The Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, Freetown and The Hague

Remarks by President Ernest Bai Koroma at the Special Court Closing Ceremony


Mr. Vice-President,
Our Lady the Chief Justice,
Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs,
Present and Past Presidents and Honourable Judges and Members of the Special Court,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, Sierra Leone is making another significant history in international humanitarian law. We became the first country to establish an independent hybrid court to bring to justice persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and national criminal law, with the seat of the court located within the territory of the country where the alleged crimes were committed. Now we are at the closing ceremony of this Special Court, but we are putting in place a residual mechanism in recognition of the fact that justice is a continuing commitment.
This closing ceremony reiterates our commitment to fight impunity, and it also underscores our respect for the promotion of the rule of law and preservation of peace and stability. In Sierra Leone today, we aspire to sustain our country's growth rates, amongst the highest in the world, and become a middle-income nation in 22 years. But we know that trade, investment, innovation and economic development all benefit from a stable, predictable and rule-based business climate. The economy cannot thrive in a society where human rights are violated, corruption is widespread and government revenues are misused. Sustainable prosperity depends on a robust, legitimate and reliable legal order. We still face challenges, but the Special Court has been a great contributor to the idea and practice of the rule of law in Sierra Leone.

As we rejoice the milestones of this unique institution, and as we applaud the excellent cooperation between the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, we are keenly aware of the extraordinary circumstances that pushed us to pursue this uncharted course in the dispensation of justice. At no time in the history of Sierra Leone have we experienced horrific brutality against innocent civilians as in the 1990s. Those horrendous acts branded and tarnished the image of our nation. But the 1990s in Sierra Leone were also moments of resilience, of bravery, and of faith by the overwhelming majority of Sierra Leoneans. It was that narrative of the efforts for peace, justice and prosperity that established the partnership for the Special Court. The narrative of the Special Court is thus not only a story about horrific crimes, it is also, and more importantly a narrative of the better values of hope, justice, resilience, peace, and the supremacy of law.

The Special Court was a partnership for the assertion of the better ideals of our common humanity. It was an acknowledgement of the intrinsic link between reconciliation and justice. The Government of Sierra Leone decided to work in partnership with the United Nations Security Council for the establishment of the Special court shortly after the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Sierra Leone is proud to be a pioneer that put into practice the two transitional justice mechanisms. We took this unfamiliar path due to our genuine desire to consolidate peace and equally seek justice for victims. Undoubtedly the two mechanisms boded well for the country.

We know all was not smooth sailing for the Special Court, the court had its own challenges, and there were many valid criticisms against it. But though to be less than perfect is all too human, the Special Court was a demonstration of our will to create a more perfect system of justice, one that is better than what obtained before it came into existence. It is against this backdrop that we consider the Special Court a success, a trailblazer, a pacesetter in international humanitarian law.

The Special Court has made unprecedented contributions to gender justice and laid the foundation in international criminal jurisprudence for acts of forced marriage, sexual violence, sexual slavery and the recruitment and use of child soldiers during the conflict as punishable. It has also successfully established that wanton attacks on United Nations peacekeepers are proscribed and perpetrators liable to prosecution.

Furthermore, the Special Court's jurisprudence underscores the importance of understanding gender-related traumas from the point of view of those who experienced them, and their suffering within local cultural contexts. It also made critical contribution to national reconciliation efforts and to the restoration and maintenance of international peace and security in the sub-region.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the violent conflict in Sierra Leone in the 1990s was an aggressive war that was aided and abetted by a network of international dealers of illegal diamonds and illegal arms that took advantage of the absence of an international legal order prohibiting the illegal transfer of arms and ammunition. In this regard, my government applauds the efforts of the international community that culminated in the recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty.

Finally, let me, on behalf my People and Government of Sierra Leone, and in my own name, take this opportunity to express sincere thanks and appreciation to the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which on the instructions of the Security Council calibrated the plan for the creation of an independent hybrid ad hoc court to bring to justice those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations to international Humanitarian law and Sierra Leone laws during the decade-old armed conflict.

We also applaud our development partners, international non-state actors and local NGOs. I must also recognize the role of the Judges, the Registrar and staff of the Court, the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, the Office of the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice and all Government officials who in diverse ways made significant contributions to the success of this historic institution. The members of the Management Committee also deserve sincere thanks and gratitude of the Government and people of Sierra Leone for their relentless support and oversight function. It is the combined efforts of this network of stakeholders that will make the Court go down in history not only as the first modern tribunal to achieve its mandate but also for its transition to a residual court that will address the legal obligations of the Special Court.

I am delighted to see the representatives of all these excellent agencies present at this ceremony. We look forward to this constructive network in managing the affairs of the residual court; in pushing forward the ideals of justice and reconciliation; and in asserting our common aspirations for peace, development and prosperity.
I thank you for your attention.