The Special Court for Sierra Leone has received US$6.5 million in new contributions – enough, court registrar Herman von Hebel says, to avoid a shortfall that could have enabled former Liberian leader and war crimes defendant Charles Taylor to go free.
In March the court forecasted that funds would run out at the end of April, leading to concern that Taylor’s trial could be delayed or discontinued, according to Special Court (SCSL) prosecutor Stephen Rapp.
“I could have the best evidence in the world, I could have the strongest advocacy, but if we ran out of funds, the court might have to let the accused go,” Rapp told IRIN.
“You can’t hold them if you don’t have the resources to finish the trial. I don’t want that to happen.”
The recent donations will allow the court to continue functioning through June, according to von Hebel. Other contributions are expected to come through in the coming months. The court has said it needs $28 million for 2009.
Many Sierra Leoneans are angry at how much the court has cost. “My whole family was displaced during the war. I needed money to build a new home, to send my children to school, to feed my family – we are living in poverty here.
What has been the point of all this spending [on the court]? Why does it need more money?” Alison Turay, who lives in Kroo Bay slum in the capital, Freetown, told IRIN.
Victims of the conflict in Makeni, 120km east of Freetown, told IRIN that while they supported the work of the Special Court, programmes to help Sierra Leoneans recover their lives should also not be overlooked by donors.
Up to 100,000 Sierra Leoneans – among them amputees and other war-wounded, victims of sexual violence, war widows and children who are eligible for post-war reparations – have yet to receive any compensation.
The National Commission for Social Action (NACSA), which is running the reparations programme, has less than $3.5 million to run the programme in 2009-10 – far less than the $14 million it requires.
Unlike the international tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, where funding by UN members is stipulated, funding for the Special Court for Sierra Leone – a unique hybrid national/international body – is voluntary.
The SCSL’s mandate is also limited, focusing on “persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law” from 1996 to the end of the 11-year civil war in January 2002. Thirteen people were indicted by the court.
Von Hebel said sluggish funding does not mean dwindling support for the court’s work. “The political will is still there, but the financial means are more limited.”
With similar tribunals now starting in Lebanon and Cambodia, there is more demand for money for international justice at a time when donors are facing the global financial crunch, Dominic Stanton with the British High Commission in Freetown told IRIN.
The last trial to be held in Sierra Leone is nearing completion; three former leaders of the rebel Revolutionary United Front were sentenced on 8 April and appeals are expected to be completed by October. Charles Taylor’s trial is taking place in The Hague.
Von Hebel expects Taylor’s trial to wrap up at the end of 2009, with sentencing and appeals continuing through 2010.
The court’s budget will drop to $12.7 million in 2010, he said.