On 20th June 2007, the Special Court for Sierra Leone has reached its first verdicts. According to a press release (here) three former leaders of Sierra Leone’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) have been found guilty on 11 grounds. These were the following:
- Count 1 (acts of terrorism)
- Count 2 (collective punishments)
- Count 3 (extermination)
- Count 4 (murder, a crime against humanity)
- Count 5 (murder, a war crime)
- Count 6 (rape)
- Count 9 (outrages upon personal dignity)
- Count 10 (physical violence, a war crime)
- Count 12 (conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities)
- Count 13 (enslavement)
- Count 14 (pillage)
The Verdict by the court is interesting for two separate reasons.
First, it marks the first decision by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court was established by way of a treaty concluded between the United Nations (UN) and Sierra Leone on 16th January 2002. It was created to “prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territoy of Sierra Leone” (see Art. 1 Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone on the Establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone). By this definition of the main task of the Court its special nature becomes apparent. It is not a general international court in the sense of the ICJ, nor is it an ad hoc-tribunal based on a UN-Security Council Resolution, such as e.g. the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Although an ad hoc-tribunal, it is a so-called mixed or hybrid court, based on a consensual agreement between the affected State and the UN. It applies international as well as national (i.e. Sierra Leonean) law and consists of international as well as Sierra Leonean judges, prosecutors and support staff. Such mixed courts are a new form of international criminal bodies (there are three more in East Timor, Kosovo and Cambodia) that attempt to try perpetrators of crimes against humanity but at the same time involve the relevant State and its (new) judiciary in this process. These courts have not yet drawn as much attention to them as for example the ICTY has; however, due to their pragmatic approach to trying perpetrators and helping to build up the new judicial system of the State involved, this new case law should not go by unnoticed.
Second, this verdict seems to be the first time that an international tribunal has ruled on the charge of recruitment of child soldiers into an armed force, and on the crime of forced marriage in an armed conflict. This might prove be a great step forward for the development of international criminal law as a whole. To draw further conclusions however, one should wait for the complete verdict to be published.
A sentence hearing has been scheduled for July 16th.
Furthermore, it should also be noted that a judgment concerning two former members of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) is pending before the Court as well. In other words, there is more to come.