The eleven year conflict in Sierra Leone, West Africa was marked by brutal acts against the country’s population from multiple fronts: at least three factions engaged in atrocities against enemy combatants, suspected collaborators, and civilians. Among the conflict’s most notorious features were widespread amputations, mutilations, acts of sexual violence, mass killing, abduction and forced recruitment into armed groups, the use of child combatants, and the exploitation of Sierra Leone’s diamond reserves to finance the war effort. In the aftermath of the conflict there was a strong public desire to hold responsible parties accountable; however, it was clear that the country did not have the necessary judicial infrastructure to hold trials, and the ability of national courts to indict alleged perpetrators was further constrained by a blanket amnesty for crimes under the Lomé Peace Agreement of 1999.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was established in 2002 by an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Security Council following a request from Sierra Leonean president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.1 This inauguration by an agreement between a sovereign state and the United Nations has laid the groundwork for the Special Court’s characterization as a “hybrid tribunal,” and the court offers a different judicial model than the ad hoc tribunals established by the UN Security Council to try perpetrators of the conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Proponents of the court hope that it will offer a more economical and expeditious approach to post-conflict justice as compared to the slow and expensive tribunals, and the court’s location in the country where the conflict took place leaves it uniquely situated to remain in a responsive relationship to the people of Sierra Leone. However, the very elements which mark it as a novel development in post-conflict justice – its location, tight budget, and pressure to complete its mandate quickly – also challenge the court’s ability to deliver its aspirations.