News from Africa

Making Justice Count: Assessing the impact and legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Sierra Leone and Liberia

Human Rights

Témoignages.re / 30 October 2012

The issuing of the Charles Taylor judgment and sentence brings the mandate of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), as the principal accountability mechanism to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone since November 1996, near to completion. As the Court winds down its activities, the importance of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s impact and legacy in Sierra Leone and Liberia is of utmost significance.

After the Charles Taylor sentence was issued at the end of May 2012, the SCSL, with funding from the European Union, commissioned a nationwide survey in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which was conducted on the impact and legacy of the SCSL by No Peace Without Justice and its partners, the Sierra Leone Institute for International Law (SLIIL), Manifesto 99, the Coalition for Justice and Accountability (CoJA) and the Liberian NGOs Network (LINNK).

NPWJ has a long standing commitment to Sierra Leone, including a wide-ranging program in the country from 2000 to 2004 that was designed to contribute to the accountability process for violations of international criminal law. That program contributed to the establishment and functioning of the Special Court and to strengthening Sierra Leonean society’s ability to address violations of human rights and humanitarian law, with a particular focus on outreach and conflict mapping. In recent years, NPWJ has been working in Sierra Leone on ICC issues, including implementing legislation and holding seminars and round table discussions, and on FGM. NPWJ will continue with its involvement in Sierra Leone to facilitate the government and local stakeholders participating in and influencing the processes for maintaining the rule of law, peace and stability.

Making Justice Count: Assessing the impact and legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Sierra Leone and Liberia

- The purpose of the survey was to capture people’s understanding about the mandate and operations of the SCSL and establish its impact through its judicial proceedings, its legacy work and its outreach program. The survey covered a range of areas relating to the SCSL’s impact and legacy, including peace, justice, the rule of law, redress, national law and perceptions relating to the trials and their impact in both countries.

- A sample of 2,841 people across Sierra Leone and Liberia were interviewed throughout June and July 2012 following the issuance of the sentencing judgment in the Taylor case, so as to capture people’s responses also to that. The respondents represented diverse walks of life, sexes and age groups, with an emphasis on ensuring the inclusion of historically overlooked voices, including women, young people and persons with disabilities.

- Overall, it was established that the SCSL has had a tremendous impact on the people of Sierra Leone and, to a lesser extent, the people of Liberia, partly because the SCSL is not based there and partly because outreach activities began later in Liberia. The SCSL has, on the whole, been successful in achieving what it set out to achieve, which – according to the majority of people in Sierra Leone and Liberia – is first and foremost to carry out prosecutions, as well as to bring justice, bring peace and establish the rule of law.

- The vast majority of people in Sierra Leone and Liberia believe that the SCSL has made a positive contribution towards peace and the rule of law in their countries. There have been challenges, especially in reaching people in rural areas and in maximising legacy activities, especially so the population knows about those activities, but on the whole, the results are very positive.

- More than 90% of respondents overall have heard of the SCSL and nearly 50% have participated in outreach activities at some point over the 10 years of the Court’s existence. Much of this success can be attributed to the work of the Outreach section and to the vision established during the early stages of the Court of it being an institution embedded in and responsive to the expectations and needs of the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia.

- The SCSL is preparing to close its doors, so the main recommendations from this survey consist of lessons learnt for other courts and tribunals, including the ICC.

- The main lesson learned is that outreach was essential for the Court to carry out its mandate and have an impact on the population; as such, outreach work by international courts and tribunals must receive sufficient funding through the regular budget, not through separate contributions, which was an enormous challenge for the SCSL.

- Also, outreach should be started at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably whenever an interest in a particular country is indicated or work begins in a particular country, and should as far as possible extend to encompass the whole country, irrespective of where crimes were committed.

- Another important lesson learned is that international courts and tribunals should be located in the country where the crimes were committed, or should at least hold some proceedings in that country, in order to bridge the inevitable gap between the court and the victims and population affected by the crimes.

- Finally, international courts and tribunals including the ICC should start planning for their legacy and completion from the moment they begin work and, preferably, have a well thought-out strategic plan for legacy and completion at the time that they begin their work in or with a situation country. This planning and implementation should be carried out with a wide range of actors to avoid unrealistic expectations of what they can deliver and maximise their impact and legacy.

THE HAGUE, Netherland, October 29, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)

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