Global Policy Forum

Special Court Rules It Has Jurisdiction to Try Indictees and Not Subjected to Sierra Leone's Constitution


Osman Benk Sankoh

March 18, 2004

The Appeals Chamber has laid to rest claims that the court has no jurisdiction to try indictees before the Special Court because of a blanket amnesty that was granted to all the fighting factions when the Lome Peace accord was struck between Government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) on 7 July 1999.

Chief Sam Hinga Norman, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Morris Kallon had all filed motions challenging the efficacy of the court to try them. The former argued that his right to a fair trial was breached, as there were legitimate grounds to fear that the tribunal was not independent because of its funding arrangements. The indictees also stressed that the court lacked jurisdiction to try them on various issues relating to the constitutionality of the court under Sierra Leone law.

It has however ruled that indeed the Special Court has jurisdiction to try the indictees and that a blanket amnesty was granted to all the warring parties does not in any way ruled out the possibility of punishing international crimes and crimes against humanity as the United Nations itself was not a party to the agreement. Further, it also ruled that the court was not subject to the constitution of Sierra Leone. " The amnesty granted under Article 1X of the Lome Peace Agreement does not bar the prosecution of an accused for international crimes committed before July 1999 before the Special Court," it rules.

The indictees had filed preliminary motions arguing that government was bound to observe the amnesty by this agreement and submitted that the Special Court should not assert jurisdiction over crimes prior to the accord. According to the Appeals Chamber, it found that the agreement created rights and obligations that are to be regulated by the domestic laws of Sierra Leone. " Consequently, whether it is binding on the government of Sierra Leone or not does not affect the prosecution of an accused in an international tribunal for international crimes," the Appeals Court opines.

The Appeals Chambers further found that Article 10 of the Court's statute is valid, as it is an express statutory limitation on the discretion of the court to decline jurisdioction on the sole ground an amnesty has been granted to a defendant '" Where there is such an express provision of a statute, a tribunal would be acting unlawfully if it circumvents this provision. Moreover, the Appeals Chamber concluded that an international tribunal such as the Special Court couldn't be deprived of its jurisdiction to prosecute an offender by the grant of amnesty. For these reasons, the preliminary motions were dismissed.

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