The court established by the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone to try cases of serious crimes committed during the West African country's ferocious civil war cannot complete its work as long as former President Charles Taylor of Liberia and former Sierra Leonean coup leader Johnny Paul Koroma remain at large, according to a new report.
"The fact that two of the accused, Charles Ghankay Taylor and Johnny Paul Koroma, remain at large and therefore cannot be tried until they appear before the Special Court, may still affect the completion of all trials," the report on the Court's completion strategy says.
Mr. Taylor, who resigned as President of Liberia in August 2003, is living in exile in Nigeria, while the whereabouts of Mr. Koroma, the former president of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), is unknown, it says. Until both accused are brought before the Special Court, or the indictments against them are withdrawn, it is not possible to determine when all trials may be completed.
"Under the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Court, an accused may not be tried in his absence unless he has made his initial appearance and has been afforded the right to appear at trial but has refused to do so, or alternatively, has made his initial appearance but is at large and refuses to appear in court," the Court says.
"The Special Court notes with satisfaction and gratitude the recent initiatives taken by the international community to urge Nigeria to transfer Charles Taylor to the custody of the Special Court," it adds.
The report says the Registry is able to estimate that the trials of accused members of the AFRC, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the anti-rebel Civil Defence Forces (CDF) might last until the end of next year and the appeals stage might go on until mid-2007.
It appears uncertain, however, that the Court will be funded beyond December 2005, it says. "Alternative sources of funding will therefore be required as of January 2006" for that year and for the post-completion phase, it says.
After the decade-long civil war ended, the Court was established in July 2002 and it has issued indictments against 13 accused, two of whom, Sam Bockarie and Foday Saybana Sankoh, have since died.