The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is the third international criminal court to be ever created, was created through signature of an unprecedented bilateral treaty concluded between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone in January 2002. With a general mandate to deliver credible justice for the atrocities experienced in the small West African nation during a decade long civil war, the SCSL was designed to serve as an improvement on the existing ad hoc criminal tribunal model first deployed by the United Nations Security Council to address international crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in 1993 and 1994 respectively.
For this reason, among others, the Statute of the SCSL contained many novel features. As part of this, it was the first independent tribunal to be given a circumscribed personal jurisdiction to prosecute only those “bearing greatest responsibility” for serious international/national crimes; the first modern tribunal to sit in the locus criminis – the place where the crimes were committed; the first to be funded entirely through voluntary contributions from UN member states; the first to provide scope for the affected state (Sierra Leone) to appoint some of its principal officials, such as, some judges and the deputy prosecutor; the first to be overseen by an independent management committee comprised of non-party states; as well as the first to operate alongside a truth and reconciliation commission in a post-conflict situation anywhere in the world.
Today, the SCSL, which was touted early on as a model for future ad hoc criminal tribunals, has completed its trials and therefore wound down its operations as of December 2013. This made it the first of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals to accomplish its mandate. Among its key achievements are the trials of various leaders deemed most responsible for the international crimes committed in Sierra Leone. The jewel in the crown of the SCSL, of course, is the successful trial and conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor who was found guilty in April 2012 on an 11-count indictment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. In September 2013, the Appeals Chamber upheld the guilty verdict and sentence against Taylor.
In light of its closure in December 2013, in this new book that I edited, The Sierra Leone Special Court and Its Legacy: The Impact for Africa and International Criminal Law, we carry out the first comprehensive assessment of the SCSL’s contribution and legacy both to Sierra Leoneans, in whose name it was asked to render impartial justice, and the international community, whose generous anti-impunity dollars made its work possible. The concept behind the book was simple. Some of the foremost academic and practitioner experts on the SCSL were invited to step back and reflect deeply on the tribunal’s legacies and impact for Africa and international criminal law.
Consistent with the SCSL’s so-called “hybridity”, the book aimed to reflect the dual national and international character and ownership of the SCSL process. It therefore sought to bring out both international and Sierra Leonean perspectives on the successes and limitations of the SCSL Model, and to the extent possible, to identify some of the key lessons learned for other African post-conflict situations and the International Criminal Court. As such, the volume convened a carefully selected list of invited academics, tribunal practitioners, policy-makers and civil society actors who have all participated, collaborated with, or closely followed, the work of the SCSL from its earliest days through to its twilight days.
In view of this focus, the 37 chapters in the book consider technical legal questions but also big picture issues regarding criminal accountability for international crimes that are the traditional domain of legal academics and practitioners. The topics covered included, among others, the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary funding for future ad hoc courts in light of the SCSL’s experiences; the successes, and limitations, of SCSL institutional innovations such as the Office of the Principal Defender and the Outreach Section; and the strengths and weaknesses of the jurisprudential contributions that the Court’s decisions and judgments have made to the trans-judicial dialogue on international criminal law and justice.
After careful assessments, the contributors to the book including former prosecutors, defense lawyers, and various national and international personalities identified many lessons learned from the Sierra Leone Tribunal experiment for the West African nation as well as the international community. The positive impact of the tribunal, all of which are covered as separate chapters by different authors, include its rulings on the immunity of sitting heads of state, the war crime entailing the conscription and use of underage children in war, forced marriage as a crime against humanity, and the war crimes of attacks against United Nations peacekeepers. These legal precedents, which are noteworthy because of the infancy of international criminal law as a body of law, are likely to serve as helpful precedents for other international tribunals prosecuting such crimes to use in the future.