International Judicial Monitor
Published by the International Judicial Academy, Washington, D.C., with assistance from the
American Society of International Law

Winter 2014 Issue

Justice Sector Assessment


One Door Closes and Another One Opens:
The Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Peace Museum

Sierra Leone Peace MuseumBy: Melissa R. Ruggiero, Esq., Legal Officer at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Appeals Chamber from January, 2012 to October 2013

What is the legacy that courts leave behind?  This is one of the questions that the Special Court for Sierra Leone asked itself as it was facing that it would be the first international court to complete and accomplish its mandate. There is the obvious fact that courts leave behind such as judgments, sentences, and jurisprudence, but what else can courts leave behind?  Could that something else be a peace museum and public archive?


The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was established in 2002 by an Agreement between the United Nations (UN) and the Government of Sierra Leone as the result of a request to the UN in 2000 by the Government of Sierra Leone for a “special court” to address serious crimes against civilians and UN peacekeepers committed during the country’s decade-long civil war from 1991 to 2002.  It is the first international court to sit in the country where the crimes took place.  It was negotiated that the SCSL was to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, the date of the failed Abidjan Peace Accord, and to function in accordance with the Statute of the SCSL. 

The SCSL Statute empowered the prosecutor to bring charges for war crimes (serious violations of Article 3 Common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims and of Additional Protocol II), crimes against humanity, other serious violations of international humanitarian law and specified crimes under Sierra Leonean law.   The SCSL fulfilled its mandate and closed its doors in December 2013.  The Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone was established by agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN to oversee the legal obligations of the SCSL after its closure which includes witness protection, supervision of prison sentences, and management of the SCSL archives.

Legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone - judgments, sentences and jurisprudence

The Special Court is leaving behind judgments, sentences and jurisprudence.  Three trials were held in Freetown of leaders of Sierra Leone’s warring factions:  The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF).  Eight persons were convicted and sentenced to terms ranging from 15 to 52 years.

The Charles Taylor trial was the last trial.  He was the former President of Liberia who the Prosecution alleged was one of those who bore the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed by the rebels against civilians in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war, and was indicted on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  His trial was held in The Hague, The Netherlands, because concerns were expressed, most notably in the UN Security Council Resolution 1688 that holding the trial in Sierra Leone could endanger the stability of the sub-region.  On April 26, 2012 the Court unanimously found Mr. Taylor guilty on all 11 counts, including rape and sexual slavery, cruel treatment, the use of child soldiers, enslavement and pillage and sentenced him to 50 years imprisonment.  The Defense and Prosecution appealed. On September 26, 2013 the Appeals Chamber unanimously upheld the conviction of Mr. Taylor on the 11 counts, and affirmed the 50 years sentence imposed by the Trial Chamber. Notably, the SCSL was the first international court since Nuremberg, to indict, try and convict a former head of state.

The Special Court was also the first to enter convictions for the use of child soldiers, for forced marriage as a crime against humanity, and for attacks against UN peacekeepers.  It made historic contributions to the understanding of the impact of armed conflicts on women and girls and reflected that understanding in its jurisprudence and in the treatment of survivors as participants in post-conflict justice. 

Another achievement by the SCSL was it was the first to use aggressive Outreach to inform people on the progress of the trials, to explain the legal process, and to assist in restoring the rule of law.  According to an independent survey funded by the European Union and conducted in Sierra Leone and Liberia, 79.16% of all those surveyed believe that the Court has accomplished its mandate.[1]  In addition, 91% of those surveyed in Sierra Leone believe that the Special Court has contributed to bringing peace in their country.[2]



Sierra Leone Peace Museum

With the judgments, sentences and jurisprudence, could the court establish anything else?  The Special Court took it upon itself to ask this question, and one of those legacy projects with the Government of Sierra Leone was to leave behind the Sierra Leone Peace Museum. Its opening coincided with the closing ceremony of the Special Court on December 2, 2013.  The Peace Museum occupies the Special Court’s remodeled former security building.  It is a place of symbolic significance for Sierra Leone, commemorating those who suffered in the civil war, serving as a reminder to future generations, and attracting tourists who wish to understand the conflict.  The museum’s first exhibition introduces the story, focusing on highlighting war-related artifacts, the peace-building process, and the role of the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  There was also a glimpse of the Memorial Garden which will be a place of reflection to honor the war’s victims and serve as a form of symbolic reparation to the war victims.  

The museum can serve different roles. One of these roles is to serve as an archive of public judicial records, open session transcripts, press clippings and press releases. Another role for the museum is to continue the conversation about justice and reconciliation and allow the public to engage in this conversation.  It allows the physical and intellectual space to question the causes of the conflict and to discuss the nation’s ongoing commitment to preventing future conflicts.   It also allows persons who did not live through the war and sees the exhibits or views the archives, to ask themselves why this is important. How does that impact my life now?  The person is interpreting what they are seeing in this broad context.  The museum gives that space to those who visit to ask themselves those questions and many other questions that they may not ask if the museum did not exist.

It is the priority of the Peace Museum Project Management Team to include Sierra Leoneans in the process of building the Museum because outreach is integral to the museum’s operations.  Since the project began in 2011 the team has worked closely with the Special Court Interactive Forum (SCIF), which consists of about 50 civil society organizations.  The Forum has helped to raise awareness around the implementation of the Peace Museum and facilitate the participation of members of the public to contribute to various stages of the project.  The majority of the war was fought outside the capital, and it’s important to get materials from the 12 districts of the country.  Peace Museum task forces were established in all districts, and these task forces have been instrumental in engaging members of their community on the project and getting materials to be used as exhibits and also to preserve.  To date, the Sierra Leone Peace Museum is a modest effort with a lot of potential.  Phase II and III master planning work is complete and awaits funding support.  When funding is secured, some of the future exhibits will include telling post-conflict stories with first-person narratives of success, demonstrating how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process worked, examples of the data collection and documentation, photos/videos that demonstrate the importance of allowing Sierra Leoneans’ voices to speak out, a visually narrated timeline of the war’s major events and players.  Other future exhibits from which the public could benefit are those that help visitors understand the Special Court in its process and outcomes such as evidence and summaries of major court decisions.  The Peace Museum will also be a place offering visitor education especially for children and have classes and programs which will be occurring in Phase I as well as in the later phases.

The Special Court did close its doors in December 2013, but it has opened another door by launching the Sierra Leone Peace Museum project.  Hopefully, the Peace Museum will fulfill its potential to preserve this part of the country’s history and help the people’s understanding of the value of peace.  It may also provide a possible blue print for other courts that hear war crimes cases to include a peace museum in their own legacy. 

For more information about the Sierra Leone Peace Museum, see  and the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone,  Special thanks to Seth Frankel of Studio Tectonic, the museum’s planner and designer, for information about the Sierra Leone Peace Museum project and photos.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SCSL.

[1] 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 .

[2] Ibid.



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