Background Briefing

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V. Recommendations

Given the serious implications of conducting Taylor’s trial outside Sierra Leone, this move required careful consideration. A number of steps are now crucial for the Special Court, the Netherlands as the host state, and the court’s donors to ensure that the work of the Special Court remains accessible to the communities most affected by the crimes.

To the Special Court (in summary):

  • be as transparent as possible about its assessment in seeking to move Taylor’s trial; and

  • take significant efforts to make the proceedings accessible to the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa.


    There are undoubtedly limits to the amount of detail that may be disclosed about the factors that led to the Special Court’s request to conduct Taylor’s trial in The Hague. However, Human Rights Watch strongly believes that it is important for the Special Court to share as much information as possible on the basis for moving the trial. This will help to ensure that the communities most affected by the crimes and others have some understanding as to why this development was necessary. This will help to minimize frustration, misunderstanding and other negative ramifications due to the change in location.

    Following the request for the change in location, Special Court staff held meetings in Freetown with representatives of Sierra Leonean civil society organizations and responded to inquiries by West African journalists as to the reasons for requesting to move Taylor’s trial outside Sierra Leone. More limited information concerning the reasons the Special Court requested moving the trial is available on the court’s website and through audio summaries produced by the Special Court. We have been told that plans are also underway to prepare materials for wider dissemination in Sierra Leone.26  

    We welcome steps to inform the public about these developments. We urge the Special Court to intensify these steps and take a pro-active, high-profile approach to sharing information as to why it seeks to hold Taylor’s trial in The Hague. As a matter of priority, we urge that as much information as possible be:

  • Posted on the Special Court website;

  • Issued as press statements available to both African and international press;

  • Broadcast on the radio, perhaps as part of audio summaries on proceedings; and

  • Discussed with various sectors of society in Sierra Leone through town hall-type meetings around the country.


    The location of Taylor’s trial in The Hague significantly intensifies the need for sustained and robust outreach and communications activities. These activities must provide relevant information and some form of access to the Sierra Leonean public to the proceedings.

    The priority the court has given throughout its life to outreach and communications is particularly commendable. These represent one of the most difficult areas for any international justice institution. Restrictions on funding for outreach from the court’s core budget by the Special Court Management Committee also created challenges.27 

    To ensure accessibility of Taylor’s trial, the Special Court must maintain its prioritization of outreach and communications in its initiatives around Taylor’s trial in The Hague. The Outreach and Public Affairs Units in the Registry should continue and adapt the range of activities it currently implements to meet the challenge of making a trial in The Hague accessible to the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa.

    We understand that discussions within the Special Court on efforts to ensure the accessibility of Taylor’s trial are ongoing. Some initiatives that are being explored are streaming video of the proceedings in The Hague to the Special Court premises in Freetown; preparing video and audio summaries of court proceedings; and facilitating observation of the proceedings in The Hague by several West African journalists. Court staff are also considering how a previously begun initiative to establish an independent radio station focused on justice and human rights issues could be leveraged to promote the accessibility of Taylor’s trial with Sierra Leoneans.28

    Human Rights Watch sees a number of the components currently under discussion as important to ensuring the accessibility of Taylor’s trial. We believe it will be crucial that court staff develop and implement – and donors fund – the following outreach and communications efforts in relation to Taylor’s trial:

  • Preparing video and audio summaries of Taylor’s trial for dissemination throughout Sierra Leone. As most Sierra Leoneans are unable to observe court proceedings even when held in Freetown, these summaries have played a crucial role in providing visual and audio images of the proceedings to the local population. Discussions Human Rights Watch has had with civil society groups and ordinary citizens in Sierra Leone suggest anecdotally that the local population appreciates these summaries and follows developments at the court through them.29 Preparing summaries will undoubtedly require securing the same equipment used to obtain video and audio footage of proceedings in Freetown for the courtroom where Taylor’s trial is held in The Hague. The same editing and other equipment currently used to produce the summaries once the footage is provided could hopefully still be used.

  • Facilitating local media covering the trial. Local media coverage of the Special Court’s work, which has been substantial, is another important aspect of ensuring accessibility of the proceedings. It will be important that coverage of Taylor’s trial not be limited to international media. This will require journalists from Sierra Leone and the rest of West Africa to be able to observe proceedings and have access to sources involved in the trial. As such, the Special Court should facilitate attendance of Sierra Leonean and West African journalists to cover the proceedings in The Hague. This will be expensive and the number of journalists for which it could be made possible undoubtedly will be limited. Within this context, journalists and the Special Court could consider creating an agreement for journalists to share certain information they obtain with other journalists in the sub-region and to utilize a rotation among journalists to attend the proceedings.

  • Facilitate monitoring of the trial by Sierra Leonean civil society. Monitoring of the trials by civil society volunteers with the Special Court and also by at least one local monitoring organization, the Sierra Leone Court Monitoring Programme, is another important aspect of making the proceedings accessible. Monitoring has helped to ensure that information about the proceedings is disseminated and the outreach section is able to adequately respond to developments in the courtroom. Again recognizing that costs will make it difficult to have a comprehensive monitoring program by Sierra Leoneans in The Hague, we believe that at least one to two representatives of Sierra Leonean civil society must be brought to The Hague on an ongoing basis to observe and report back on proceedings. Perhaps this could involve a rotation amongst several civil society representatives.

  • Facilitate observation of the trial by various sectors of the Sierra Leonean population. The Special Court has undertaken significant programming targeted at particular sectors of society such as students and paramount chiefs. The court should seek to facilitate representatives of certain sectors to travel to The Hague to observe the proceedings and report back on them in Sierra Leone.

  • Broadcast live video coverage of the proceedings at the court premises in Freetown. Live video coverage of the proceedings in The Hague should be broadcast at the premises of the court in Freetown so that the public in Sierra Leone could observe the trial in real time. We recognize that such equipment may be expensive, but believe it is essential to accessibility. It will facilitate access to the public, local media covering the trial, and monitors to assess the proceedings. It will also help combat a perception that the proceedings are far removed from the people of Sierra Leone.

    The fact that the seat of the Special Court remains in Freetown regardless of where Taylor’s trial is conducted will contribute to facilitating efforts to ensure the accessibility of proceedings. A number of the creative methods utilized by court staff to date can continue to inform the people of Sierra Leone about Taylor’s trial. These include hand delivering press releases to journalists, convening meetings with Sierra Leonean civil society, and traveling around the country to screen video summaries.

    To the Netherlands as the host state:

  • Conclude as quickly as possible a Headquarters Agreement with the Special Court that will adequately address the following issues: 

    o Facilitating efforts by the Special Court to make the proceedings accessible to the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa by assisting in ensuring access for West African journalists, monitors, civil society, and other sectors in Sierra Leone, including through the provision of visas; 

    o Facilitating transport of witnesses; and

    o Overcoming other logistical and technical challenges of holding the trial in The Hague, including the court obtaining appropriate office space.

    We welcome the willingness of the Netherlands to respond favorably to the request made by the Special Court president on the basis of security concerns to host Taylor’s trial. We hope that the Netherlands will now take the necessary steps to ensure that this trial is accessible to the communities most affected by the crimes in Sierra Leone.

    To Donors (including the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Nations):

  • With regard to Taylor’s trial in The Hague, ensure the court has adequate funding to:

    o Cover all expenses entailed by the trial, including travel of Special Court staff and witnesses to The Hague, office space in The Hague, etc.; and

    o Conduct effective outreach and communications activities to make Taylor’s trial accessible to the communities most affected by the crimes;

  • With regard to all other Special Court trials and operations, ensure the court has adequate funding to:

    o Complete all operations successfully, namely by ensuring fair and expedient proceedings with adequate witness protection and support and outreach and communications programming;

    o Perform necessary activities during the post-completion phase, such as witness protection.

    In order for the Special Court to meet the needs of making Taylor’s trial in The Hague accessible and meaningful to Sierra Leoneans and West Africans, the international community must ensure adequate funding to perform these activities. Donors must also ensure that all other costs associated with holding Taylor’s trial in The Hague, including costs related to logistical, technical, and witness issues, are provided. Donors must further ensure that the rest of the court’s work in Freetown does not suffer due to the costs of holding Taylor’s trial in The Hague.

    Initially forced to rely exclusively on voluntary contributions, the Special Court has faced constant financial shortfalls. Following a request by the U.N. Secretary-General in March 2004 for a U.S.$40 million subvention to help address the court’s financial difficulties, the U.N. General Assembly has assisted the court enormously by granting it up to U.S.$33 million to help fund operations through the end of 2005.30 However, this assistance does not cover the court’s budget for its final period of operations nor during its post-completion phase.

    Human Rights Watch welcomes pledges made by donors at a funding conference for the Special Court in late September 2005. However, the nearly $10 million that was donated is insufficient to cover the cost of the Special Court’s operations for 2006, which will undoubtedly increase with Charles Taylor’s trial.31 Substantial additional contributions are needed. Initiatives by the Secretary-General in the past and more recently following the request to move Taylor’s trial to The Hague to encourage funding for the court are welcome in this regard.32 The United Nations should also provide funding to the court to address outstanding shortfalls and encourage voluntary contributions by states.

    [26] Human Rights Watch telephone conversation with Special Court staff, Freetown, April 10, 2006. See also “The Prosecutor’s Meeting with Civil Society of Sierra Leone, 31 March 2006.”

    [27] This was on the basis that such activity was seen as non-essential and fundable from sources other than the court’s core budget. See “Bringing Justice,” p. 34.

    [28] Human Rights Watch telephone conversation with Special Court staff, Freetown, June 12, 2006; Human Rights Watch discussion with Special Court staff, New York, June 2, 2006.

    [29] For more in-depth discussion on this, see “Justice in Motion,” pp. 28-35.

    [30] U.N. General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, Special subjects and questions relating to the programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005 (2005), A/RES/59/294, paras. 7-14; Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, Questions relating to the programme budget for the biennium 2004-2005 (2005), A/RES/59/276, section VII, paras. 16-20; Estimates in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or Security Council (2005), A/59/569/Add.4, paras. 15-26; Request for a subvention to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Report of the Secretary-General (2004), A/58/733.

    [31] "UN member states pledge nearly $10 million for Special Court for Sierra Leone, far short of estimated requirements," U.N. Department of Public Information, September 30, 2005 [online], (retrieved April 14, 2006); "Sierra Leone: Donors pledge less than half funds needed for war crimes court," IRIN News, October 3, 2005 [online], (retrieved April 14, 2006).

    [32] See, for example, U.N. General Assembly, Request for a subvention, A/58/733.

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