Foreign and Justice Ministers of
Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia

Dear Ministers:

The Prosecutor and Registrar for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, established by agreement between the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government, have now been selected and the Court is finally about to begin its important work of bringing to justice those who bear "the greatest responsibility" for serious violations of international humanitarian law during Sierra Leone's civil war.   

We write to bring to your attention an issue that may seriously impede the work of the Special Court. In the process of conducting field research in Sierra Leone, Human Rights Watch staff members have received credible information that certain Sierra Leoneans who believe they could be indicted by the Special Court are developing "exit strategies" to leave Sierra Leone for other African states. We fear that, if that occurs, Sierra Leone might not be able to secure the return of such indictees, and the work of the Special Court and prospects for achieving justice in Sierra Leone could be substantially undermined.

It is crucial that any country to which someone indicted by the Special Court has fled return that indictee to Sierra Leone. The perpetrators of truly horrific crimes should not be permitted to escape justice by fleeing from the state where the crime occurred.

Accordingly, we are asking your government, along with a number of other African states selected for their geographic proximity to Sierra Leone and/or ties with that country to commit to returning any indictees who flee to your state and to otherwise cooperating with the Special Court (for example, by locating witnesses or providing information). We are directing our request to the following countries: Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia. We will convey to you more specific information as it emerges.

Your government has essentially already made this commitment in the Plan of Action included as part of the document setting up a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) adopted at the 2000 OAU summit in Lome. In that document, African heads of state and government committed themselves to: "condemn genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the continent and undertake to cooperate with relevant institutions set up to prosecute the perpetrators." We now are asking your government to reaffirm that commitment specifically in terms of the Special Court.

The United Nations and Government of Sierra Leone have worked hard to create the Special Court. It would be completely unacceptable if some of those who bear the greatest responsibility for some truly horrific crimes are allowed to evade justice by seeking refuge in states willing to harbor them.

Your assistance in this matter is greatly appreciated. Please let us know if Human Rights Watch can be of any assistance in this matter.


Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director
Africa Division

Richard Dicker
International Justice Program