Top Officers of Special Court for Sierra Leone Describe Trial of Charles Taylor as Critical for Fragile Peace, Stability in West Africa

16 July 2009
SC/9707

Top Officers of Special Court for Sierra Leone Describe Trial of Charles Taylor as Critical for Fragile Peace, Stability in West Africa

16 July 2009
Security Council
SC/9707
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6163rd Meeting (AM)

top officers of special court for Sierra Leone describe trial of charles taylor

as critical for fragile peace, stability in west africa

 

President, Prosecutor Detail Achievements, Challenges in Security Council Briefing

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor was critical to preserving the fragile peace and stability of West Africa, the President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone told the Security Council this morning.

Briefing the Council on the Special Court’s activities, Judge Renate Winter said that it was now hearing Mr. Taylor’s defence, which had started this week, after completing the trial of cases against leaders of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).  According to the updated completion strategy for the Special Court, the trial judgement in the Taylor case would be delivered in July 2010 and the sentencing judgement, if necessary, one month later.  The appeals judgement would probably be delivered in February 2011.

The Special Court was considered an exemplary model of international justice, having achieved many “firsts” and set many precedents in the development of international criminal law since its inception, she said.  Through specific and sustained efforts, the Court had transferred expertise to Sierra Leoneans through a number of programmes, and its Outreach Section had made its legal proceedings a part of the country’s national discourse and heritage.

She went on to say that, in order to maintain international standards and successfully fulfil its original mandate, the Special Court was still bound by several legal obligations that would not terminate after the completion of trials and appeals.  With its Management Committee, the Special Court was working to determine a suitable arrangement to provide for residual issues.  It continued to rely on the Council’s indispensable support, which was more urgent today than ever before.

The Special Court needed approximately $30 million for the successful completion of its mandate, she continued.  Because the necessary residual mechanism must last as long as victims and witnesses needed protection, and until every sentence had been served, its long-term maintenance on the basis of voluntary contributions alone would be an ongoing challenge.  Without adequate funds, it would also be difficult to retain competent court personnel in order to efficiently run the Taylor trial.

Also briefing the Council, Special Court Prosecutor Stephen Rapp said that for the thousands of victims who had been mutilated, the tens of thousands murdered and the hundreds of thousands subjected to sexual violence, the Special Court offered justice by holding to account those alleged to bear the greatest responsibility for those crimes.  The trial of Charles Taylor was proceeding smoothly, with a high level of transparency, efficiency and fairness.  The accused would be assured of his right fully to contest the indictment against him.

Pointing out the “ground-breaking precedents” resulting from the Special Court’s activities, he said that, for the first time, the use of child soldiers had been recognized as an international crime, and perpetrators of attacks on United Nations peacekeepers had been convicted.  The Court had also pronounced the first ever convictions arising from the charge of sexual slavery, and recognized forced marriage as an inhumane act constituting a crime against humanity.

As envisioned by Council resolution 1315 (2000), he said, completion of the Court’s mandate would contribute to reconciliation and respect for the rule of law.  It would also send a powerful message that the international community strongly supported institutions established to hold those responsible for atrocities to account, and by doing so, deter the perpetration of such atrocities in the future, thus saving others from the violence, injury, and death visited on the innocent people of Sierra Leone.

In the subsequent discussion, Council members noted that it was fitting that they were considering the Special Court during the week in which the defence stage of Charles Taylor’s trial had begun.  They underlined the importance of the Special Court in fighting impunity for the most serious crimes against humanity, and in contributing to peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the subregion as a whole.  They appealed to the wider United Nations membership to ensure the provision of the necessary resources so that the Special Court could complete its mandate and the establishment of a residual mechanism.

The representative of the United Kingdom said the Special Court had participated in the re-establishment of the rule of law in Sierra Leone, and announced that his country stood ready to imprison Charles Taylor if he was convicted.  The representative of France added that the Taylor trial was exemplary in that it was the first involving a Head of State indicted while still in office.

Echoing other speakers, the representative of Costa Rica said the Taylor trial was a clear example that the long arm of the law also reached the highest levels.  Its conclusion was essential for ensuring peace and stability in the subregion.  He added that the Court’s work showed that the so-called “contradiction between peace and justice” did not exist.  On the contrary, justice was a decisive factor in ensuring sustainable peace.

Sierra Leone’s representative said his country had come a long way since the cessation of hostilities and had successfully organized three elections, among other things.  Sierra Leone was the first country to institute a hybrid Special Court and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow its people to seek justice and vent their frustrations.  The country thanked those members of the international community that had consistently supported the Special Court financially and morally, and appealed to them to continue to do so until it completed its deliberations.

Other speakers today were the representatives of Turkey, Croatia, Austria, United States, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Burkina Faso, Japan, Mexico, China, Libya and Uganda.

The meeting began at 10:15 and adjourned at 11:40 a.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Sierra Leone.

Briefings

RENATE WINTER, President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said that over the last six years the Court had issued, and the Chambers had confirmed, indictments against 13 people.  Eleven people had been arrested and transferred to the Court.  Two had died in custody, one had been killed in Liberia prior to being apprehended and the whereabouts of another remained unknown.  To date, the Special Court had concluded proceedings against eight of the remaining nine indictees in the first instance.

She said the Special Court had combined its proceedings into four main cases, three against the leaders of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which had been completed in Freetown with the conviction and sentencing of all five individuals concerned.  The Appeals Chamber was currently adjudicating the appeals in the RUF case and would deliver its judgement in October.  Upon delivery of that verdict, the Special Court would have completed all judicial proceedings conducted in Freetown.

In its final trial, that of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, the prosecution had closed its case in February and the defence had started presenting its evidence this week, she said.  Mr. Taylor was currently on the witness stand in The Hague, testifying in his own defence.  According to the updated completion strategy, the Special Court predicted that the trial judgement in the Taylor case would be delivered in July 2010 and the sentencing judgement, if necessary, one month later.

She projected that the Special Court would have completed all its judicial activities in February 2011, upon delivery of the appeals judgement in the Taylor case.  While it was not easy to predict the duration of trials, the Appeals Chamber had consistently adhered to the allocated time frame set out in the completion strategy, and had never taken longer than five months to conclude any appeal.  The Special Court was considered an exemplary model of international justice, having achieved many “firsts” and set many precedents in the development of international criminal law since its inception.  However, its impact on Sierra Leone extended well beyond the findings in its cases.

Through specific and sustained efforts, she continued, the Special Court had transferred expertise to Sierra Leoneans through a number of programmes, including capacity-building and police-investigation training on case management, courtroom interpretation, archiving, witness protection and detention standards.  Parliament’s enactment of three gender bills was a direct consequence of the Court’s work on gender issues, and all three laws would greatly improve the lives of women in the country.

The Special Court’s Outreach Section, known as the “Crown Jewel of the Court”, had made its legal proceedings a part of Sierra Leone’s national discourse and heritage, she said.  The Court was also helping the Government of Sierra Leone, wherever possible, in its efforts to ensure the sustainability of the Special Court site beyond its lifespan, with several potential uses of the site having been identified, including as a regional training centre for the rule of law and a memorial component for commemorating the victims of war.

To maintain international standards and successfully fulfil its original mandate, the Special Court was still bound by several legal obligations that would not terminate after the completion of trials and appeals, she said.  With the Management Committee, the Special Court was working to determine a suitable arrangement to provide for residual issues.  A small successor body would likely need to be set up to manage and perform such functions as sentence enforcement, archive maintenance, witness protection and assistance, and possible trial or transfer of the case against the single indictee still at large.

She said that, in the long-term, there was a need to consider sharing an administrative stage with another institution, particularly since many of the residual functions that would be performed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia were similar to those of the Special Court.  That would help ensure the sustainability of the successor body in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

The Security Council’s assistance would continue to be important in the future, she said, expressing gratitude for the Council’s adoption of resolutions 1688 (2006), which requested all States to cooperate in transferring Mr. Taylor to the Netherlands; 1626 (2005), which extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL); and 1750 (2007), which mandated UNMIL to provide support, with the consent of the Liberian Government, to the Special Court for activities conducted in Liberia.  The Special Court continued to rely on the Council’s indispensable support, which was more urgent today than ever before.

Despite efforts by the Special Court to contain costs and operate as efficiently as possible, its financial situation was most serious, she said.  In March 2009, the Secretary-General had informed Member States of his “grave concern” about the funding situation and had sought their urgent support.  Based on current available funds, the Special Court would experience a funding shortfall by the first week of August, which could disrupt its work, with disastrous consequences for the Council’s extensive peacebuilding efforts in Sierra Leone and Liberia.  That would jeopardize the fight against impunity and potentially call into question the collective commitment to international justice.

In total, the Special Court needed approximately $30 million to complete its mandate successfully, she said.  Because the necessary residual mechanisms must last as long as victims and witnesses needed protection, and until every sentence had been served, its long-term maintenance on the basis of voluntary contributions alone would be a great and ongoing challenge.  Fundraising had proven to be time-consuming and costly.  Much work must be accomplished in the next 18 months.  The final case must be concluded, after which the facilities and operations in Freetown would be kept at a minimum provided the Special Court could transfer convicted persons to an enforcing State in a timely manner.

Emphasizing that the Special Court must complete the Taylor trial, which was so critical to preserving the fragile peace and stability of West Africa, she said that, without adequate funds, it would be difficult to retain competent court personnel, who might depart for better-paid and longer-lasting employment, to the detriment of an efficiently run Trial Chamber.  The Special Court must also set up a residual mechanism ‑‑ the first of its kind ‑‑ that would be of use to other international courts when they reached their final stages, thus saving significant costs to the international community.

STEPHEN RAPP, Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said that for the victims ‑‑ the thousands mutilated, the tens of thousands murdered, the hundreds of thousands subjected to sexual violence ‑‑ the Special Court offered justice by holding to account those alleged to bear the greatest responsibility for those crimes.  After three multiple-accused trials had been completed in Freetown, the trial of Charles Taylor had commenced in 2008.  Some 91 individuals had travelled to The Hague to present their testimony.  The trial had proceeded smoothly, with a high level of transparency, efficiency and fairness.  This week, the defence case had commenced, with the accused taking the stand to begin his testimony.  He would be assured of his right fully to contest the indictment against him.  The Prosecution felt confident that the trial would come to judgement by mid-2010 and to finalization on appeal very early in 2011.

Turning to proceedings in Freetown, he said they had resulted in historic developments in international humanitarian law, including the groundbreaking precedent recognizing the use of child soldiers as an international crime.  In addition, the recent trial judgement in the RUF case included the first convictions in history for attacks on United Nations peacekeepers.  The Special Court had also pronounced the first ever convictions on the charge of sexual slavery, both as a war crime and a crime against humanity.  It had further recognized forced marriage as an inhumane act constituting a crime against humanity.  By alleging that that wider range of offences were among acts of terrorism, the Prosecution had been able to show that they had been committed as part of a strategy for dominating and instilling fear in the civilian population.

He said the Special Court represented a partnership between an African nation and the international community, in which 60 per cent of the workforce was Sierra Leonean and in which Sierra Leoneans held senior positions.  The Court also placed the highest priority on outreach ‑‑ in providing accurate information about its proceedings to the population throughout Sierra Leone, and about the Taylor case to the population in Liberia as well.  As important as it was to do justice, for all those that a court intended to serve, it was also important that justice be seen to be done.

Since the Court would be concluding its proceedings, the need for a mechanism to deal with residual issues must be addressed, he said.  For the Prosecution, that concerned the case of one indictee-at-large, AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma.  Although witnesses in the Taylor trial had testified to having heard reports that Koroma had been killed in Liberia, his remains had not been found and rumours about his whereabouts persisted in the subregion.  It would be unacceptable for the country and for international justice if Koroma were to surface after the Court closed.  The Prosecution had, therefore, been in discussion with the authorities in Sierra Leone and two other States to ensure that he could be prosecuted within a national system after the Court’s closure.

Another issue involved the serving of prison sentences in secure facilities that met international standards, he said.  The Government of Sierra Leone had expressed its wish that such sentences be served outside the country.  The Prosecution’s concern in that regard was for the safety of witnesses and Court personnel.  It was, therefore, necessary to reach sentence-enforcement agreements with States that would provide that the enforcing State would cover the costs or provide funding through the residual mechanism.  The Court and its Management Committee were working on proposals for a very small residual mechanism that might provide a model for other international courts.  Even if very small, however, funding must be secured.

While the funding of the residual mechanism must be addressed, the Court’s immediate financial situation might now be fairly characterized as “an impending crisis”, he said.  Even if all pledged donations for the current year came in early, funds would run dry before next year’s round of donations, and the Special Court would not have the resources necessary to complete its work.  Although the Council was not directly involved in financial issues, it was requested to consider urging Member States to make pledges and contributions so that the Special Court could conclude the RUF appeal in Freetown and the historic proceedings in the Taylor case in The Hague.

As envisioned by Council resolution 1315 (2000), the completion of the Special Court’s mandate would contribute to national reconciliation and respect for the rule of law.  It would also send a powerful message that the international community strongly supported institutions established to hold those responsible for atrocities to account, and by doing so, deter the perpetration of such atrocities in the future, thus saving others from the violence, injury, and death visited on the innocent people of Sierra Leone.

Statements

DAVID QUARREY (United Kingdom) said Sierra Leone had made significant progress, including the holding of elections in 2007, and was beginning to consolidate peace and stability.  The Special Court had participated in the re-establishment of the rule of law, and the United Kingdom, as one of its largest contributors, had participated in its Management Committee.  It was fitting that the Council was considering the Court during the week in which the trial against Charles Taylor had begun.  Mr. Taylor would receive a fair trial and the United Kingdom stood ready to imprison him if he was convicted.  It was critical for the integrity of the international justice process to establish a residual mechanism.  It was also essential that the international community ensure the necessary funding for the Special Court.  The United Kingdom urged all Member States to pledge the contributions needed as the Court had played an indispensable role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone.

FAZLI ÇORMAN (Turkey) said the trial of Charles Taylor represented one of the Special Court’s most significant cases.  With Sierra Leone now emerging from a difficult period and showing signs of peace and stability, Turkey appreciated the Court’s important role in efforts to end impunity and enhance the rule of law.  The Court contributed to peace and harmony, as well as regional stability.  In light of the Taylor trial, the continuation of the Court was more important than ever, as the trial would be a turning point in the fight to end impunity.   While it was to be hoped that the Court would complete its work within the set time frame, successful completion was more important than meeting deadlines.  A successful conclusion also depended on resources and continued contributions by the international community.  The establishment of a residual mechanism could be an example for other international courts.

NEVEN JURICA (Croatia) said the Special Court’s legal judgements and accomplishments represented a strong contribution to the global fight against impunity and to the creation and enforcement of international criminal law.  The prosecution of Charles Taylor was a major milestone which Croatia was following closely.  The Special Court’s efforts represented an excellent way to spread awareness and contribute to lasting peace in Sierra Leone.  Since the Court was funded voluntarily, adequate financing remained critical.

It was also important that the Court be able to make the necessary arrangements to address outstanding sentences and cases, he said, adding that his country supported its efforts to set up a residual mechanism to address such issues.  Croatia hoped that the Special Court’s work with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on the creation of an administrative mechanism to address residual functions would continue and be of mutual benefit and interest for all concerned.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING (Austria) said the Special Court was playing a pioneering role in combating impunity and strengthening the rule of law.  Its judgements had contributed greatly to international criminal law and international humanitarian law, particularly on the recruitment of child soldiers and forced marriage.  The Court’s serious financial situation was also of great concern, given that its funds would be exhausted by early August.  Austria, having been consistent in its financial contributions, including in the aftermath of the Secretary-General’s March appeal, called on all other States to help alleviate its dire financial situation.

He went on to stress that the Special Court must finish its work, including the Taylor case, at the earliest possible time, while also undertaking outreach.  Its work would not end with the completion of its last case.  Several residual functions would have to be performed, and Austria supported ongoing discussions to set up a small successor body, including for sentence enforcement and archive management.  Austria also supported the proposed trust fund to cover the upkeep of prisoners.  It had been noted that closing down an international criminal tribunal was a much more complex task then setting up a new one.

ROSEMARY DICARLO (United States) congratulated the Court officers on their achievements, noting that their briefings came at a critical juncture ‑‑ the start of Charles Taylor’s defence.  The Court’s completion strategy and the establishment of a residual mechanism remained a priority for the United States, which, as the largest contributor to the institution, encouraged all Member States to support it so that Sierra Leone and the wider region could sustain accountability.

Noting that the closing of the Special Court would end a chapter in Sierra Leone’s history, she said it was important for the country’s democratic development that all lessons of the past be recorded, stressing that the Court must play an important role in that regard.  Preparations for a residual mechanism should be efficient and cost-effective.  The Special Court had broken new ground in international law, including the recognition of the use of child soldiers and sexual slavery as crimes against humanity.

HOANG CHI TRUNG (Viet Nam), welcoming the continuing achievements of the Government of Sierra Leone in rebuilding stability, said the establishment of the Special Court had proved a positive contribution to the development of peace and security.  Viet Nam commended the Court for its implementation of a completion strategy for ongoing trials and for the precedents it had set in international law.  The Council should consider establishing a residual mechanism in the context of the completion strategies of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the Special Court had carried out serious work in international criminal law, demonstrating its effectiveness despite financial difficulties.  It had assisted the federal institutions of Sierra Leone in terms of justice and the reintegration of former combatants, and it had shown that peace and reconciliation in post-conflict societies were possible.  The Taylor trial was the most complex and political sensitive of the Special Court’s trials, and the Russian Federation was closely following its development.  The Special Court’s residual mechanism would be a compact and cost-effective structure.  Projects initiated by the Special Court in that area would become important components of a future special court.

MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said that in combating impunity in Sierra Leone, a country long ravaged by civil war, the Special Court was making a major contribution to lasting peace.  He congratulated the Special Court on its successes, despite the numerous difficulties it had experienced, including financial constraints.  Without cooperation, the present results would not have been achieved.  He welcomed the cooperation of ECOWAS and those in the international community that had provided funding for the Special Court’s essential functioning and which had contributed to the peacebuilding efforts of Sierra Leone.  He called on the international community to support the Special Court in implementing its completion strategy.

SHIGEKI SUMI (Japan) said it was timely to meet today in view of the recent commencement of the defence case in the Taylor trial.  Japan was strongly committed to the realization of justice and the rule of law at national and international levels, in which the International Tribunals had played an important role.  The closeness of the Special Court to the people of Sierra Leone, as exemplified in its outreach activities, had contributed to the people’s understanding of the procedures.  He hoped that through the continued efforts of the Court and contributing States, the Court could successfully complete its mandate.  The Special Court had been a pioneer.  The matter of residual functions was a challenge the Special Court must address.  That exercise could offer useful insights for the other International Tribunals.

CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) agreed that the Special Court had been a pioneer and a successful example of international justice.  Without a doubt, its most important work had been its positive impact on the people of Sierra Leone.  The Court had shown the population that the most serious crimes against international humanitarian law would not go unpunished, and its activities had confirmed that justice must accompany reconstruction.  The Special Court had also made a decisive contribution to the transition to peace and the rule of law, and had been key in efforts to ensure national reconciliation and reconstruction.  Of particular importance was its enormous contribution to carrying out international justice and setting limits to impunity for a former Head of State.  The international community must ensure the successful completion of the Court’s mandate.  Noting the Court’s urgent needs, he stressed the importance of combating impunity for the commission of the most serious crimes against humanity.

CHEN PEIJIE (China) said in the last two years the Special Court had made further progress in its work, with only two trials left to complete.  The goals of the completion strategy were coming into view, and it was feasible for the Special Court to conclude its work in 2011.  She expected that the Special Court would continue to work effectively and achieve the goals of the completion strategy in due time.  She hoped that States would provide financial contributions to the Court so that it could finish its work and undertake its residual functions.

ABDURRAHMAN MOHAMED SHALGHAM (Libya), agreeing that the Special Court had made tangible progress towards completing its work, expressed support for the measures it and its Management Committee had taken in such areas as amending the rules of procedure, evidence, support to court staff, and updating the strategy and dates of trials and appeals.  Despite that progress, States able to do so should render financial and human resources support to the Special Court.  He highly valued the impact of the Special Court on Sierra Leone’s legal system, but stressed the importance of bolstering national judicial capacities to secure State ownership of archives, whose importance transcended trial procedures.  The national judiciary in many States where crimes had been committed could now handle issues professionally, with the international community’s support.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said the seriousness of the crimes perpetrated during Sierra Leone’s civil war deserved a commensurate response.  At stake was the fight against impunity, and France had, therefore, provided full political support to the Special Court.  The Taylor trial was exemplary in that it was the first trial of a Head of State indicted while still in office.  It was being followed closely both in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which illustrated the tragic overlapping of events in both countries.  Since the Special Court wished to complete its work in 2010, the Council should express its position on its completion strategy, which should be financially sustainable.  The jurisdiction of Sierra Leone must take part in the residual mechanism while convicted persons served their sentences in other countries.

CHRISTIAN GUILLERMET (Costa Rica) noted the Special Court was the first of its kind to be established under an agreement between the United Nations and a Member State.  In the fight against impunity, it had also been first in many ways:  it was the first not to recognize amnesty; it had set limits on impunity for Heads of State; it had been first to recognize the use of child soldiers as an international crime; and it was the first international court to end its procedures and set up a residual mechanism that could serve as an example to other international tribunals.  The Taylor trial was a clear example that the long arm of the law also reached the highest levels.  Its conclusion was essential for ensuring peace and stability in the subregion.  The Court’s work showed that the so-called “contradiction between peace and justice” did not exist.  On the contrary, justice was a decisive factor in ensuring sustainable peace.

Council President RUHAKANA RUGUNDA (Uganda), speaking in his national capacity, said the Special Court could rightly claim to be an exemplary model of international criminal justice.  The challenges facing it must be dealt with properly to ensure the completion of its work.  There was no substitute for witness- and victim-protection programmes, even after the last sentences had been served.  Victims and the broader community must be informed at every stage of the process so that the healing process could start in the full knowledge that abusers would be punished for their transgressions.  Uganda was concerned that, on the basis of the funds currently available, the Court would experience a significant financial shortfall by the beginning of August.  Resources should be predictable and consistent; the Court should not have to be encumbered by fundraising, and its international partners should provide it with the necessary funding.

RUPERT DAVIES (Sierra Leone) said his country had come a long way since the cessation of hostilities.  It had been able successfully to organize three elections, the last of which had seen Ernest Bai Koroma become President and form the present Government.  Sierra Leone was the first country to institute a hybrid Special Court and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow its people to seek justice and vent their frustrations.  The country thanked those members of the international community that had consistently supported the Special Court financially and morally, and appealed to them to continue to do so until it completed its deliberations.

Concluding Remarks

Judge WINTER, stressing the importance of the meeting, thanked Council members for their continuing support while appealing to them not to forget the witnesses who had risked so much in coming forward to help complete the Court’s work.

Prosecutor RAPP thanked the Council for convening the briefings and for the interventions made, in particular members’ praise for the Special Court.  All those working for the Court would continue to do so until its mandate was completed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.