The United Nations lawyer Ralph Zacklin set up the special court for Sierra Leone on January 16, 2002.  This came after a request from the government of Sierra Leone in 2000.  The court was meant to last just three years, however it remained in place until December of 2013 after the final sentence was given in early September of that year. The government of Sierra Leone requested that a Special Court (SC) be made to address the atrocious crimes committed during the decade long civil war in their country. The SC for Sierra Leone (SL) was a landmark moment in international law, because it produced the world’s first hybrid international criminal trial.  This led to trying those criminals who held the greatest responsibility for the deadly crimes committed in Sierra Leone. The SCSL was also the first international tribunal to sit in the country where the actual crimes took place; it was also the first to have an outlook program on the ground that was effective. This court was funded by voluntary contributions, rather than government funds and was the first to be operated on individuals’ contributions.  In 2013 the SC completed its mandate by completing what it set out to do, and it transition into a residual mechanism. The SCSL was also the first court to convict criminals for their attacks against UN peacekeepers, and this court also punished instigators of forced marriages, naming them crimes against humanity.

Key Legal Issues

The main legal issue with the SCSL concerns the fact that the law applies equally to everyone. Having the former Liberian President charged with such strong allegations is a key example of rule of law being put to use. The trial of Charles Taylor put on by the Special Court of Sierra Leone clearly depicts that no one, not even someone of the highest respect and power, can get away with the immoral and illegal crimes committed by this Ex-President.


Charles Taylor is a former Liberian President who is now serving his 50-year sentence in a United Kingdom jail and has 43 years left to serve. The SCSL convicted him for war crimes after his support of the rebels (RUF) led to the decade long civil war in Sierra Leone where rebel forces killed, raped, and mutilated innocent citizens. Taylor was supplying weapons to the rebel forces and in return taking diamonds. His trial opened in June of 2007, and he was convicted of 11 charges, which included rape, terrorism, murder, and the use of child soldiers by rebel groups in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone. In April of 2012 after a long trial, Taylor was finally convicted of aiding and abetting the commissions of war crimes and was sentenced to 50 years in jail after a lengthy appeal process was shut down.  Even though Charles Taylor never admitted his crimes, it is clear that he committed the wrongdoings he was charged with and therefore should be punished for his heinous actions. Compared to other trials, like the Tokyo trials, the punishment for Charles Taylor and all other criminals tried in the SCSL were fair and consistent. The SC for Sierra Leone made its final charge on the 26th of September 2013 with the sentencing of Charles Taylor.