University of Pittsburgh

Assessing the Contributions and Legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to Africa and International Criminal Justice

April 19, 2012April 21, 2012
University of Pittsburgh School of Law
3900 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

The University of Pittsburgh School of Law is pleased to announce that it will be holding an international conference assessing the contributions and legacy of the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) to Africa and International Criminal Justice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Thursday April 19, 2012 through Saturday April 21, 2012.    

The SCSL was established through signature of an unprecedented bilateral treaty concluded between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone in January 2002. With a general mandate to deliver credible justice for the atrocities experienced in the small West African nation during a decade long civil war, the SCSL was designed to serve as an improvement on the existing ad hoc criminal tribunal model first deployed by the UN Security Council to address international crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

For this reason, among others, the Statute of the SCSL contained many novel features. As part of this, it was the first independent tribunal to be given a circumscribed personal jurisdiction to prosecute only those “bearing greatest responsibility” for serious international/national crimes; the first modern tribunal to sit in the locus criminis – the place where the crimes were committed; the first to be funded entirely through voluntary contributions from UN member states; the first to be overseen by an independent management committee comprised of non-party states; the first to provide scope for the affected state (Sierra Leone) to appoint some of its principal officials, such as, some judges and the deputy prosecutor; as well as the first to operate alongside a truth and reconciliation commission in a post-conflict situation anywhere in the world.

Today, the SCSL, which was touted early on as a model for future ad hoc criminal tribunals, has completed all but one of its trials and therefore significantly wound down its operations. Only the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor remains on its docket. And even that case is expected to conclude, with all appeals, by mid-2012. In light of its pending closure, it is opportune to plan an assessment of the SCSL’s contribution and legacy both to Sierra Leoneans, in whose name it was asked to render impartial justice, and the international community, whose generous anti-impunity dollars made its work possible.

Essentially, as the SCSL becomes the first of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals to close down, we seek to provide a timely forum for those most familiar with and interested in its work to critically reflect on its contribution to Sierra Leone, Africa and international criminal justice. While memories are still fresh, up to 50 participants will be afforded a chance to step back and reflect on what worked, and what did not, and to capture, for posterity, their years of accumulated wisdom.

Consistent with its hybrid structure, the conference will aim to reflect the dual national and international character and ownership of the SCSL process. It will therefore elicit both Sierra Leonean and international perspectives on the successes and limitations of the SCSL, as well as identify a series of lessons learned for other African post-conflict situations and the International Criminal Court. As such, it will bring together a carefully selected list of invited academics, tribunal practitioners, policy-makers and civil society actors who have all participated, collaborated with, or closely followed, the work of the SCSL from its earliest days through to its twilight days.  

In view of this focus, the conference will largely take up technical, big picture issues that are the domain of legal academic and practitioner experts in the international criminal law field. The areas of coverage will include, among others, the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary funding for future ad hoc courts; the successes, and limitations, of SCSL institutional innovations such as the Office of the Principal Defender and the Outreach Section; and the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional and jurisprudential contributions that the Court’s decisions and judgments have made to the trans-judicial dialogue on international criminal law and justice.

By convening the participants and experts to carry out the first and unprecedented early assessment of the work of the Sierra Leone tribunal, the third major UN-sponsored international penal court, it is expected that this conference and its outputs will make a valuable contribution to existing knowledge regarding the potential, and limits, of one of the more significant internationally supported anti-impunity initiatives in post-Cold War era Africa. 

Conference Concept Paper

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