Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Completing the Work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone

In yesterday’s post, I summarized interesting developments at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) (photo credit: SCSL) as it prepares for closure and transition into the Residual SCSL, as set out in the Eighth Annual Report of the President of the SCSL. Today, I am looking at the recently-issued report by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) titled “Legacy: Completing the Work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone”.
The OSJI report contains some interesting information on current efforts to establish the SCSL’s legacy and on the transition to the Residual SCSL.
Residual SCSL
The Residual SCSL will be created after the end of any appeals in the Charles Taylor case. The Taylor trial judgment is expected by the end of this year, and any appeals judgment by mid-2012. After the closure of the SCSL, the Residual SCSL will take over residual matters such as victim protection, monitoring of those convicted by the SCSL and serving sentences, management of the SCSL archives, conducting contempt of court proceedings, and tracking reports on the Court’s remaining indictee, Johnny Paul Koroma (thought to be dead). The Residual SCSL is separate from the International Residual Mechanism to be created for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, as set out in Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010). The OSJI report calls upon the Sierra Leonean Parliament to ratify the Agreement on the Residual SCSL, entered into by the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone in August 2010, as soon as possible. Early ratification is important, in order to iron out details of how the mechanism will work and what exactly it will do. For example, the report notes that the Principal Defender has raised questions regarding the involvement of her office in the work of the Residual SCSL, such as on implementation of sentences, family visits to convicted persons and continuing outreach.
The OSJI report also contains recommendations regarding the SCSL archives. The SCSL archives include, at present, approximately 1000 boxes of materials, including judicial records, court transcripts, and audiovisual materials such as DVDs and audio cassettes. The report notes that the SCSL faced considerable challenges in maintaining its archives, given that the SCSL had no specific archiving room [note: this should be planned for in future such tribunals]. As well, the sporadic supply of electricity meant that there was no capacity to keep a constant temperature. This is why the archives have been transferred to The Hague under an agreement between the SCSL Registrar, the Government of Sierra Leone and the Government of the Netherlands. According to the OSJI report, the SCSL archives are currently stored with the Nuremberg trial records in the Dutch National Archives. Under the Agreement creating the Residual SCSL, these originals can someday be transferred back to Sierra Leone if appropriate facilities are built to protect and store the archive. An archive access policy is expected to be defined in the coming months, before the closure of the Court. The OSJI report rightfully points out that this policy should contain ways in which the Residual SCSL can update the public archives – for example, by revisiting redaction decisions after a certain amount of time has elapsed.
The OSJI Report also contains a number of recommendations to get the Residual SCSL started in a timely fashion:
  • Begin the process of hiring the Residual SCSL staff, especially the President, Registrar and Prosecutor;
  • Establish the Management Committee for the Residual SCSL; and
  • Fundraise for the Residual SCSL.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the SCSL is involved in a number of legacy projects. Part of the site of the Special Court will be turned into a Peace Museum on the closure of the Court. Planning for that Museum is underway – for example, a competition has been launched for the design of the Museum’s memorial - but the OSJI report recommends that current planning and fundraising for the Museum intensify. The Peace Museum will likely host a copy of the SCSL’s public records, but there is also discussion that the Museum might host the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. There is also discussion that the records relating to the civil war and the various peace processes would be sought from the UN peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone, UNICEF, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ECOWAS, ECOMOG, various diplomatic missions in Sierra Leone, academics and NGOs. While it seems unlikely that anything other than documents already made public would be provided to the Museum in response to this request, even so, if all of these documents were collected in one place and were catalogued and preserved appropriately, the Museum could become an incredibly important place for Sierra Leoneans, researchers, academics, the media and civil society organizations interested in issues related to the country’s armed conflict. That said, it is not clear yet whether the Museum will have the appropriate archival conditions to prevent deterioration of the materials due to Sierra Leone’s heat, humidity and regular power outages.
The SCSL Registry is currently involved in a legacy project to help train individuals for a domestic National Witness Protection and Assistance Unit. The OSJI report indicates that the permanent location for the main office of this Unit will be within the SCSL premises, and it is hoped that the Unit will be operational by December of this year, especially as it is meant to assist the Residual SCSL in fulfilling its continuing witness protection obligations. However, the Unit does not yet have funding; funding is being sought for the first five years of the Unit’s operation. After five years, the Unit is meant to be funded through the Government’s national budget.
On legacy issues, the OSJI report recommends that:
  • Outreach become more robust, particularly around the issuance of the Charles Taylor trial judgment and any appeals judgment and on the Court’s legacy projects such as the Peace Museum. There is still outreach going on – see this news report of outreach in Liberia – but it becomes more difficult as the court’s staffing shrinks.
  • The SCSL’s legacy can only be maintained with continued outreach: the Residual SCSL must therefore have the ability to continue outreach.
The report ends: "it is critical that the SCSL is not left to stumble at the final hurdle", closure. The SCSL and its Management Committee have been working hard to prepare for closure, but the OSJI report indicates that there is a great deal more work to be done.


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