Global Policy Forum

New War Crimes Court President Pleads for Extra Funds


Integrated Regional Information Networks
May, 25, 2006

Sierra Leone's UN-backed war crimes tribunal this week will be presided for the first time by a Sierra-Leonean, Justice George Gelaga King. And making sure the Special Court receives extra funding to survive will be a top priority, he told IRIN in an interview. His appointment was "quite a big challenge, because it's a tremendous responsibility," said the 73-year-old judge. "I as a Sierra Leonean consider it quite an honour and I am proud because I am a Sierra Leonean." But the court set up in 2002 initially for three years was far from accomplishing its mandate and needed more time and more funding, he stressed.

Unlike the ICTR tribunal for Rwanda and the ICTY tribunal for Yugoslavia, financed by set contributions from the UN's 187 members, the Special Court was dependent on voluntary funds. The Special Court for Sierra Leone "is an experiment, and is called popularly a hybrid court because it includes Sierra Leoneans and internationals, but the interesting thing is that the funding is done voluntarily by certain states and we depend on such voluntary funding very heavily".

Justice King, who takes up duty on 27 May, said "it is envisaged that the first trial will not be completed before the end of 2006, so any thought of the court ending this year or even 2007 is unrealistic in my estimation." "If you want justice to be done you must provide the necessary funds" he added, saying funds were needed not only to run the court but for out-reach programmes, for defense counsel and for an appeals chamber to come into being once the first trial has been completed. The court has been at work on three trials, concerning the three parties to the 1991-2002 conflict – the Civil Defence Forces (CDF), a militia fighting alongside the Sierra Leone army; the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels; and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels.

But the tribunal grabbed international attention earlier this year with the arrest of its most prominent indictee - former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who in his first court appearance on 3 April pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He will be the first former African leader to face trial before an international tribunal for crimes allegedly perpetrated while in office. Justice King declined direct comment on the Taylor case, but said he did not feel particularly challenged by the fact that it would make the history books. During his almost three decades as a judge, he and outgoing Chief Prosecutor Desmond de Silva notably had appeared as defence counsels in the first treason trial held in Sierra Leone, with one of the accused being current Special Court indictee Chief Sam Hinga Norman.

King, who lectured in law for 15 years and described one of the highlights of his career as the day "I delivered the very first lecture in our own indigenous Sierra Leone law school in 1990," said that the Special Court for Sierra Leone has already delivered two landmark rulings. The first was a motion in the appeals chamber in which Taylor's lawyers "were objecting that an incumbent head of state cannot be indicted and the appeals chamber ruled ... that an incumbent head of state does not necessarily have immunity from trial with regards to alleged offences against international humanitarian law." The second was that an appeals chamber ruling that recruiting children for the purposes of being soldiers "is impermissible and an indictable offence."

"I think we are doing a good job," he said, referring to the work of the Special Court, he said "I think we are doing a good job … I don't think we have any cause for alarm at this instant."

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