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PRESS CONFERENCE BY SIERRA LEONE COURT PRESIDENT

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 May 2005

With the Special Court for Sierra Leone about to end its first mandate at the end of 2005, it faced several challenges that needed to be addressed, including those of funding, security and cooperation in the transfer of indictees, the President of the Court told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.

Briefing correspondents on his presentation to the Security Council today, Emmanuel Ayoola, who was joined by the Special Court’s Registrar, Robin Vincent, and Chief Prosecutor, David Crane, said he had stressed the need for the Council to address those issues. As the Court prepared to end the first part of its mandate in 2005 and enter the final stage of its mandate in 2006, he thought it had been opportune time to brief the Council. It had been a good session and he was greatly encouraged by the Council members’ support for the Special Court.

The Special Court was a unique institution distinguished from existing international criminal Tribunals in several respects, he said. A treaty-based, hybrid institution, the Special Court was located in the country in which the conflict had taken place. At the time of its inception, the site of the Special Court had been a wasteland. One would be surprised to see what the site looked like today. Council members had also noted the Special Court’s efficiency in carrying out its mandate, with several speakers describing it as a good model for institutions in the international criminal justice system, he added.

What countries facing legal, judicial problems could use the Sierra Leone Court model? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Ayoola said there were several models in the international criminal justice system. While it was difficult to predict where the next conflict would emerge, if one were looking for a moderate sized institution located in the country in which the conflict had taken place, the Special Court could serve as model. Many factors converged in determining what the nature of such an institution could be. Several would be beyond his remit, as there would be many political questions.

Also responding to the question, Mr. Vincent said, if the Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia were seen as first generation courts, the Sierra Leone Court could be seen as a second generation court and the International Criminal Court as a third. There was a close working relationship with the Special Court and the two international Tribunals, as well as between the Special Court and the International Criminal Court. Even now, in the autumn years of the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia Tribunals, those Tribunals were looking to the Special Court to see what it had learned, just as the Special Court looked to the Tribunals. Members of the International Criminal Court were also fairly regular visitors to the Special Court. “Sadly, should there be a need for a court similar to the Special Court, then I’m pretty sure they would learn from our experiences”, he said.

Looking to the future, the Special Court would want to see impunity stamped out wherever it reared its ugly head, Mr. Crane added. It was important to note that the international community now had a model of an umbrella-like court -- the International Criminal Court -- and an excellent model for a regional court, which countries and regions could use as a court of first resort, as opposed to a court of last resort, such as the International Criminal Court. Mankind now had two useful ways to face down the beast of impunity in the future.

Was the Special Court looking at a financial shortfall and would the Special Court work as a model for Sudan? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Ayoola said he believed the Sudan question had been taken out of the areas of discussion, because there had been the reference of Darfur to the International Criminal Court. Whether the Special Court model would have worked for the Sudan was a matter of speculation and personal opinion. Personally, he believed it probably would have worked in the Sudan. The advantage of the Special Court model was that it was fashioned to be hybrid, in the sense that the local community could see it as their court, as well as an international criminal court. The Court had received tremendous support and confidence from the local community. That was not to say that the International Criminal Court model would not work or was not efficient. He was just saying that there were several options and it was up to the international community to decide which of the options would be available in certain circumstances and situations.

There was a linkage between the various models and funding, he said. Unlike the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia Tribunals, both United Nations agencies, the Special Court was funded by voluntary rather than assessed contributions. Against a four-year budget of $104 million, the Special Court had received some $54.9 million in its first three years of operation, resulting in a tremendous shortfall. Without more funds, and unless donating countries come forward, the Special Court was threatened with financial collapse. It was a serious issue which needed to be discussed with the Council. If the Court were to collapse due to a lack of funds, it would send a very negative message to everyone interested in criminal justice.

Mr. Vincent added that it was necessary to remain optimistic in such a situation. The Court had remained optimistic throughout its short life. The Special Court had had funding for the first two years from voluntary contributions. Thanks to the initiative of the Secretary-General to use a subvention grant under the United Nations programme budget for special political missions, the Special Court was funded through 2005. Beyond that, the Court would have to return to voluntary contributions. He thanked all States that had supported the Court. It did not matter how much they gave, just that they were prepared to give. The Special Court had enjoyed great support. It was just a pity that it had not been sufficient to keep the Court going. Even in four years, the Special Court would have spent as much as other tribunals had spent in one year. That was not a criticism, but a statement of fact.

The original budget estimate for the Court was much lower than $104 million, a correspondent noted. What had happened to bring up the costs?

Responding, Mr. Vincent noted that the original estimate put to interested States was for $114 million over three years. That had been put down by the group of interested States. A revised estimate of some $57 million –- half the amount -- had then been presented. That amount had been seen as acceptable, as opposed to feasible. Built on 11.5 barren acres of land in Freetown, with the communications and infrastructure capacity to investigate and prosecute any number of cases, the Court at that time would have been a “steal”. In terms of finances, the Special Court had lowered the international bar. In just four years, the Special Court would have done everything and left a legacy for the people of Sierra Leone in terms of a very well developed judicial site.

Aside from Charles Taylor, how many indictees remained to be transferred? a correspondent asked.

Mr. Crane said that there were 13 current indictments and two had been withdrawn. Two indictees were currently at large, namely, Charles Taylor, who was in Nigeria, and the leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, Johnny Paul Koroma.

Responding to a series of questions about Mr. Taylor, the former President of Liberia, Mr. Crane said the Court was not asking for extradition, as it was a relationship between two domestic States. The Special Court was an international war crimes tribunal with an international warrant for his arrest, as well as an Interpol red notice. Extradition was not the issue: the issue was building a political framework by which an international war criminal, terrorist and meddler could be turned over to an international tribunal for a fair and transparent trial. He had been dialoguing with Council members on the parameters for that. The Security Council was seized of three key matters, namely, funding, security and the transfer of all indictees not turned over to the Court for a fair trial. A Chapter VII resolution had been discussed as a legal instrument by which that could take place.

Asked what such a resolution would say, Mr. Crane said it was important to understand that the issue was not about Nigeria but about Charles Taylor. Nigeria had shown great leadership in taking him out, so that Liberia could move forward with peace. A draft resolution would note the fact that Nigeria had showed greater leadership and patience in taking Charles Taylor, also noting that Mr. Taylor was a threat to international peace and security and calling for his transfer for a fair and transparent trial. It had been an ongoing dialogue. The solution was not legal, but political.

Asked whether the Council’s statement today underlining the importance of ensuring that all indicted appeared before the Court was a precursor to a resolution, Mr. Crane said he could not speak on behalf of the Council. He had been encouraged by the Council’s focus. The Special Court was located where the crimes had taken place. The Council was aware of that and felt it was important that all indictees be turned over to the Court.

Mr. Crane added that when he had stepped off the airplane with three suitcases and no place to live or work, to create, along with Robert Vincent and Alan White, the Chief of Investigations, the Special Court, it had not been his intention to run into gunrunners, diamond dealers or terrorists of all sorts. But, when an international legal institution was placed in a part of world where impunity ran rampant, it would run into all sorts of things. Within a month of arrival, they had run into Al-Qaida. Al-Qaida had been in West Africa and continued to be there. Charles Taylor had been harbouring Al-Qaida members, including those allegedly involved in taking down the United States embassies in the United Republic of Tanzania and Kenya.

Also responding, Alan White said a major concern was that from November 2004 the Special Court had been receiving credible and reliable information that Mr. Taylor was trying to destabilize the region, in particular, Guinea. That had been reported in November and December. In January, the plot had gone down exactly as the Court’s sources had reported with the assassination attempt of President Conté. Those same sources continually reported that Mr. Taylor was actively involved in trying to destabilize the region and that there would be another attempt very soon. The international community was now aware of that. Until Mr. Taylor was brought to justice, he would be a clear and present danger to peace and security, not only in Liberia, but to the entire West Africa region.

Continuing, Mr. Crane noted that Mr. Taylor had flown to Ouagadougou to meet with a candidate for Liberia’s presidency. Money had been exchanged to support the candidacy of Francis Galawolo, who soon after announced his candidacy. The money had been sent through an Al-Qaida operative. It was important to remember that Mr. Taylor could receive whoever he wanted. There were no restrictions on his travel. He was not a prisoner in Nigeria and he took advantage of those opportunities. He was supposedly looking to leave soon, if Guinea fell.

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