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Press Conference by UN-Women, Special Court for Sierra Leone

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

9 October 2012

Hailing the strides made in gender justice by the Special Court set up to try atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war, a top United Nations official today called for the lessons learned during its proceedings to be documented and widely utilized in the continuing fight against impunity.

“The Court is exemplary in its contributions to the fight against gender violence and this effort requires ongoing support,” Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said at a Headquarters press conference following the Special Court’s briefing to the Security Council. (See also Press Release SC/10787)

“Through its charges and judgements to date, the Court has laid the foundations in international criminal law for the prosecution of forced marriage, sexual violence, sexual slavery and the recruitment and use of women as child soldiers,” she added.

Joining Ms. Bachelet at the press conference were Justice Shireen Avis Fisher, President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Chief Prosecutor Brenda J. Hollis of the Special Court, Court Registrar Binta Mansaray, Chief Defender Claire Carlton-Hanciles and Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala and Security Council President for October.

“For the first time in history, all four of the principals of an international criminal court are women,” Ms. Bachelet said, noting that UN‑Women had consistently called for greater representation of women at all levels of recovery and peacebuilding, including in the institutions of justice, as well as enhanced access to justice for women who had been victims of gender crimes. “The Special Court has achieved both of these goals,” she said, adding that in that way it had made significant contributions to the advancement of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women and peace and security.

She said much work had yet to be done, however, in addition to finishing the appeals process in the case of ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor. Still necessary was protection of witnesses, handover of the remaining tasks to a residual court, documentation and dissemination of lessons highly relevant to all ongoing efforts to end impunity for gender crimes, as well as for reconciliation in post-conflict situations.

Ms. Fisher described the Court’s accomplishments in putting in place the gender sensitivity necessary to encourage women victims to testify without the fear of re-traumatizing them. The Court had started off sensitive to women’s issues because women’s groups were instrumental in its creation, as the sexual violence had not stopped when the fighting ended, she said.

The Court still had responsibility for the protection of the witnesses that had put their trust in it, she stressed. Communities connected to perpetrators had become emboldened by the end of the mandate. It was important to communicate to all such communities that witness interference would be investigated and result in contempt charges. Cases were already in process to that effect.

Unfortunately, she said, the Court could have great difficulties getting funding for such sustained activities after its successful completion. “If we are successful, we will be invisible,” she said, adding that without funding, promises might be broken and people might get hurt.

Ms. Mansaray spoke of the awareness campaigns that had to be carried out country-wide in Sierra Leone to explain how justice was served by only prosecuting those with the greatest responsibility for the atrocities. Only 13 persons had prosecuted, after all, and nine brought to trial, while some 45,000 combatants had been demobilized. Women who had suffered gang rapes and seen their children killed wanted the foot soldiers who had committed such acts to be brought to justice.

“We had to show that by bringing the commanders to justice, we are brining the foot soldiers to justice,” she said. The women who had suffered might still want more people indicted, but they could see their suffering acknowledged as parts of the trials were excerpted and disseminated. The outreach activities showed them that justice was being done.

Mr. Rosenthal, finally, reported that the Council gave the Special Court the broadest support he had ever seen expressed, and rightly so, because the Court had achieved its mandate objectives in a joint effort carried out by a country and the international community. Pointing to the presidential statement read at the Council meeting that morning, he said that was an effort supported by the body that had a very successful outcome.

In answer to questions about the possible prosecution of war lords in Liberia, who, it was claimed, were holding key positions in Government, Ms. Bachelet said that women should always have access to justice and she would support the efforts of any country to work with Governments and civil society to end impunity and provide such access.

Every peace agreement, she added, however, provided for different mechanisms to handle gender-based violence. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN‑Women was working for the creation of mobile tribunals. In general, UN‑Women was trying to get more women participating in peace talks and in conflict resolution, so that their concerns were included in peace agreements and gender justice was better served.

On the dissenting opinion of a Justice on the Charles Taylor case, the speakers could not comment extensively, they said, because of the ongoing appeal, though Ms. Mansaray noted that the Special Court’s statute allowed judicial dissent from the majority decision that determined the outcome. On using funds recouped from Mr. Taylor to pay reparations to victims, Prosecutor Hollis said that the Court’s statute required that links be established between specific assets and losses on the part of victims. It was difficult for the Court to establish those links, and the assets in question were, in any case, very hard to trace.

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For information media • not an official record

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