- While the special court for war crimes in Sierra Leone is officially backed by the UN and its member states, who are to help providing funds, lack of financial means is now impeding its work. Human rights groups now voice concern that the important court may lose its capability to do its work.
The US-based group Human Rights Watch today warns that the Sierra Leonean war crimes court is \"impeded by lack of funds.\" The UN-backed court desperately needs funding to ensure justice for victims of atrocities committed during the country\'s 11-year civil war, the group said in a report issued today. The Special Court for Sierra Leone today resumes the trial of leaders of the government-backed militia Civil Defence Forces.
The UN and its member states - particularly the United States and Britain - \"should fund the Special Court\'s budget so that it can complete its operations,\" the human rights group says. \"They should also increase funding to several key areas of the court to ensure that it can deliver justice fairly and effectively.\"
- Justice is crucial for victims of atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s civil war and for building respect for the rule of law across West Africa, said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch. \"The Special Court has already made significant strides, but lack of funds could undermine its ability to carry out justice,\" she added.
The Special Court is charged with bringing to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, other serious violations of international humanitarian law and certain violations of Sierra Leonean law committed since November 1996. Created through an agreement between the UN and the Sierra Leonean government, the Special Court is said to represent a significant new international justice model, often referred to as a \"mixed\" or \"hybrid\" tribunal.
Since the Special Court began functioning in 2002, the court\'s staff has made a great effort to ensure accountability despite scarce resources and lack of adequate facilities. The court has investigated and indicted 13 individuals from three warring factions - the government-backed Civil Defence Forces, as well as the two rebel groups, the Revolutionary United Front and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council.
The court has also issued a number of precedent-setting decisions on international law. For example, the court ruled in May that heads of state are not immune from prosecution before an international court. This ruling removed any legal basis for Nigeria to continue to harbour former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is indicted by the court on war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, Human Rights Watch today voiced concerns about several aspects of the court\'s operations, many of which relate to insufficient funding by donors. The operations of the Defence Office, the Witness and Victim Support Unit, the Chambers, and the Outreach section had been \"constrained by inadequate resources,\" the group says. The court established a Defence Office to help ensure protection of the rights of the accused, but lack of resources for defence teams had \"hampered case preparation.\"
The Office of the Prosecutor also had \"too narrowly interpreted the court\'s mandate to exclude prosecution of regional or mid-level commanders who were notorious for their extreme brutality against civilians,\" Human Rights Watch said. \"Insufficient witness protection and delay in establishing the second Trial Chamber raise additional concerns,\" the group added.
Furthermore, the absence from the court of former Liberian President Taylor - who is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in contributing to the death, rape, abduction, and mutilation of thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone\'s civil war - threatened to \"undermine the court\'s accomplishments,\" the US group claimed.
- By continuing to harbour Charles Taylor, Nigeria is sending the message that some individuals should be above the law when it comes to the most serious crimes, said Ms Keppler. \"Nigeria should hand Taylor over to the Special Court immediately. It\'s time for the UN and member states to call on Nigeria to do the right thing,\" she added.
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