UNAMSIL Press Briefing, 08 Jan 2002

from UN Mission in Sierra Leone
Published on 08 Jan 2002
(Near Verbatim)


It is my pleasure to introduce UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Mr. Ralph Zacklin, who is heading the UN planning team for the Special Court. The planning team began a two-week long visit to Sierra Leone yesterday to discuss with the Government practical arrangements for the establishment and operation of the Court, including premises, the provision of local personnel and services, and the launching of the investigative and prosecutorial process.

The delegation includes representatives from the UN Office of Legal Affairs, the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for Yugoslavia and the Management Committee, which includes officials from the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands, and Lesotho.


UNAMSIL's Acting Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, on behalf of the Force Commander and the staff of UNAMSIL, yesterday visited Tongo to express condolences and sympathy to the Commanding Officer of Zambian Battalion (ZAMBATT) 3 and the families of the six soldiers who died on Saturday, 5 January.

The six peacekeepers from ZAMBATT 3 died, and 12 were injured, in a mortar bomb explosion. The incident occurred when the bombs, turned in during the disarmament exercise earlier in the day, were being moved to the weapons storage center.

The Acting Force Commander said grief at the deaths of the soldiers was shared by everyone in UNAMSIL and that condolence messages were being received from everywhere, including the Government of Sierra Leone.

He noted with satisfaction the battalion's courage and determination to continue with their peacekeeping operations, in spite of the "terrible accident."

"I am very much impressed to see you not deterred by the death of your colleagues, but still having courage to brave it as professional soldiers," Maj. Gen. Agwai said.

He commended the peacekeepers for the exemplary first aid treatment they provided to their colleagues, for it saved a lot of lives. He informed them that the worst was over, as the 12 wounded would soon recover.

Welcoming the Acting Force Commander, the Commander of ZAMBATT 3, Lt. Col. M.S. Sitwala, stressed that the deaths of his colleagues would not deter the battalion from ensuring that peace was restored in Sierra Leone, adding that they would remain committed to achieving the mandate of UNAMSIL.

He commended the staff from UNAMSIL Headquarters and the helicopter pilots for their quick response and the services they rendered to evacuate the injured soldiers immediately after the accident.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "deeply regrets the deaths of these Zambian peacekeepers and extends his sincere condolences to their families."

"The Secretary-General was saddened to learn that an accident in Sierra Leone on 5 January resulted in the tragic deaths of six Zambian peacekeepers and 12 injured, as a result of an explosion of the ammunitions that had earlier been surrendered by ex-combatants," Mr. Eckhard said. "This tragic incident underscores the acute dangers associated with peacekeeping."


The Acting Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, yesterday, 7 January, paid his first visit to the 9th battalion of the Nigerian contingent (NIBATT 9) at Goderich. The Commander of NIBATT 9, Col. M.D.Abubakar, and other senior officers of the battalion, received the Acting Force Commander, and delegation.

Addressing the officers and men, Maj. Gen. Agwai informed them about his visit to Tongo to express condolences to Zambian Battalion 3 for deaths and injury of their colleagues from a bomb explosion on Saturday, 5 January.

He appealed to them to be safety-conscious in whatever they do. He also warned them to be conscious of HIV/AIDS and malaria -- two deadly, yet preventable diseases.

Welcoming the Acting Force Commander, Col. Abubakar, briefed him on their deployment and operations. He informed him that the situation was calm in their area of responsibility, and were living amicably with the locals, especially the Sierra Leone Army, with whom they share the same barracks.


The Acting Force Commander of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Agwai, accompanied by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States in Sierra Leone, Mr. Michael L. Bajek, on Friday, 4 January, witnessed the concluding part of the disarmament of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) combatants in Tongo, Kailahun and Buedu towns in eastern Sierra Leone.

In Tongo, UNAMSIL Zambian Battalion 3 Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. MS Sitwala, informed the delegation that the disarmament of combatants was ongoing and would conclude on 5 January. Later, at a meeting, RUF interim leader Gen. Issa Sesay noted that he was in Tongo to ensure the thorough completion of disarmament of combatants.

The Commanding Officer of Pakistani Battalion 2 in Kailahun, Lt. Col. Ahmad Nawaz, conducted the delegation to the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Camp, where 226 ex-combatants were discharged after the completion of the demobilization phase.

The Deputy Pakistani Contingent Commander, Col. Ahmed Najib Khan, noted that the turnout of the combatants at Buedu was "encouraging and they joined with serviceable weapons." The delegation witnessed the start of the disarmament of 275 combatants, who disarmed with mortars, automatic rifles and other weapons.


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, on 4 January commissioned a police station in Tombo, about 100 kilometres south of Freetown, financed by Japanese assistance through the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Trust Fund and built by ex-combatants.

Welcoming the SRSG and his entourage, Mr. Foday M. Kamara, a former headman of Tombo, noted that over 20 years ago, his community acquired a piece of land and raised funds to build a police station, but the outbreak of the war disrupted their efforts.

Mr. Kamara observed that with progress in the peace process, Tombo has witnessed a population increase "which urgently calls for the presence of the police." Moreover, a dual-carriage road linking Tombo to Freetown is under construction, thus increasing economic activity in this fishing community.

In his remarks, Ambassador Adeniji commended the people of Tombo for taking the lead in ensuring the building of the police station. He said its construction showed that the community "appreciates the value of law and order." The SRSG encouraged Tombo residents to be law-abiding citizens and to work with the Sierra Leone Police to ensure peace and justice.

The Deputy Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police, Mr. Kandeh Bangura, commended the ex-combatants who built the police station. "This is part of the reconciliation process to rebuild our community after the decade-old war," he noted. He also emphasized that the goal of the Sierra Leone Police is "to bring policing closer to the people."

Representatives of the Government of Sierra Leone and senior UNAMSIL officials witnessed the ceremony.

Briefing by Mr. Ralph Zacklin, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Head of UN Planning Mission on Special Court for Sierra Leone

Ralph Zacklin: It is a pleasure to be here with you in Freetown again. I was here about 15 months ago on an earlier mission. This time I have come with a planning mission, which is to say that we have now reached a stage where we are about to launch the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Next weekend, the Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, will join the mission. He will sign the agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone for the establishment of the Special Court some time late next week. Once the agreement is signed, the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN will have committed themselves to the implementation of the Special Court.

The reason of the visit here at the present time is to take up with the Government of Sierra Leone all of the various aspects of the practical implementation of the Special Court. This is a nuts-and-bolts visit; we are working on absolutely everything that would lead to the creation of this institution, beginning with where it will be located, the premises. There will be discussions with the authorities regarding prosecutions and investigations. We will be having discussions with officials of the Government regarding the relationship between the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and various other matters. There are representatives of Member States here who form part of the Management Committee of the Special Court. This Management Committee is made up of states who are responsible for the funding of the Special Court. We have with the Planning Mission representatives from the US, UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Lesotho. One of the members of the Management Committee from Nigeria could not make the trip.


Lansana Fofana, BBC: Since you have been here, have you spoken to members of the RUF? I would like to know why the dynamism in setting up the Special Court at this time, why the speed, when the elections are just around the corner and when the disarmament process is not complete. This may probably have some backlash at this point in time.

Zacklin: The planning mission is here to discuss the Special Court with the partner in establishing the Court, which is the Government of Sierra Leone. We do not have any plans for the Planning Mission itself to speak with the RUF. Our interlocutor is the Government of Sierra Leone, which together with the United Nations is one of the parties to the agreement, and we are discussing very practical issues regarding implementation of that agreement, which the Government will bind itself to when it signs the agreement next week. As far as the timing is concerned, this Special Court has been in gestation for more than two years. Many of you know we had some preliminary discussions in September 2000. There have been delays for various reasons in the establishment of the Special Court. The decision to go ahead is simply part of an evolutionary process that has taken place; it has nothing to do with the events taking place in Sierra Leone in the coming months. It just happens to be that decisions have been taken, an evolution in the process has taken place which has brought us to this stage at this particular point in time.

Christo Johnson, Reuters: Explain what the UN is talking about when it says perpetrators. Who are these perpetrators? And how far have you got to the funding of the Special Court?

Zacklin: We do not talk about perpetrators. You won't find the word 'perpetrators' in any document of the UN. What we are talking about is the question of who would be brought before the Special Court. That is a question of personal jurisdiction. The agreement establishes that this Court is there to try persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes that have been committed here in Sierra Leone within a certain period of time. The important phrase is those who bear the greatest responsibility. Now how we identify those individuals--that is a matter for the prosecutor. When the prosecutor is appointed, the prosecutor will have to look at the evidence against various individuals and assess that evidence and decide whether it is his or her view if the individual falls under the personal jurisdiction of the Special Court.

As to funding, the Secretary-General has agreed to go ahead with the establishment of the Special Court because he is convinced that there is sufficient funding for the operation of the Special Court for at least the first three years of its operation. We have funding in hand that is sufficient for the first year of operation, and we have pledges for the funding for the second and third years and which we are sure will come through. Funding of the Special Court is being done on the basis of voluntary contributions of Member States, not on the basis of assessed contributions against the UN regular budget. Each State has its own budgetary process. For many States, it is not possible to indicate three or four years in advance what your contribution can be to a voluntary fund. But I can assure you that the Secretary-General would not have authorized the arrival of this planning mission if he was not certain there is sufficient funding for a viable court.

Clarence Roy-McCauley, Associated Press: You have met with the Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice, can you give us insights as to your discussions, as well as with other officials of the Government?

Zacklin: We had a meeting yesterday afternoon with the Government task force which is the group that is our interlocutor headed by the Attorney-General. Others included in the task force are the Solicitor-General, other senior officials of the police and prison service and various ministries. These are two very large groups; there are 15 persons on the UN side, and an equally large group on the Government side. We do not intend to conduct discussions at the plenary level because you cannot have a good discussion with such large groups. Yesterday's meeting was for the purpose of one group introducing itself to the other side. Some of us have been in Sierra Leone before, but for others this is their first visit. We had a very constructive meeting. We were able to mingle informally and a lot of bilateral discussions took place. For the most part, the work of the Planning Mission and of the Government task force will take place in smaller groups which will be dealing with very specific aspects of the establishment of the Court.

John Bona, The New Storm: What is the difference between the Special Court and the criminal tribunals of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda?

Zacklin: The purpose of the Special Court, which is to hold individuals accountable for their crimes and to deal with impunity, the character of the Special Court is exactly the same as the ad hoc criminal tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Except for some provisions of the Sierra Leonean criminal code, the jurisdictions are exactly the same. They are dealing with international crimes. In that sense, there is no difference. The reason why we have had to establish this Special Court in a way which is slightly different from the other two has to do with the funding of the Special Court. The two courts you mentioned are both UN organs. They are subsidiary organs of the Security Council. They are both funded from the regular budget assessments of the Organization. They are extremely expensive operations. When Member States began to discuss the question of establishing a Special Court for Sierra Leone, they did not want to repeat the administrative and budgetary exercise that had been followed for these two other tribunals. They took the decision rather than establish the court of Sierra Leone as a UN organ, which would be funded from UN budget, it should be funded by voluntary contributions. That means that the Court will be established not by a resolution of the Security Council, but by the agreement that is to be signed next week by the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN.

Arthur Caulker, the Rolyc: Again on the timing of the Special Court, don't you think there would be a backlash?

Zacklin: Obviously, in a situation where we are still in the process of establishing peace, disarmament and reconciliation, there is probably never a perfect time to establish a Special Court. I regard the role of the Special Court as part of an overall process which the UN is engaged in Sierra Leone. Many other parts of the process have been ongoing for many months. I see the court as part of that process which will lead to the reintegration of Sierra Leone society. I would recall that when we established the tribunal for Yugoslavia, the war was still going on in Yugoslavia. Some of the same questions were raised at that time. The fact of the matter is it was an important part of that process and I don't believe that the establishment of the Special Court, its timing, poses any particular difficulties that we cannot overcome.

John Mansaray, Salone Times: How will the Special Court maintain its independence? How will the Special Court identify the ages of persons to be brought before it?

Zacklin: The independence of the Court is a very important question. How can we assure it will act independently of the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN? The answer lies in the structure of the Court. The prosecutor will be an internationally appointed prosecutor. The agreement specifies that the Secretary-General will appoint the prosecutor after consultations with the Government of Sierra Leone, who is not a Sierra Leone national. He will be appointing a international prosecutor who will obviously be completely independent, both of the Government and of the UN.

The second aspect of independence lies in the trial and the appeals chambers. In its initial stage, there will be one trial chamber and one appeals chamber. The trial chamber will have three judges, two of the three who will be appointed by the Secretary-General and they will therefore be non-Sierra Leoneans. In the appeals chamber, which will have five judges, three of the five judges will be appointed by the Secretary-General. So we can safely say that the independence of this institution will be guaranteed by the international character of the international character of the majority of judges, not to mention that there will be many international staff appointed to the registry of the Court and among the prosecutor's staff and the investigators.

The question about age is a very valid question because the whole issue of possible prosecution of juveniles under the age of 18 is a very controversial issue. I cannot get into the details of how the prosecutor might establish the precise age of a suspect. That is something the prosecutors and investigators would have to deal with. As far as juvenile are concerned, in the light of discussions on the subject that we had 15 months ago and in the intervening period, changes have been made in the agreement. Although it is still technically possible for the prosecutor to indict children between age 15 and 18, there are various provisions in the agreement that make special provisions for such trials if they should take place and there is no provision in the statute for the sentencing to terms of imprisonment of anybody under age 18. I would like to underscore that everybody is extremely aware of the sensitivity of this issue, and the subject has been looked at very carefully. If and when in the course of an investigation the prosecutor should in fact determine that somebody under the age of 18 falls within the jurisdiction of the court, in other words, bears the greatest responsibility, then of course he would have to be able to establish the age of that person correctly.

Kelvin Lewis, Voice of America: In the Lome Agreement, amnesty was given to most of those whom you would classify as bearing the greatest responsibility. This court will operate in Sierra Leone, where the amnesty has been passed into law. How can the UN come in and operate a court which will not recognize our law? And what happens to somebody who eight or nine years ago was classified as a child but who is now an adult and who is practically in charge, in the position of a commander, bearing the greatest responsibility, but was a child when he began?

Zacklin: The amnesty was given by the Government of Sierra Leone in the Lome Agreement, and that does not bind the United Nations. The UN was witness to the signing of the agreement and we attached to our signature of that Agreement a statement to the effect that the UN did not recognize the amnesty for international crimes, for the crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide. These are not recognized as amnestiable crimes by the United Nations. The Special Court finds its legal basis in the agreement the Government will sign with the UN. That is the legal basis of the Court and that agreement makes it clear that there can be no amnesty for such crimes. As far as the Special Court is concerned, the legal basis for that Court does not provide amnesty for such crimes. That is why it is possible for this Court to try those who have committed those crimes. They are not covered by the amnesty.

As far as the children are concerned, your question was about somebody who might have been a child and not bearing a position of responsibility, but who might now be over the age of 18, and could possibly be brought before the Special Court. The Special Court's temporal jurisdiction has been fixed in the agreement. The Prosecutor, in order to indict an individual, must take into account the temporal jurisdiction of the Court. The crimes for which the Prosecutor will seek indictments have to have been committed in the temporal jurisdiction of the Court. Only if that individual committed those crimes within that period would he fall under the jurisdiction of the Court. The temporal jurisdiction begins on 30 November 1996.

For additional information, contact UNAMSIL Public Information Office: UNAMSIL Headquarters, Mammy Yoko, P. O. Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tel: 232-22-273-183/4/5 Fax: 232-22-273-189

Not an official document of the United Nations. Maintained by the Peace and Security Section of the Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

(c) United Nations 2002