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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 25 May 2005

SIERRA LEONE: Special Court needs $30 million to see war crimes trials through

DAKAR, 25 May 2005 (IRIN) - Sierra Leone's Special Court needs international donors to stump up around $30 million so that the trials of suspected war criminals from the country's brutal civil conflict can be completed, registrar Robin Vincent said on Wednesday.

"We currently have funding until the end of 2005, and beyond that we are setting our stall out for $30 million," Vincent told IRIN by telephone from New York, fresh from briefing the United Nations Security Council on the funding crunch.

Sierra Leone's Special Court aims to punish those bearing the "greatest responsibility" for the successive waves of slaughter, rape and mutilation that rolled across this West African nation for a decade.

Nine men from the warring groups are currently in the dock at a special courthouse, built from scratch on a hillside in the capital Freetown.

Construction of the court house and an adjoining prison began in 2002, the year the civil war officially ended, and the first trials finally got under way in June last year.

Two men indicted by the UN-backed court -- former Liberian president Charles Taylor and former Sierra Leonean military head of state Johnny Paul Koroma -- are still at large.

The Special Court's top brass were in New York this week to brief the Security Council on progress and to warn that unless member states dug deep into their pockets, the whole judicial process could be in jeopardy.

"Without more funds, and unless donating countries come forward, the Special Court is threatened with financial collapse," the court's president Emmanuel Ayoola said.

"The international community can not afford to let the Special Court fail," Ayoola went on. "Failure would send a negative message to those struggling to combat the culture of impunity; and undermine respect for human rights... thus emboldening any who might plan to embark on a course of conduct that was in deliberate violation of international humanitarian law."

There are currently three trials in progress in Freetown.

One involves the leaders of the pro-government Civil Defence Force (CDF), including Sam Hinga Norman, a former defence and interior minister in the current government.

The second trial involves three surviving leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel movement, which made the amputations of civilians its signature.

The third concerns members of a military junta known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which tried at one time to form an alliance with the RUF .

Appeals could run to 2007

Initially the Specially Court had hoped to wrap up its legal proceedings by the end of 2005. But factoring in time for convicted criminals to appeal against the verdicts, it is now not expected to close its doors until the first half of 2007.

However, officials said that even then, there would still be witnesses to protect and sentences to enforce.

Vincent, the registrar, told IRIN that the Special Court had so far received almost $75 million in funding -- $55 million in voluntary contributions from various countries, and another $20 million from a special UN subvention fund.

That UN fund was currently considering a request for a further $13 million, he said, but another $30 million was needed from donors.

Vincent said that would bring the cost of running the Sierra Leone Special Court over its entire lifespan to around $120 million. He pointed out that this was how much it cost to run the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania for a single year.

The registrar said he was confident that donors would come up with the necessary cash for the Sierra Leone court, which went into the history books as the first international war crimes tribunal to sit U.N.-appointed foreign judges alongside local ones in the country where the atrocities took place.

"We believe there's a very strong commitment to the court from the US, the UK, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. And the vibes we are getting from them make us hopeful that they will come up with a significant amount," Vincent told IRIN.

Another avenue the Special Court is pursuing is raising funds from private foundations. To that end it has hired a funding consultant.

"Our fundraising strategy is taking us into the world of private foundation sponsorship for the first time. Foundations might be interested in funding specific aspects of the Special Court's work like witness protection and outreach programmes, elements that leave a legacy," Vincent said.

He said the Special Court hoped to organise a pledging conference in New York at the end of June or beginning of July.

"The progress we have made should warrant confidence in us both operationally and fiscally," he said.

Taylor still beyond reach

The court is still seeking to arrest Koroma, the leader of the AFRC military junta that briefly overthrew elected president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 1997 midway through the civil war. He has been in hiding for the last two years.

The court also wants to extradite Taylor, the former Liberian president and warlord, from Nigeria. He stands accused of fuelling the Sierra Leone conflict by funding the RUF rebel movement through an illicit trade in guns for diamonds.

The remaining two of the 13 people originally indicted by the court -- RUF leader Foday Sankoh and his military commander Sam Bockarie -- have since died.

Taylor is wanted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity but Nigeria granted him political asylum in 2003 when he agreed to step down as president and leave Liberia at the end of its 14-year civil war.

The US House of Representatives recently passed a non-binding resolution urging Nigeria to turn Taylor over to the court. US President George W Bush also raised the matter with his Nigerian counterpart Olusegun Obasanjo at the White House earlier this month.

"It is clear that until Charles Taylor is brought to justice, he will be an immediate, clear and present danger and a threat to peace and security in not only Liberia but the entire West African region," Alan White, the court's chief of investigations, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

After the briefing, the current president of the Security Council, Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark, did not mention Taylor directly but said the 15-nation body supported the Special Court's work.

"Council members... underlined the importance of ensuring that all those who have been indicted by the Court appear before it, strengthening the stability of Sierra Leone and the sub-region and bringing an end to impunity," she said in a statement.

Although Nigeria has resisted calls to extradite Taylor to Sierra Leone, it has pledged to send him back to Liberia to face trial if that country's new government, due to be elected in October, calls for his extradition to face criminal charges in Monrovia.

[ENDS]

 

This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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