A Court for Victims: Podcast on the Special Court for Sierra Leone

1/18/2012

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Following a decade of civil war marked by intense violence meted out against civilians, the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations jointly established the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to try those most responsible for gross violations of human rights. On the tenth anniversary of the formal end to this conflict Binta Mansaray, registrar of the SCSL, discusses the impact the court has had in Sierra Leone and the lessons its process can afford other international judicial mechanisms.

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Crucial to the success of the Special Court was that it was accessible to victims, Mansaray argued, thanks to an extensive outreach program to ensure the larger population was both aware and a part of the process.

“The fact that this court was based in the country where the crimes took place gave us the unique opportunity to interact with the larger society,” she said. “If you’re dispensing justice, you’re doing it in the name of those who suffered. So they should be able to have the opportunity to be part of the process.”

That the court is based in Sierra Leone has also had a crucial impact on capacity building. “Because we are based in the country, we are able to work with institutions in the justice sector where our impact is felt,” Mansaray said. To ensure its own effectiveness, the SCSL undertook projects as diverse as rebuilding national judicial capacity, creating the basis for a national archive, training police prosecutors and national security officers, and establishing a witness protection program.

An examination of the SCSL underscores the interconnectivity between development and justice. The success of the court’s proceedings relied on the development and rebuilding of judicial and security infrastructure after 10 years of war destroyed most institutions.

But the relationship goes both ways, Mansaray pointed out. “You cannot have sustainable development if your justice system is in trouble.”