SC – Briefing on Special Court for Sierra Leone - Ambassador Mayr-Harting
Statement by Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations
New York, 16 July 2009
At the outset, I would like to thank the President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Justice Renate Winter, and the Prosecutor, Mr. Stephen Rapp, for their very informative briefings. We are honoured that an Austrian national who had previously served as an international judge in Kosovo, presides over this Court.
Austria has a longstanding commitment to support and contribute to efforts to strengthen the rule of law, promote human rights and end impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes.
My delegation thus highly commends the efforts of the Special Court to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes committed during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone since 1991, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was arrested in spring 2006. The Court’s work is vital to ensuring accountability and promoting reconciliation, peace-building and the re-establishment of the rule of law in Sierra Leone.
The Special Court plays a pioneering role in combating impunity and strengthening the rule of law at both the international and the national level. As the President and the Prosecutor have already pointed out, the judgments delivered by the Court have greatly contributed to the development of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, in particular regarding the recruitment or use of child soldiers and forced marriage. As the Prosecutor has said, lawyers from Sierra Leone have played an important role in this context. At the national level, the activities of the Court, including through its capacity building and outreach programmes, have assisted in strengthening the justice system in Sierra Leone. Further efforts in this field are, however, needed.
As it was highlighted by President Winter today, the Special Court is also facing a number of important challenges.
First and foremost, the very serious financial situation of the Court is of great concern. As is well-known, the Special Court is exclusively funded by voluntary contributions and currently available funds as has been said will be exhausted by early August 2009. We join President Winter’s urgent call upon all States to help alleviate the dire financial situation of the Court. The Austrian Government has made repeated voluntary contributions, most recently in respsonse to the appeal of the Secretary-General in March this year., Second, the Special Court is doing its utmost to accomplish its completion strategy and finish its work, including the Taylor case, at the earliest date, while maintaining all standards of fair trial and due process as well as undertaking effective outreach among the local population in the region. Austria fully supports these efforts and appreciates the projections that all the Court’s judicial activities will be completed by February 2011.
Finally, we must bear in mind that the work of the Special Court will not be finished at the time of the completion of the last case, but that a number of residual functions, as has been said, will have to be performed even after its closure. As Chair of the Security Council Informal Working Group on International Tribunals, which deals with the residual issues of the Ad-Hoc Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Austria follows very closely the discussions of the Special Court and its Management Committee on setting up a small successor body to manage and perform such residual functions, including the enforcement of sentences, maintenance of archives, witness protection, and the possible trial or transfer of the case of Johnny Koroma who is still at large. In this context, Austria also supports the proposal to establish a trust fund to cover the costs for the upkeep of prisoners of the Special Court so that they could serve their sentences in appropriate enforcing states.
Despite a number of legal and practical differences between the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the two Ad-Hoc Tribunals, in essence we are facing the same challenge, i.e. closing down an international criminal tribunal, which – as some have said – seems to be a much more complex task than setting up a new tribunal. We stand ready to further intensify the informal dialogue and exchange of views between the members of the Working Group and the Special Court and its Management Committee.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the President, Judges, Prosecutor, Registrar and all the staff of the Special Court for their tireless efforts in the name of international justice, and reaffirm Austria’s continued cooperation with and support for the Special Court.
Thank you, Mr. President.