Thursday, July 16, 2009

Update on the Special Court for Sierra Leone

We just received the following press release from the United Nations.

Top officials from the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone today appealed to States for the necessary resources to conclude its work, including the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and deliver justice to thousands of victims.

Briefing the Security Council, Prosecutor Stephen Rapp recalled that the commission of serious crimes against the civilian population of Sierra Leone motivated the creation of the Court, which is based in Freetown.

“We ask for the cooperation and support necessary to complete its mandate, so that justice can be achieved for the victims of those crimes,” he said, noting this will send a “powerful message” that the international community strongly supports institutions established to hold to account those responsible for such atrocities, and by doing so, deter their perpetration.

“For the victims – the thousands who had been mutilated, the tens of thousands who had been murdered, the hundreds of thousands who had been subjected to sexual violence – the Special Court offers justice by holding to account those alleged to bear the greatest responsibility for these crimes,” stated Mr. Rapp.

He told the 15-member body that the Court’s immediate financial situation may be fairly characterized as “an impending crisis.

“Even if all pledged donations from donors for this year come in early, our funds will run dry before next year’s round of donations, and the Special Court will not have the resources necessary to complete its work.”

Set up jointly by the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN in 2002, the Court is mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and national law committed in Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996.

Mr. Rapp noted that the Court has been ground-breaking in several respects, including the first-ever convictions on the charge of sexual slavery, both as a war crime and crime against humanity, as well as convictions on the use of child soldiers.

The Court has completed three multiple-accused trials. In addition, a fourth trial – that of Mr. Taylor, who faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity – is currently under way at The Hague.

It is expected that Mr. Taylor’s trial, which this week saw the former leader take the stand in his own defence, will be conducted to allow for a judgment by mid-2010, and for finalization on appeal by early 2011.

“We project that in February 2011, upon delivery of the appeals judgment in the Taylor case, we will have completed all of the Special Court’s judicial activities,” the Court’s President, Justice Renate Winter, told the Council.

The Court will, however, still be bound by a number of legal obligations – known as “residual issues” – that will not terminate once the trials and appeals are completed, she noted.

A small successor body will likely need to be established to manage and perform residual functions, including the enforcement of sentences, maintenance of the Court’s archives, witness protection and assistance, and the possible trial or transfer of the case of the one indictee-at-large, former Sierra Leonean military leader Johnny Paul Koroma.

Justice Winter stated that assistance to the Court will continue to be as important in the future as it has been in the past.

“To successfully complete its mandate in the coming months, the Special Court continues to rely on the indispensable support of the Security Council and all Member States. Today, more than ever before, this request is urgent.”

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