International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Sierra Leone

Visualizing the Impact of International Tribunals

Take a look at this visually impressive report on the impact of international tribunals, authored by Daniel McLaughlin and published by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice).

tribunals map

It graphically presents data on the atrocities, tribunals and cases, which gives you a sense of both their relative scope and impact. The author explains that

“despite the tribunals’ grasp on the popular imagination, they are the subject of significant misconceptions and confusion. Much of the media coverage dedicated to their work remains superficial, at best, and largely muddle over key distinctions between various tribunals, past and present.”

The report also provides a comparative cost analysis with other major events, like the Olympics or  US Presidential election. Do the results surprise you?

intl courts costs

How does this data aid in our evaluation of international tribunals? Based on this and assigned readings in class, how should we evaluate the legitimacy and effectiveness of international tribunals?

The (Semi?) Success of Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, a country formerly ravaged by faction and a slumping economy, recently held a presidential election. The Economist published a piece describing the significance of this latest election, which resulted in incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma accreting 58.7% of the vote, clearing the 55% needed to win outright. The election proceeded without much of the internal violence predicted by the international community, and Koroma has now been democratically installed at the helm of a country that is beginning to show real signs of progress.

More importantly, the peaceful election speaks to the relative success of Sierra Leone’s two transitional justice mechanisms: a truth commission (Sierra Leone’s TRC) and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), the latter of which was created to try those most responsible for the crimes committed during the country’s devastating civil war between 1991 and 2002. Perhaps the most important decision handed down in that court was one already discussed on this blog – the 50-year sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

The article linked to makes a good point, however, in noting that Koroma “deserved to beat Julius Maada Bio, a former junta leader. However, the APC [Koroma’s party] is still the same party that in 1978 converted Sierra Leone into a one party state. The election campaign suggested that its autocratic streak has not been entirely banished.” This dichotomy is reminiscent of many of our readings on state-run transitional justice mechanisms, such as their role in perpetuating certain political parties or narratives. In Koroma’s victory, one can see both the blossoming of peaceful democracy and the slippery slope from a one-state system to the first omens of dictatorships and oppressive, unilateral regimes.

Examples like Sierra Leone are our first empirical look at how what we term “transitional justice” – a still-developing idea, to be sure – influences not only the process of reconcilation, prosecution, and reform, but also how it fundamentally alters, for better or worse, the political trajectory of a nation. Thoughts? Is Sierra Leone’s progress a strong case for truth commissions and UN special courts? Should their model be adopted further? Is Koroma’s re-election an indicator of genuine democracy, or is it merely the beginning of another African leader who refuses to cede power?

Was Charles Taylor’s verdict correct?

One of the judges from Charles Taylor’s trial in the Special Court of Sierra Leone this week publicly renounced the judgment against Charles Taylor, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As an alternate judge, Judge Sow was not allowed to speak for the court and thus not allowed to offer his dissenting opinion, even though he had witnessed every phase of the trial alongside the other judges. Some observers noted that he attempted to speak after the judgment was read, but his microphone was cut off. Afterwards, Judge Sow’s behavior was renounced by the court and he was barred from sitting in on future proceedings. At the time of the trial, a researcher noticed the absence of Judge Sow’s name on most of the SCSL’s documentation of the trial. 

A reporter tweeted a photo of Judge Sow’s notes for his statement. In his notes, Judge Sow wrote that he was afraid that “the whole system is under grave danger of just losing all credibility, and I’m afraid this whole thing is headed for failure.” 

In an article that will be published in New African magazine in December, Judge Sow said that the SCSL’s judges barely discussed their verdict and had contradictory evidence that he viewed as inconclusive.

International courts are a new project, and their rules and procedures are not always clear to all those involved. Judge Sow believed he was entitled to express his opinion, and many people probably agree with him. While the courts are still in the early stages of developing themselves, I think it’s important that they err on the side of impartiality – making sure all sides have had a chance to be heard, so the final decision can be trusted by the public as not predetermined, but honestly based on the testimony heard. The court’s firm stance on Judge Sow’s comments makes the court seem unwilling to hear dissenting points of view, which is detrimental to justice and the court’s reputation.

Updates on the Special Court for Sierra Leone

I decided to focus on Sierra Leone this week because I watched the movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” on Monday. It’s about Charles Taylor, the Liberian dictator, who was later tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up jointly by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone with “the power to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996.” Charles Tayor was convicted by the Court in April 2012, and sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in encouraging human rights abuses during Sierra Leone’s civil war. The news story from this week on the appeals court is that it is expected to deliver a final decision on Charles Taylor’s guilt or innocence soon. This will essentially wrap up the business of the tribunal, although it will not exhaust all needs for funding, which includes protection of witnesses. 

Sierra Leone and the FOI bill

The government of Sierra Leone, headed by President Ernest Bai Koromahas, currently has a bill on the table called the Freedom of Information Bill.  This bill was proposed in September 2010, over a year and a half ago and the article states that the bill had gone through all of the necessary stages of committee readings within a month of its proposal, but even now it has not been passed.  If passed, he bill would allow for increased transparency and accountability, two things which President Ernest Bai Koromaha and the All People’s Party (the current ruling part of Sierra Leone)  have repeatedly expressed commitment to.  The proposed bill would allow citizens access to information that has not previously been considered public record, including, but not limited to contracts between the government and private companies.  The FOI bill would also enable the people of Sierra Leone to learn about their rights, as well as the governments responsibilities, obligations, agreements, and to understand when the government is not fulfilling its duties.  All and all this sounds like something that would benefit the people of Sierra Leone and the government if in fact they are dedicated to promoting transparency and accountability, and eliminating corruption.  The successful passing of this bill would certainly increase the legitimacy of the government and the faith that the international community has in the claims and promises made by the APC and the president.  The question is then: why haven’t they passed? what is the hold up?  Has the government intentionally prevented the passage of this bill and if so, what are they hiding?  These are the questions being posed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Freedom of Information Coalition Sierra Leone(FOICSL).  The international community and especially these prominent human rights organizations seem to be disappointed by the delay and anxious to have an explanation.  Naturally, this excessive delay is creating some suspicion around the government and their supposed intentions to rid the country of corruption.  Is this just the bureaucratic process moving slower than one would hope, or might the government’s claims of benevolent intentions be a false front for continued corruption and secrecy?


Charles Taylor Trial Verdict

Huge news!  Charles Taylor that was accused of war crimes including the use of child soldiers will have his verdict on April 26th!  The Washington Post article gives some basic information about basic background behind Taylor and who he was and what he did, the number of witnesses used from both the prosecution and the defense, and the significance of the release of this verdict on the international community.  Let us remember that Charles Taylor “is the first former African head of state to be prosecuted at an international tribunal” which is why this news is so big.  One of the witnesses used was supermodel Naomi Campbell, while Taylor himself testified on his behalf by denying all charges against him in a matter of 13 short weeks.

This article not only touches on all aspects of the Taylor trial, it also brings up that the ICC will deliver the verdict of Lubanga’s trial later on this month.  With that said, it seems that we have an exciting two months ahead of us and I am sure we will be following it closely in class.

I also wanted to bring up that I noticed that the title of this article is “UN-backed court says it will deliver verdicts next month in Charles Taylor war crimes trial.”  I found this interesting because when we watch or see anything related to the ICC in Al-Jazeera or France 24, it is referred to correctly as the ICC or the International Criminal Court.  The Washington Post, an American newspaper, called the ICC the “UN-backed court” as if ICC is not independent from the UN.  It also brings up the point that the ICC is not very talked about in the United States, no doubt due to the fact that the US is not a member state of the ICC.  This was just an observation but feel free to agree or disagree.  I just thought it was an interesting choice for a title to this article.