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UN, Sierra Leone Government set to sign accord on war crimes court

UN, Sierra Leone Government set to sign accord on war crimes court

The United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone are set to sign a formal agreement next week paving the way for the establishment of a Special Court to try persons responsible for war crimes committed in the country since the end of 1996, according to a senior UN official visiting the country.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, the head of a team mapping out plans for the new institution, told reporters in Freetown on Tuesday that funding was assured for at least three years of the Court’s operation.

Speaking at the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) press briefing, Mr. Zacklin noted that the Special Court had been “in gestation” for more than two years, and the decision to go ahead with its establishment now was “simply part of an evolutionary process.” While there was “probably never a perfect time” to establish a Special Court when a country was still in the process of establishing peace, Mr. Zacklin said, its timing did not pose “any particular difficulties” that could not be overcome.

He said the team’s two-week visit to Sierra Leone would focus on discussions with the Government on “very practical issues” that would lead to the Court’s creation, such as premises, prosecutions and investigations, and its relationship with the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Asked about the new judicial body’s independence, Mr. Zacklin said it would be assured by the Court’s structure, with an international, non-Sierra Leonean prosecutor appointed by the UN Secretary-General, as well as two of the three judges in the Trial Chamber, and three of the five judges in the Appeals Chamber. There would also be many international staff at the Registry of the Court and among the prosecutor’s staff and the investigators.

The 15-member planning team also includes representatives from the UN Office of Legal Affairs, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia and the Court Management Committee, which includes officials from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, and Lesotho.