The Special Court for
Sierra Leone began hearings in its new courthouse in March 2004,
as it prosecuted those accused of crimes against humanity committed
during the West African state's decade-long civil war
The court was created through a January 2002
agreement between the
government of Sierra
Leone and the
United Nations. While the conflict in Sierra Leone stretched
from 1991 to 2002, the Court only intends to try crimes committed
after the November 30, 1996
Accord between the government and rebels. (For a brief history
covering much of the civil war, see the BBC’s
The carnage during the conflict included mass killings, mutilations,
sex crimes, and the forcible recruitment of child soldiers. Rebel
Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front, sponsored by
former Liberian president
Taylor, were responsible for much of the bloodshed, but so were
militias loyal to other factions and to Sierra Leone’s government.
Sankoh died in 2003, while Taylor, who has been indicted by the
Special Court, has sought safe haven in Nigeria.
As of early 2004, the Special Court had indicted 13 people, two of
whom had died. They are charged with war crimes, crimes against
humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian
law, as laid out in the
Fourth Geneva Convention. Specifically, the charges in include
murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, enslavement, looting and
The court is “mixed” or “hybrid,” meaning that judges are from both
Sierra Leone and elsewhere, and that the court will try violations of
Sierra Leone law as well international law. This stands in contrast,
for example, to the new Iraqi Special
Tribunal , which will use only Iraqi judges and prosecutors, and
which was established without UN participation.
For more background on Sierra Leone’s court, see the
overview from Human
Rights First. For more information on the country, please see our
Sierra Leone national
page, and for more information on war crimes tribunals in general, see
our hot topics Iraqi Special Tribunal to
Try Crimes Against Humanity, Indonesian
Ad Hoc Court Tries East Timor Abuse Suspects, or
UN and Cambodia Agree on Court to Try Khmer
- Laura A. Dickinson, The Promise
of Hybrid Courts, 97 A.J.I.L. 295 (April, 2003).
Child Soldier Use 2003:A Briefing for the 4th UN Security Council
Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict
, Human Rights Watch, (January 2004).
Justice Undermined by Taylor’s Absence, Human Rights Watch, (March 9, 2004)
- Celina Schocken, The Special
Court for Sierra Leone: Overview and Recommendations, 20
Berkeley J. Int'l L. 436, (2002).
- Daniel J. Macaluso, Absolute and
Free Pardon: The Effect of the Amnesty Provision in the Lomé Peace
Agreement on the Jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone,
27 Brooklyn J. Int'l L. 347, (2001).
- Nsongurua J. Udombana,
Globalization of Justice and the Special Court for Sierra Leone,
17 Emory Int'l L. Rev. 55, (Spring, 2003).