benefits of holding former Liberian leader Charles Taylor's trial in Sierra Leone outweigh the costs. Leigh believes transferring Taylor to The Hague defeats the purpose behind the Special Court of Sierra Leone, which was established to demonstrate that no leader will escape the law and the consequences of abusing power. Authorities must not "pander to thuggish elements" but instead tighten security in Sierra Leone and Liberia, "under a robust United Nations peace-keeping mandate." (New York Times)
This Amnesty International report raises some issues about Charles Taylor's trial that the Security Council's draft resolution does not adequately address, if at all. Concerns about the venue, security, cost and availability of other resources such as interpreters and support staff for victims and witnesses have implications for the effectiveness of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Amnesty International calls for more concrete measures, including an increased budget for relocation costs, to deliver justice to the people of Sierra Leone.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone may transfer the trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to The Hague. The court, and African leaders, believe holding Taylor's trial in Africa will cause unrest and the Hague offers "a more conducive atmosphere." Prosecutors stress that although the trial would be held in the Hague, the Special Court for Sierra Leone will be sitting. (Liberian Times)
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has asked Nigeria to extradite former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to the Special Court of Sierra Leone. Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo argues that the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States must be consulted as the groups assisted in organizing Taylor's exile. But human rights groups and Liberia fear that the process will become stalled and want Obasanjo to move ahead swiftly. (Los Angeles Times)
Human Rights Watch delivers a largely positive report on the activity of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Despite chronic under-funding, the Court's mix of domestic and foreign law continues to represent a significant new model of international justice, which has held up even as the Court has moved into trial phase.
According to its UN mandate, the Special Court for Sierra Leone will revert to voluntary contributions as its sole source of funding as of January 1, 2006. As a result, the court is in danger of coming up short in funding. While the EU pledged $9.8 million of the $25 million necessary to run the court in 2006, the United States has not pledged anything. UN officials vowed to continue working with member states to ensure that the $25 million target is met, and the court's work continues. (UN Press Releases)
While visiting Liberia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour pushed for Charles Taylor's transferal to Sierra Leone's Special Court, denouncing the former leader's involvement in Liberian political affairs. Arbour addressed all African leaders, arguing that it would be unfair to place the political burden of Taylor's extradition solely on the prospective Liberian government or on Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. (Liberian Observer)
Administrators at the Special Court for Sierra Leone express frustration over the absence of prominent West African indictees Charles Taylor and Johnny Paul Koroma, and worry that trials will not come to completion if the two remain at large. As the United Nations is set to terminate direct support for the Court in December 2005, the Analyst suggests that the judicial body must either begin seeking funding from alternative sources, start (highly unlikely) in absentia trials for the two, or continue hoping that Nigeria will hand over the accused in light of growing international pressures.
Amnesty International (AI) praises the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) for organizing the National Victims Commemoration Conference on Truth Justice and Reconciliation held at the beginning of March 2005. But the human rights organization describes the court's limited number of prosecutions as "only a partial response" and calls for the inclusion of a reparations provision in the SCSL's statute. AI further reiterates its condemnation of Nigeria for continuing to harbor former Liberian President Charles Taylor and demands the government hand him over to the court for prosecution.
In an October 2004 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sierra Leone (TRC) strongly criticized the mandate of the nation's Special Court. Washington Times points out that the condemnation is ideologically motivated, due to TRC's belief that the concepts of â€˜truth' and â€˜justice' are irreconcilable. Proponents of the court, however, remain positive that "Sierra Leone's judicial experiment" will serve as a role model for future hybrid courts.
This Human Rights Watch (HRW) report applauds the Sierra Leone Special Court for getting off the ground but says inadequate funding led to inability to prosecute more suspects, lack of support for the defense, inadequate witness protection and stalled plans to establish a second trial chamber. HRW says Nigeria must turn over former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and the UN must remove the current restriction on grant money so the court can remedy these problems.
Survivors of the Sierra Leonean civil war started givingtheir accounts of the horrific events that took place between 1991 and 2002. Unlike the trials for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, victim's accounts at the Special Court for Sierra Leone attract little world notice as most foreign media left after the trials began in June 2004. (Associated Press)
At the opening of the war crimes trial of three Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commanders, prosecutors of the Special Court for Sierra Leone linked former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to the training and arming of RUF rebels. The Court mentioned Gadhafi in its indictments but did not charge him with any crime. (Associated Press)
Former leader of the Civil Defense Force Sam Hinga Norman rejected the Special Court for Sierra Leone's authority to try him or any other Sierra Leoneans. He further argued that "whatever took place in Sierra Leone since 1991" ... "has not been defined as a war or conflict." (Integrated Regional Information Networks)
This Sunday Herald article examines the beginning of trials at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, through which the UN hopes to achieve "efficient and expeditious" results. Critics argue that the Court is too constrained in terms of its time frame, jurisdiction and enforcement powers, weakening its ability to deliver justice.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected a claim by former Deputy Defense Minister Hinga Norman, ruling that recruitment of child soldiers was a war crime under international law at the time of the country's civil war. The Court's decision enables the first prosecution of the crime at an international war crimes tribunal. (BBC)
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor lost his appeal against war crime prosecution at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court ruled against Taylor's claim of immunity and declared its right to try Taylor for his alleged role in Sierra Leone's civil war. (BBC)
Three alleged leaders of the pro-government Civil Defense Force (CDF) will be the first inditees to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone on June 3, 2004. The trial of CDF members remains contentious as many Sierra Leonean regard them as liberators from the rebel forces. (Agence France Presse)
Prosecutors at the Special Court for Sierra Leone asked the tribunal's trial chamber to include forced marriage as a crime against humanity in previously issued indictments. In another precedent-setting move Chief Prosecutor David Crane confirmed that the court will prosecute child abduction and recruitment as a war crime. (UN Wire)
The UN Special Court for Sierra Leone refuses to recognize the applicability of a national amnesty for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Court's Appeals Chamber ruled that the amnesty granted to the fighting factions as decided in the Lome Peace accords does not affect the jurisdiction of the Court as the UN itself was not party to the accords. (allAfrica)
Lawyers representing former Liberian President Charles Taylor have filed a petition with the Liberian Supreme Court against the Ministry of Justice and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The petition questions the legality of a Ministry of Justice decision to allow the SCSL to search homes of Taylor and his associates. ( Integrated Regional Information Network)
Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone reacted to defense lawyers' claims of impartiality, by ruling that judge Geoffrey Robertson will not adjudicate in the trial of three rebel commanders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Experts see the cases of RUF leaders as the most important presented before the court. (Telegraph)
Some Sierra Leoneans fear that the Special Court for Sierra Leone might become a "flashpoint for renewed hostilities," questioning the effectiveness of a war crimes court in a society engaged in the process of rehabilitation and reconciliation. (Inter Press Service)
Secretary General Kofi Annan submitted a proposal to the UN Security Council requesting member states cover the funding shortfall for the Special Court for Sierra Leone by assessed rather than voluntary contributions. (UN News Centre)
Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of Britain's leading human rights lawyers, has come under pressure from defense lawyers to quit his post as president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The defense lawyers tried to disqualify Robertson because of a book he wrote depicting Sierra Leone's rebels movement as a "bloodthirsty criminal enterprise." (Guardian)
The opening of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on March 10, 2004, generated high expectations amongst legal experts. The experts say that refined court processes, designed to try people more quickly and at less cost than its predecessors, could provide a model for similar institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Radio Nederland)
The Special Court for Sierra Leone's indictment of former leader of the pro-government Civil Defense Forces Sam Hinga Norman remains a contentious issue. Many Sierra Leoneans consider him a liberator from the notorious rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). (News 24)
Mounting international pressure to bring former Liberian President Charles Taylor before a war crimes court resulted in the search of Taylor's homes in Liberia by prosecutors from the UN-backed war crimes court for Sierra Leone. In addition, the Security Council is expected to debate a proposed US draft resolution to freeze the assets of Charles Taylor, his family and associates. (VOA News)
The Special Court for Sierra Leone will hold sessions in early March in which the prosecution and defense will present a status report on their pre-trial preparations to the judges. The court has so far indicted eleven people, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor, for crimes against humanity committed during the country's ten year civil war. (Agence France-Presse)
The defense counsel for former Liberian President Charles Taylor argues that his indictment at the Special Court for Sierra Leone is invalid because it was issued when Taylor was President. The Court will issue a ruling on whether an indictment against Taylor can proceed. (Vanguard)
The United Nations backed Special Court for Sierra Leone prohibited "all contact" between former militia leader Chief Sam Hinga Norman and outsiders. Norman's arrest in March 2003 sparked fear that loyal militia commanders want to "spring him from jail, or create civil unrest to enable his release.' (Integrated Regional Information Networks)