Making Justice Count

Assessing the impact and legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Sierra Leone and Liberia (September 2012)


  • Survey commissioned by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and conducted by No Peace Without Justice in partnership with the Sierra Leone Institute for International Law, Manifesto 99, the Coalition for Justice and Accountability and the Liberia NGOs Network.
  • Download the full report in pdf format

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was, in many ways, the first of its kind: the first international court established by agreement between the United Nations and the State where crimes were committed; the first of the so-called “hybrid courts”, where the involvement of the State and its nationals was considered of paramount importance; the first court to be established and operate in the country where the crimes were committed; and the first court to view outreach and legacy as core elements of its work from a very early stage. Since its establishment in 2002, the SCSL has indicted 13 individuals and through its work has sought to leave a lasting legacy for the people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and the region as a whole.
The resolution of the appeals filed with the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Charles Taylor case will mark the official end of the SCSL’s judicial work. This survey aims to establish the impact of the SCSL on Sierra Leone and Liberia through its judicial proceedings, its legacy work and its outreach program. The survey, consisting of a questionnaire incorporating open ended and closed questions, was administered to 2,841 people across various districts and counties in Sierra Leone and Liberia during June and July 2012.1 The respondents were chosen from various target groups, representing diverse walks of life, sexes and age groups, with a particular emphasis laid on ensuring the inclusion of voices that are historically overlooked, including women, young people and persons with disabilities.
The number of surveys to be administered was calculated according to the overall population of the two countries taken together. Statistics show that this number of surveys, in relation to the overall population of both countries of close to 8.5 million, represents a margin of error of 1.84 and a confidence level of 95%. With a margin of error of +/-2% and a confidence level of 95%, if 60% of respondents replied ‘yes’, there is a 95% probability that between 58% and 62% of the whole would reply ‘yes’ to that question. So, for example, on the question “What does justice mean to you?”, the fact that 72.49% of people replied “Establishment of the truth” means that there is a 95% probability that between 70.65% and 74.33% of the overall populations of Sierra Leone and Liberia would say that justice means the establishment of the truth.
As such, the authors are confident that the results of this survey are representative of the general feelings and perspectives of the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
According to the survey findings, the overall feeling towards the SCSL and the work it has carried out over the past 10 years is very positive. It is safe to conclude that the SCSL has, on the whole, been successful in achieving what it set out to achieve, which – according to the majority of people in Sierra Leone and Liberia – is first and foremost to carry out prosecutions, with the next most common answers being to bring justice, bring peace and establish the rule of law. The results show that the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia overwhelmingly felt that the SCSL had prosecuted those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes, even if many people felt a need for additional prosecutions further down the chain of command, and had helped contribute to restoration of the rule of law. The results also show that the vast majority of people in Sierra Leone and Liberia believe that the SCSL has made a positive contribution towards peace and the rule of law in their countries.
High awareness of the SCSL, its purposes and work is evident in both countries, with more than 90% of overall respondents having heard of the SCSL, around 65% of people indicating they were interested in the Court’s work and nearly 50% having participated in outreach activities at some point over the 10 years of the Court’s existence, including listening to radio programs.
This is a very impressive result, especially considering that 10 years ago, the Court was still an idea coming to fruition in an international justice landscape that was much more rudimentary than the landscape of today. Much of this success can be attributed to the work of the Outreach Section and to the vision established during the early stages of the Court of it being an institution embedded in and responsive to the expectations and needs of the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
There were a number of challenges that the SCSL had to overcome to reach these achievements, with greater and lesser degrees of success, from which lessons for other courts and tribunals can be drawn. These lessons concern overcoming inevitable challenges, such as lack of access to remote areas, as many respondents noted that there was a need for further and farther reaching outreach to the population, particularly in rural areas. They are also about challenges that could be avoided, such as the Court’s continual battle to find funding, especially for outreach and legacy activities, as the survey indicates that knowledge of the Court’s legacy activities (especially with respect to law enforcement) was not widespread. Respondents also acknowledged the top constraints faced by the Court as being distances to travel, especially in Liberia, and finances.
Knowledge about the trial of Charles Taylor was widespread across both countries and reactions to the judgment and sentencing were understandably mixed, particularly in Liberia. Many people in Liberia felt it was unfair for President Taylor to be tried before the SCSL, or that it was not right that he was tried only for crimes in Sierra Leone, as opposed to crimes allegedly committed in Liberia. Indeed, Liberians tend to see the SCSL as a Sierra Leonean court and the need for a ‘Special Court for Liberia’ was repeatedly highlighted.
Most people considered that it was important for the truth to be known, which they felt constituted part of justice, especially after the kinds of experiences they had gone through in their countries. Despite this, a large majority indicated that they had not participated in any process to establish the truth. Similarly, the majority of people indicated that they considered justice to constitute a form of redress, which is of great importance considering that around half of the respondents self-identified as victims of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Nonetheless, a disturbingly low number of  people indicated they had received any other form of redress. While financial and material redress and reparations has been a consistent advocacy point for many NGOs over the past decade, and there has been some progress on this in recent years, this is an area that clearly requires more attention and commitment from the governments and the international community, who the majority of respondents felt were responsible for these issues.
Many respondents were very happy that their views were being sought and expressed their thanks to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the organisers of the survey for giving them the  opportunity to share their thoughts and perspectives on what they viewed as an important issue for them, their countries and the region.
The following are the main recommendations and lessons learnt that have emerged as a result of this survey and that are important for other courts and tribunals to consider:
•Outreach is a condition for success for international courts and tribunals, both in engaging populations to acquire their cooperation and to ensure the impact and legacy of international courts and tribunals in the countries affected by crimes.
As such, outreach should be included in the formal mandate of international courts and tribunals, preferably in their founding Statute or in their rules, and should be funded through the Court’s regular budget. Funding outreach through separate or voluntary contributions means that outreach personnel spend valuable time and energy looking for funding instead of carrying out critical outreach functions.
• Outreach should start at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably whenever an interest in a particular country is indicated or work begins in a particular country, and should as far as possible extend to encompass the whole country, irrespective of where crimes were committed.
• International courts and tribunals should be located in the country where the crimes were committed, or should at least hold some proceedings in that country, in order to bridge the inevitable gap between the court and the victims and population affected by the crimes.
• Transitional justice mechanisms should be designed so that they are complementary, with the roles of each and the relationship between the different mechanisms being clear, to avoid unrealistic burdens being placed on one mechanism alone and to situate each mechanism within a broader transitional justice framework.
• International courts and tribunals should start planning for legacy and completion from the moment they begin work and, preferably, have a well thought-out strategic plan for legacy and completion from before they enter a particular country to begin work.
• Various actors, both from the country concerned and from the international community, need to be involved in the legacy work of international courts and tribunals, including members of the security sector, to maximise the potential legacy work and to avoid burdening international courts and tribunals with unrealistic expectations of what they can deliver.