The media has sometimes reported inaccurately on the Taylor trial, particularly about its relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. While the trial is being held in the ICC premises, press articles sometimes report on the Taylor trial as if it is an ICC trial. This has prompted a number of questions from readers.
One of our readers, Andrew, asked:
According to the Rome Statue, the ICC has jurisdiction only over matters that occurred after the Rome Statute came into effect on 1 July 2002. Yet we are seeing a trial of Charles Taylor that is being held under the auspices of the ICC that predates the period mentioned above. If one were to organize a special court, should it jurisdiction over matter not cover the same timeframe as that of its mother body?
Andrew is absolutely right about the jurisdiction of the ICC. And as a result, one might ask: How could the ICC try Charles Taylor for events stretching way back to 1996 when it is only empowered to look at crimes from July 1, 2002? Or else, we might wonder: how can the Special Court try Charles Taylor in another court that is governed by a different set of rules, and a different time frame, to that which applies to the crimes alleged against Mr. Taylor?
In fact – and this is often not made clear in the media – the ICC has nothing to do with this trial beyond hiring out one of its spare courtrooms to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to conduct Mr. Taylor’s trial, and also providing space in their detention facilities for Mr. Taylor (which also means that the ICC staff may occasionally deal with Mr. Taylor, for example, in relation to security issues). What this means is that the Special Court is not bound by the ICC’s rules, procedures or timeframes in relation to the trial.
The agreement to set up the Special Court, which was made between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone, actual provides for the Special Court to sit away from its normal seat in Freetown. Article 10 states: “The Court may meet away from its seat if it considers it necessary for the efficient exercise of its functions, and may be relocated outside Sierra Leone, if circumstances so require.” (This Agreement can be found here: http://www.sc-sl.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=CLk1rMQtCHg%3d&tabid=176). In addition, Rule 4 of the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence, says that “a chamber or a judge may exercise their functions away from the Seat of the Special Court, if so authorized by the President.” (These rules area available here: http://www.sc-sl.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=zXPrwoukovM%3d&tabid=176).
In this case, the Special Court moved Trial Chamber II over to The Hague when the Security Council authorized the transfer of Mr. Taylor’s trial for reasons of international peace and security (and here is the Security Council resolution 1688 (2006) if you are interested: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8755.doc.htm). This means that the same combination of Justices as presided over the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) trial in Freetown (that is, Justices Richard Lussick, Julia Sebutinde and Teresa Doherty — with the addition of Justice El Hadji Malick Sow, who is an alternative judge for the Taylor trial appointed by the United Nations) were simply transferred to The Netherlands to hear Mr. Taylor’s case. The Special Court also brought over the same team of prosecutors who had been based in Sierra Leone; as well as a team of people to help with the administration of the trial. Mr. Moriba, for example, who always so kindly answers our questions, is Sierra Leonean and is normally based at the Special Court in Freetown– but has been moved to The Hague as the Special Court’s specially designated press and outreach officer for the Taylor trial. In short, the Special Court has simply set up a little satellite office in The Hague for the purposes of trying Mr. Taylor.
What this means in practice is that the Taylor trial is governed by the same rules that would apply if he were being tried at the Special Court in Freetown. The ICC rules don’t apply because it is purely a transactional relationship between the two courts – one hires out its space to the other. This is what allows for Mr. Taylor to be tried for the crimes and for the timeframes he is: because the Special Court statute covers crimes committed “in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996.” (You can find the statute here: http://www.sc-sl.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=uClnd1MJeEw%3d&tabid=176).
Yet this is often not the picture we get in the media, who report it as though the Taylor trial is somehow being undertaken by the ICC. This is not true – and Andrew’s question picked up on that misreporting in the press.
Hopes this helps to clarify the questions that a number of readers have.
Keep the questions coming – we will try to answer as quickly as possible, but some take a little more time to put together so we may need to ask for your patience with some. For others, we will try to get outside experts in to write for us. That can also take a bit longer too.
But we do want to help where we can. So if in doubt, try us, and we can see what we can do to try to answer.