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Sierra Leone News: Dark days for Special Court compound – again

On Monday, 27th August, 2018, President Julius Maada Bio and an entourage of government officials including the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Priscilla Schwartz visited the Special Court grounds and buildings in Freetown.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up in 2002 as the result of a request to the United Nations in 2000 by the Government of Sierra Leone for “a special court” to address serious crimes against civilians and UN peacekeepers committed during the country’s decade-long (1991-2002) civil war.
Negotiations between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone on the structure of the court and its mandate, produced the world’s first “hybrid” international criminal tribunal, mandated to try those “bearing the greatest responsibility” for crimes committed in Sierra Leone after 30th November 1996, the date of the failed Abidjan Peace Accord. It was the first modern international tribunal to sit in the country where the crimes took place, and the first to have an effective outreach program on the ground.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was the first international court to be funded by voluntary contributions and, in 2013, became the first court to complete its mandate and transition to a residual mechanism.
On the tour, Minister Schwartz noted that the facility brought perpetrators of the civil war to book, was built to bring lasting peace to Sierra Leone and as it is with the present government’s plans to bring corruption to an end in the country.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice also disclosed that the once illustrious ground courtroom had fine trimming and splendour that helped to win justice for the people of Sierra Leone. The court had computers, streamers, chairs and all modern facilities of international standard before it was handed over,” she recalled. The building and grounds have suffered from mismanagement, neglect, vandalism, decay and corruption.
The initial budget for the Special Court was $75 million USD and the court was to last for three years. But, by December 2013, over $300 million USD had been spent.
She added, the proud halls of justice, which once attracted tourists and the finest legal minds from all over the world now lays in decay. The detention facility was handed to the government of Sierra Leone in early 2010 and the rest of the premises including the courthouse and all its facilities were handed over to the APC government in December 2013.
The Court’s compound in Brookfields is a huge, rolling hillside surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire. It now houses the Women’s Correctional Centre in the custom-built, on-site prison that once housed war criminals. The buildings cost $3.5 million USD, minus the land. The late President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, conceptualised the court as… “a symbol of the rule of international law, especially at a time when some State and non-State actors are increasingly displaying, shamelessly, contempt for the principles of international law.”
Nine persons were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 15 to 52 years. Sentences of the eight RUF, CDF and AFRC prisoners convicted in Freetown are being enforced at Rwanda’s Mpanga Prison due to security concerns.
In late 2014, the grounds, offices, temporary structures and court building were used by the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) as a headquarters in the fight against Ebola. The British Army with others spent hundreds of thousands of donor dollars renovating, cleaning trash and rejuvenating the facility, which had fallen into horrendous disrepair. Following NERC’s move to Cockerill, the Special Court building and grounds fell back under the control of the APC government.
While touring the facilities on Monday with the President, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice said “You again inherit today a dilapidated courthouse. It is a hurt and stain on our country’s pride. This casts a dark mark… for the justice institutions but also for the rule of law.”
She hinted that the upcoming Commission of Inquiry may have used the buildings and she was saddened that the inquiry might not take place at the building, as was first anticipated, due to the high cost of refurbishment estimated to run into billions of Leones.
Wednesday August 29, 2018.

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