Special Court for Sierra Leone: Achieving Justice?

The creation of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL or the Court) in early 2002 generated high expectations within the international community. The SCSL was generally deemed to herald a new model or benchmark for the assessment of future ad hoc international criminal courts. As the Court completes the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in The Hague-its last-nine years later, this Article offers an early and broad assessment of whether it has fulfilled its promise. More specifically, this Article examines whether the SCSL has achieved, or more accurately-because its trials are still ongoing-whether it is achieving justice. I use the term justice in the ordinary sense, referring to whether the Court has justly or fairly treated the accused during the proceedings it has carried out. This approach is justified for three main reasons. First, dispensing credible justice on behalf of Sierra Leonean victims of conflict is a noble goal that was the raison d’etre for the SCSL’s creation. Second, since the Court is an international tribunal entrusted with such a sacred mandate and whose creation and functioning was supported by many states from around the world, it seems only fair to hold it to the high international fair trial standards that its statute claims to espouse. Third, the SCSL’s success was, from its founding, predicated on the idea that it would not only dispense justice but that it would be seen to do so and contribute to laying a firm structural foundation for lasting peace and national reconciliation in post-conflict Sierra Leone. An inevitable question then is whether it has met that expectation.