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Prosecuting Those Bearing


Prosecuting Those Bearing "Greatest Responsibility": The Contributions of the Special Court for Sierra Leone



The Special Court for Sierra Leone ("SCSL” or "the Court") was established through a bilateral treaty between the United Nations (UN) and the government of Sierra Leone signed on January 16, 2002. The SCSL’s jurisdiction ratione materiae included crimes against humanity war crimes, other serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as various offenses under Sierra Leonean law prohibiting the abuse of underage girls, wanton destruction of property, and arson. Although the Sierra Leonean conflict started in March 1991, the jurisdiction ratione temporis only covers the crimes perpetrated after November 30, 1996. This means that, over the objections of the national authorities, the international community, as represented by the UN, only supported prosecution of the atrocities committed during the second half of the conflict. With respect to ratione loci jurisdiction, the Court was authorized to prosecute the crimes that occurred within the territory of Sierra Leone. Given the SCSL’s limited subject matter, temporal, and territorial jurisdiction, it is evident that the UN's goal was to establish an ad hoc tribunal with a narrower and more focused mandate compared to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (ICTY and ICTR). The ICTY and ICTR were created by the Security Council (“UNSC” or "the Council") in 1993 and 1994, respectively, partly as ways of addressing the threats to international peace and security caused by genocide in the Balkans and in East Africa.

Article 1(1) of the UN-Sierra Leone Agreement, and its annexed statute, defined the Court's ratione personae jurisdiction - that is, the "power to bring a person into its adjudicative Process.” It gave the SCSL competence in the following terms: "to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law ... including those leaders who, in committing such crimes, have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone.”



Publication Date



Cambridge University Press


New York/Cambridge


legacy, impact, Special court for Sierra Leone, contribution of the special court, Charles Jalloh


Criminal Law | International Law | Law

Prosecuting Those Bearing