IntLawOn October 9th, Guatemala, as this month’s President of the UN Security Council, convened a meeting to discuss the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). The SCSL is expected to close in approximately one year, shortly after the completion of appellate proceeding in the Charles Taylor case in September 2013, so this meeting focused on taking stock of the Court’s achievements and the court’s transition into the Residual SCSL.
There were several representatives of the SCSL present at the discussion, including the President, Justice Shireen Avis Fisher, Prosecutor Brenda Hollis, Registrar Binta Mansaray, and the Head of the Defence Office, Claire Hanciles. President Fisher (pictured right, photo credit) noted that all four SCSL principals are female – the first time in the history of international criminal tribunals.
President Fisher also highlighted an interesting independent nationwide survey conducted in Sierra Leone and Liberia at the end of May, designed to measure the impact and legacy of the SCSL. In that survey, 79% of the people surveyed believed that the SCSL has accomplished its mandate – President Fisher credits the SCSL’s extensive outreach program for this success.
As well, 91% of Sierra Leoneans and 78% of Liberians surveyed believe that the SCSL has contributed to bringing peace in their countries. This certainly is positive news for the SCSL at a time when it is working to cement its legacy. President Fisher also stressed that the SCSL model is proof that positive complementarity works – a nod to the ongoing discussion in international criminal law circles of how national jurisdictions can utilize outside assistance to undertake prosecutions for serious crimes.
Some common themes ran through the comments of President Fisher, Prosecutor Hollis, the Government of Sierra Leone and Security Council Member States, especially relating to funding and gender-sensitive justice. President Fisher announced that the SCSL is facing a $15 million shortfall in funding to conclude the court’s work. This financial crisis is making it difficult for the SCSL to plan for its completion and transition to a Residual SCSL. The US indicated that it is contributing a further $2 million in 2012, amounting to an overall contribution of $83 million since the court’s inception. Another major donor, the UK, stressed that “[f]unds are needed urgently. Longer-term, the Residual Special Court requires secure and sustainable funding in order to continue to protect witnesses, manage the detention of those convicted and protect archives.” It stated that the “United Kingdom is considering all funding options for the Special Court and the Residual Special Court and we urge other members of the Council, and all Member States, to do so as well.” While it is not clear what those funding options are, it is hoped that they relate to steady and reliable funding sources.
Like the SCSL, the Residual SCSL is to be funded through voluntary contributions. This leaves the Residual SCSL open to the same funding shortfalls continually faced by the SCSL over the past decade. President Fisher made an impassioned plea for attention to the Residual SCSL, stressing that “[r]esidual responsibilities are not an afterthought or burden.” Rather, they are absolutely crucial: if SCSL witnesses are not protected, this will have a negative impact on witness participation at all other international courts; if the archives are not protected, revisionist history will fill the void; and if the sentences of those convicted by the SCSL are not properly supervised, then the SCSL’s reputation as a just institution will erode, undermining the moral authority of all of its past work.
Many statements also recognized the ways in which the SCSL has contributed to gender-sensitive international criminal justice. For example, the UK welcomed “the way in which the court has developed gender-sensitive approaches to witness support and outreach in partnership with local women’s organizations and resources.” The US praised the groundbreaking role of the SCSL in recognizing sexual slavery as a serious crime. President Fisher pointed to the court’s recognition of forced marriage and sexual violence as a form of terrorism. These advances were also hailed by UN Women, both in a press release and in comments made to the press by Michelle Bachelet following the SCSL meeting in the Security Council.
At the end of the meeting, the President of the Security Council issued a statement, reiterating the Council’s strong support for the SCSL, and commending the court for strengthening stability in Sierra Leone and the subregion. It also recognized the need to address residual matters after the closure of the court, and took note of the SCSL’s “ongoing and urgent need for financial support”, emphasizing the need for further voluntary contributions to allow the court to complete its mandate.
SCSL officials do not often appear before the Security Council. The meeting on October 9th was therefore important for the SCSL, not only as a reminder to states that the court desperately needs funds, but also to help raise awareness about its important work, its achievements, and its reach beyond the confines of the courtroom.