NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on the international community to address urgent issues facing the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), as it prepares to wind down operations in coming months.
Pending the end of the current trial of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, the SCSL has prosecuted eight of those most responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone. In addition to enhancing prospects for lasting peace and security, it has also created awareness among Sierra Leoneans that a credible justice system can work to hold powerful people accountable.
However, the legacy of the Special Court is in danger of being undermined if greater attention is not paid to pressing issues that require urgent national, international, and donor support over the next six months, in advance of the court’s closing, following the conclusion of the Taylor proceedings.
A new report, Legacy: Continuing the Work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, based on research and interviews conducted by staff of the Open Society Justice Initiative from July 2007 to September 2011, identifies seven key remaining legacy and residual issues that require urgent national and international attention, most of which must be undertaken before the SCSL closes.
These issues include: conducting outreach on legacy and residual issues, ensuring the timely establishment of the Residual Special Court, implementing the proposed uses for the current SCSL facilities, articulating archive access and preservation policies, finalizing and funding the national witness protection unit, integrating SCSL jurisprudence into national law, and prosecuting lower-level perpetrators in the domestic courts.
The SCSL will be the first of the international tribunals set up since the end of the Cold War to close its doors.
It began operations in 2002 and has issued judgments against high level members of the warring factions: the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF). The Taylor trial is the only SCSL case to be tried outside the country—in The Hague, the Netherlands—due to concerns that holding his trial in Sierra Leone would be a threat to security in the West African region.
The Open Society Justice Initiative has been regularly monitoring events at the trial of Charles Taylor at www.charlestaylortrial.org. Closing arguments were presented in March and a judgment is expected by around the end of this year.