War crimes court for Sierra Leone gets Security Council go-ahead, UN official says

War crimes court for Sierra Leone gets Security Council go-ahead, UN official says

The Security Council has given Secretary-General Kofi Annan the green light to proceed with the establishment of a Special Court in Sierra Leone to try persons suspected of committing war crimes during the country’s decade-long civil war, according to a senior United Nations legal official.

Ralph Zacklin, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, told a UN press conference today that the Council had approved the move after it heard a briefing yesterday by the UN’s Legal Counsel, Hans Corell and himself.

Mr. Zacklin said that with that go-ahead, the next steps would be the appointment of key personnel, including judges, prosecutors and a registrar within the next week or two, with a core group assembling in Freetown by the end of April at the latest. If all went according to plan, the Court would begin functioning by the third quarter of this year, and the first indictments could possibly be handed down by the end of 2002.

The Sierra Leone tribunal would be a new kind of criminal court, Mr. Zacklin noted. Unlike those set up by the UN for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court would be a “mixed” tribunal composed of international and Sierra Leonean personnel appointed by both UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the country’s Government.

According to Mr. Zacklin, the Court’s budget is projected to be some $60 million for three years, dramatically less than the UN’s Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals, and funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of 15 to 20 donor countries.

“This Special Court for Sierra Leone has an extremely lean budget,” Mr. Zacklin said. “This means in turn, of course, that the Court will have to have a much leaner staff and we have given great attention to trying to put in place in the core positions highly experienced staff who would be able to hit the ground running and make this work efficiently.”

“I think that a lot of States are looking at the Special Court to see whether this kind of a court can work and whether it can work efficiently and in a lean manner,” he added.