Special Court for Sierra Leone

Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is an independent judicial body set up to "try those who bear greatest responsibility" for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996 during the Sierra Leone Civil War. The court is located in Freetown.


On 12 June 2000, Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking the international community to try those responsible for crimes during the conflict. On 14 August 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1315 requesting the Secretary-General to start negotiations with the Sierra Leonean government to create a Special Court.

On 16 January 2002, the UN and Government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement establishing the Court. The first staff members arrived in Freetown in July 2002.


The Special Court consists of four separate institutions: the Registry, the Prosecutor, the Chambers and the Defense Office. The Registry is responsible for the overall management of the Court, and includes the Defence Office. The Defence Office provides support to the defence lawyers hired to defend the accused persons.

On Friday, 20 July 2007, the Special Court for Sierra Leone announced the appointments of a new Registrar and Deputy Registrar. The Court’s new Registrar, Mr. Herman von Hebel, served as Deputy Registrar of the Court from July 2006 until March 2007, when he was named Acting Registrar.

Succeeding Mr. von Hebel as Deputy Registrar is Binta Mansaray. Ms. Mansaray has served for the past four years as the Special Court’s Outreach Coordinator. She is the first Sierra Leonean to hold the post of Deputy Registrar.

The current Prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, was appointed by the UNSG and took up his office in January 2007. The Prosecutor and his team investigate crimes, gather evidence and submit indictments to the judges. The Deputy Prosecutor is Joseph Kamara, a national of Sierra Leone, nominated by that government and appointed by the Secretary General. Mr. Kamara took up his post on 15 August 2008.

The Chambers

There are currently twelve judges, of which seven are Trial Judges (5 UN appointed (including one alternate) and two nominated by the Sierra Leone government). The remaining five are Appeals Judges, three of which were appointed by the UN and two nominated by the Sierra Leone government. Judges are appointed for a term of three years. They can be re-appointed.

Appeals Chamber :

Former Judges

* Geoffrey Robertson flagicon|United Kingdom United Kingdom (2002-2007)


On 7 March 2003 the first indictments were brought. Thirteen people have been indicted so far for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law. However, three indictments were dropped later on because of the deaths of the indictees. Of the ten remaining indictees, nine are in the custody of the Special Court.

If found guilty, criminals may be sentenced to prison or have their property confiscated. The Court, as with all other tribunals established by the United Nations, does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Although the indictees are individually charged, the trials have been placed into four groups.


Three of the indictees were leaders of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), i.e. Allieu Kondewa, Moinina Fofana, and former Interior Minister Samuel Hinga Norman. Their trial started on 3 June 2004 and concluded with closing arguments in September 2006. Norman died in custody on 22 February 2007 before judgement after having undergone a surgical procedure in Dakar, Senegal. The trial proceedings against him were accordingly [http://www.sc-sl.org/Documents/CDF/SCSL-04-14-T-776.pdf terminated] . [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6927550.stm "S Leone militia leaders convicted"] , "BBC News", 2 August 2007]


Five leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were indicted: Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie, Issa Hassan Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao. The charges against Sankoh and Bockarie were dropped after their deaths were officially ascertained. The trial for Kallon, Gbao and Sesay began on 5 July 2004. It concluded on 24 June 2008. Final oral arguments were conducted on 4 and 5 August 2008. The judges are expected to render their verdict in the coming months.


Three of the detained indictees belonged to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC): Alex Tamba Brima (also known as Gullit), Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu (also known as Five-Five). Their trial began on 7 March 2005.

The only indicted person who is not detained, and whose whereabouts remain uncertain, is the former dictator and AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, who seized power in a military coup on 25 May, 1997. He was widely reported to have been killed in June 2003, but as definitive evidence of his death has never been provided his indictment has not been dropped.

Charles Taylor

A category on his own is the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who was heavily involved with the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. Taylor was [http://www.sc-sl.org/Documents/Taylor/SCSL-03-01-PT-263.pdf originally indicted] in 2003, but he was given asylum in Nigeria after fleeing Liberia.In March 2006, Taylor fled from house arrest in Nigeria and was arrested at the border in a car full of cash. Taylor was extradited to the Special Court following a request to this effect by the Liberian Government. He was immediately turned over to the Special Court for trial.

Because Taylor still enjoyed considerable support in Liberia, and the region was not entirely stable, his trial in Freetown was deemed undesirable for security reasons, the United Nations Aid Mission to Sierra Leone having considerably reduced its presence. United Nations Security Council resolution 1688 of 17 June 2006 [ [http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N06/392/20/PDF/N0639220.pdf United Nations Security Council resolution 1688] ] allowed the Special Court to transfer Taylor's case to The Hague, Netherlands, where the facilities of the International Criminal Court would be used with the trial still conducted under SCSL auspices. Taylor's [http://www.sc-sl.org/Taylor.html trial] started on 4 June 2007, with the first witness appearing 7 January 2008, and it is available in [http://livestream.xs4all.nl/icc3.asx streaming video] . (The trials of the other cases at the SCSL were not available on the Internet because of local Internet limitations. They were available on the SCSL intranet.)



On 20 June 2007, the three suspects in the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council trial, Brima, Kanu, and Kamara, were each convicted of eleven of 14 counts. These were acts of terrorism; collective punishments; extermination; murder - a crime against humanity; murder - a war crime; rape; outrages upon personal dignity; physical violence - a war crime; conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities; enslavement; and pillage. They were found not guilty of three counts: sexual slavery and any other form of sexual violence; other inhumane act – forced marriage; and other inhumane acts – a crime against humanity.

These were the first judgments from the SCSL, as well as the first time ever that an international court ruled on charges related to child soldiers or forced marriage, and the first time an international court delivered a guilty verdict for the military conscription of children. [PDFlink| [http://www.sc-sl.org/Press/pressrelease-062007.pdf "Guilty Verdicts in the Trial of the AFRC Accused"] |104 KiB , press release from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, 20 June, 2007; [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/20/AR2007062000952.html?hpid=moreheadlines"Sierra Leone Convicts 3 of War Crimes"] , "Associated Press", 20 June, 2007 (hosted by "The Washington Post"); [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6221112.stm "First S Leone war crimes verdicts"] , "BBC News", 20 June, 2007] Therefore this was a landmark decision, by which the Special Court for Sierra Leone has created a major legal precedent in international criminal law.

On 19 July 2007, Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu were sentenced to 50 years in jail, while Brima Kamara was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment. The three are likely to serve their sentences in Europe rather than Sierra Leone due to security concerns. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6906702.stm "First S Leone war crime sentences"] , "BBC News", 19 July 2007; [http://www.sc-sl.org/AFRC-Trial.html Trial Chamber II judgment] ]

On 22 February 2008, the Appeals Chamber denied their appeal and reaffirmed the verdicts. [ [http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSL2285816520080222 "Sierra Leone court upholds sentences on militia chiefs"] , "Reuters News", 22 February 2008; [http://www.sc-sl.org/AFRC-Appeal.html Appeals Tribunal Judgement] ]


On 2 August, 2007, the two surviving CDF defendants, Kondewa and Fofana, were convicted of murder, cruel treatment, pillage and collective punishments. Kondewa was further found guilty of use of child soldiers. The CDF trial was perhaps the most controversial as many Sierra Leoneans considered the CDF to be protecting them from the depredations of the RUF.

On 9 October, 2007, the Court decided on the punishment. Kondewa was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, Fofana got six years. These sentences were considered a success for the defence as the prosecutors had asked for 30 years imprisonment for both. The Court imposed a lesser sentence because it saw some mitigating factors. These included the CDF’s efforts to restore Sierra Leone’s democratically elected government which, the Trial Chamber noted, “contributed immensely to re-establishing the rule of law in this Country where criminality, anarchy and lawlessness (...) had become the order of the day”. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7035190.stm "Jail for S Leone self-defence duo"] BBC News 9 October 2007; [http://www.sc-sl.org/CDF-Trial.html Trial Chamber I Judgment] ]

On appellate judgements announced on 28 May 2008, the Appeals Chamber overturned convictions of both defendants on the collective punishments charge as well as Kondewa's conviction for the use of child soldiers. However, the Appeals Chamber also enterered new convictions against both for murder and inhumane acts as crimes against humanity. The Appeals Chamber also enhanced the sentences against the two, with the result that Fofana will serve 15 years and Kondewa will serve 20 years. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7425144.stm "SL Tribunal doubles prison terms"] BBC News 28 May 2008; [http://www.sc-sl.org/Documents/CDF/SCSL-04-14-A-829.pdf Appeals Tribunal Judgement] ]

See also

*Ishmael Beah, a child soldier from Sierra Leone who has written a memoir of his experiences.
*International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
*International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


External links

* [http://www.sc-sl.org/index.html Official site for the Special Court]
* [http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/sierraleone1105/ Justice in Motion: The Trial Phase of the Special Court for Sierra Leone] , Human Rights Watch, November 2005
* [http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~warcrime/SL-archives.htm Independent Interim Monitoring Reports of the Trials from 9/2004 to 11/2006] , UC Berkeley War Crimes Study Center, November 2006
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/sierra/article/0,,824931,00.html Punishment and forgiveness in Sierra Leone] , The Observer, November 3, 2002

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