Sierra Leone Regional Roundtables 2007-2008

Regional roundtable discussions were organised in the northern regional headquarter town of Makeni (Bombali District) and in the southern regional headquarter of Bo, on 15-16 August 2007, as well as in the western region and national capital, Freetown, on 21-22 January 2008, with the financial support of the European Union. The roundtables were held in three sessions to maximise the national reach of the discussions, particularly given the relatively advanced awareness and interest in accountability throughout Sierra Leone.
Pre-event consultative visits were made to all the districts to identify participants and local partners, who were carefully selected with regard to their base level knowledge of the issues involved and, as much as practicable, were drawn from participants in the Seminar on Implementing Legislation of the Rome Statute organised by NPWJ and Manifesto 99 in Freetown in December 2006. The Freetown Roundtable Discussions were led by the Customary Law officer in the Law Officers Department in the office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice, who is also the department’s focal point for ICC issues and for local government officials from all the districts.
The roundtables focused on the mandate of the Special Court for Sierra Leone as the principal accountability mechanism in the country for the prosecution of crimes similar to those in the Rome Statute of the ICC, as a means by which to guide discussion from the familiar (i.e. the SCSL) to the unfamiliar (i.e. a consideration of other types of accountability mechanisms).  Specific attention was paid to the limitation of the mandate of the Special Court to prosecute only those alleged to bear “the greatest responsibility” to the exclusion of the middle level commanders, thus creating the so called ’’impunity gap’’, and the lessons to be learned from this limitation with regard to non‑judicial accountability mechanisms that may address this issue and future domestication of the Rome Statute for the investigation and prosecution of crimes under international law.
The results of the Roundtable included an analysis of the role of non-judicial, quasi‑judicial and neo-traditional accountability mechanisms in narrowing the impunity gap in the Sierra Leonean context. Participants generally felt that the types of crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction should be dealt with through judicial means, be it the ICC, an ad hoc institution like the Special Court for Sierra Leone or through the national criminal justice system. However, should such crimes be dealt with at the national level, there would be a need to ensure that the national legal system has sufficient capacity to investigate and prosecute those crimes, which participants generally felt was lacking within Sierra Leone at the current time. The results of these discussions fed into the production of the Global Report, which includes Sierra Leone as a specific case study.
Another important result was strengthening and maintaining political will and lobbying and advocacy capacity of target groups and beneficiaries on ending impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The roundtable discussions included representatives of government and civil society, both of whom expressed their intention to work on ensuring that legislation enacted to implement the Rome Statute at the national level contains adequate measures to ensure that the impunity gap be as minimal as possible.