Swearing in of Judges of Sierra Leone Special War Crimes Court
December 6, 2002
CREDO for Freedom of Expression and Associated Rights welcomes the long delayed swearing in of the Judges of the Special War Crimes Court on Sierra Leone. CREDO is however very concerned at the waning enthusiasm of the international community and donor countries for the Truth and Reconciliation process in Sierra Leone.
Speaking on the development, CREDO’s Co-ordinator Rotimi Sankore stated: “The special court is important, but the most informed commentators both within and outside Sierra Leone agree that less than three dozen persons are likely to face charges before the Court. This will exclude tens of thousands of victims and thousands of perpetrators from the judicial process.”
He also emphasised further, that "on the other hand, a well-funded and supported Truth and Reconciliation process will compliment the Special Court and provide a broader basis for reconciliation and reconstruction, which is important to reduce the possibility of festering pain and hostilities triggering future outbreaks of violence. Securing convictions is important, but so is sustainable peace."
The executive secretary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff, had expressed concern in July this year, that the TRC is being undermined by lack of resources. "The Commission and the Commission's staff … want to do the job properly. They want to go to the communities where this war was fought, they want to bring about reconciliation, they want to give people a chance to tell their stories…But no matter how committed we are we cannot walk around Sierra Leone. And if we are not able to hire sufficient people to take the statements, then we will not be able to do the work."
CREDO also appeals strongly to funders and donors to provide robust support for Sierra Leonean human and civil rights organisations to enable them sustain the widest possible public participation in the TRC. It is vital that all communities within the country understand the objectives and workings of the TRC. For instance, in addition to “creating an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights related to the armed conflict”, the TRC also aims to establish “the context in which the violations and abuses occurred” and whether “those violations and abuses were the result of deliberate planning, policy or authorisation” by groups or individuals.
The TRC is unlikely to succeed in this unless the public also understands that it has a mandate to “take into account the interests of victims and witnesses when inviting them to give statements, including the security and other concerns of those who may wish to recount their stories in public” and that “any person shall be permitted to provide information to the Commission on a confidential basis and the Commission shall not be compelled to disclose any information given to it in confidence”
CREDO further calls on the Sierra Leonean government, other concerned governments, ECOWAS, the African Union, United Nations, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen support for the Peace and Reconciliation process in particrtular, and the legal and institutional framework for the protection of media freedom, freedom of expression and associated rights in general. Beyond high profile trials, it is vital that Sierra Leone receives support to build its own capacity for the sustainable protection its own people, and their rights