Special Court for Sierra Leone: Chronology

2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | Current

11 December 2003: A private UK-based military firm says it is willing to carry out an operation to seize indictee Charles Taylor, who has been granted asylum in Nigeria. The company says it is looking for investors to share the cost of the operation. In return, the company will split the $2 million reward the US has allegedly set aside for apprehension of "an indictee of the Special Court." The U.S. maintains that it is strongly opposed to any violent or illegal acts against Nigerian authorities aimed at apprehending Charles Taylor.

5 December 2003: The Office of the Prosecutor announces that it has officially withdrawn the indictments against Sam Bockerie and Foday Sankoh. The OTP says that there is no doubt that both men are dead. While there will now be no trial of the two men, Chief Prosecutor David Crane maintains that a record of what they did to the people of Sierra Leone will come out.

4 December 2003: INTERPOL issues a "red notice" seeking the arrest of Special Court fugitive Charles Taylor. A red notice is not an official arrest warrant and cannot compel States to arrest anyone. It does, however, ask States to detain Taylor for extradition to the Special Court. The red notice in effect puts Taylor on INTERPOL's version of the "most wanted" list and sends the message that international police body believes arrest is appropriate. Taylor is currently in exile in Nigeria.

3 December 2003: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Sierra Leone says the Special Court's attempts to keep indictee Sam Hinga Norman from testifying before the Commission seriously undermine the cause of truth. Last week, the Special Court issued a press release saying that that Special Court President Geoffrey Robertson upheld an earlier decision preventing Norman from testifying at the TRC, but permitted him to provide an affidavit to the TRC and potentially meet with Commissioners. The TRC says that statement is misleading because, according to Justice Robertson's decision, the TRC would have to reapply to the court for permission to speak directly with Norman. TRC officials claim that the Court knows this to be impossible given the fact that the TRC will be finishing its work in a few weeks. They further claim that any such application would be denied because the Court's own procedures exclude confidential interviews with detainees.

2 December 2003: The Special Court begins hearings on the Prosecution's applications for joinder. The Prosecutor wants to join six indictees-Alex Tomba Brima, Augustine Gbao, Morris Kallon, Brima Kamara, Santigie Kanu, and Issa Sesay-in one trial for crimes allegedly committed while they were members of the RUF and AFRC. The Prosecutor also requests joinder for the remaining three indictees-Sam Hinga Norma, Moinina Fofana, and Allieu Kondewa-in custody for crimes allegedly committed while they were members of the CDF. The hearings are expected to end on 5 December and a decision will be reached at the beginning of next year.

28 November 2003: Special Court President Justice Geoffrey Robertson issues a decision allowing Sam Hinga Norman to testify before Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In October, the Trial Chamber denied Norman's request to testify publicly before the TRC. Today, Robertson ruled that Norman my provide a written affidavit to the TRC that may be supplemented by interviews with TRC officials but that he may not give public testimony. Robertson maintained that the Special Court's role is to find guilt or innocence and that it will not compromise the defendant's right to a fair trial.

26 November 2003: Nigeria's President says Nigeria will turn Special Court indictee Charles Taylor over to a Liberian war crimes court if requested to do so. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has repeatedly resisted US pressure to turn Taylor over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Nigerian officials say that the asylum given to Taylor made no promise to shield him from Liberian law. Interim Liberian President Gyude Bryant has said he sees no need of a war crimes court in Liberia, but supports the idea of Taylor being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

13 November 2003: The United States denies that it has put a bounty on the head of Special Court indictee Charles Taylor. Last week, Nigeria, which granted Taylor asylum, claimed that the $2 million dollar reward approved by Congress for the apprehension of "an indictee of the Special Court" encouraged lawlessness in Nigeria. The U.S. emphasizes that it is strongly opposed to any violent or illegal acts against Nigerian authorities aimed at apprehending Charles Taylor.

6 November 2003: As part of the new emergency funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, the US sets aside a $2 million reward for the capture of "an indictee of the Special Court of Sierra Leone," a clear reference to indictee Charles Taylor. The former Liberian president is currently in exile in Nigeria.

5 November 2003: Lawyers for several indictees of the Special Court argue preliminary motions before the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court. The issues include whether the accused are covered by an amnesty provision in the 1999 Lome Peace Accord, challenges to the Court's ability to indict defendants who are nationals of another country, and questions of sovereign immunity.

5 November 2003: In a report assessing the human rights situation in Sierra Leone, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights commends the Special Court for helping to establish law and order and respect for human rights in the country.

4 November 2003: The Appeals Chamber issues its first judgment affirming the "fast-track process" instituted by the Court for referring certain preliminary motions from the Trial Chamber to the Appeal Chamber. Attorneys for Sam Hinga Norman, Morris Kallon, and Augustine Gbao challenged the procedure arguing that referring motions immediately to the Appeal Chamber, the highest level of the Court, violates their right of appeal. The Appeals Chamber based their decision on the defendants' right to an expeditious trial and the power of the Appeals Chamber to refer issues back to the Trial Chamber.

31 October 2003: Attorneys for indictee Charles Taylor begin oral arguments on their appeal challenging Taylor's indictment on the grounds of head of state immunity and extraterritoriality.

17 October 2003: Special Court Prosecutor David Crane again calls on Nigeria to hand over former Liberian president and indictee Charles Taylor to the Special Court. Crane says that Taylor has threatened to return to Liberia and is a threat to peace in the region until he is handed over to the Special Court. The remarks follow a U.N. Security Council statement last week expressing concern that Taylor still has influence in Liberia and is a major threat to peace efforts in the region.

12 October 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor is warned by Nigeria's President that he should not violate the conditions of his asylum by using his cell phone to meddle in the politics of Liberia. Nigeria has granted Taylor asylum but has said in the past that the asylum is contingent on his staying out of Liberian politics.

10 October 2003: The Special Court begins hearing oral arguments on preliminary motions in the cases against former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Sam Hinga Norman and other indictees. The hearings are expected to last until 7 November 2003.

9 October 2003: The Special Court announces that preliminary arguments in various cases before the Court are expected to begin tomorrow and last through 7 November. The attorney for Charles Taylor plans to challenge his client's indictment on grounds that as the former President of Liberia, Taylor enjoys head-of-state immunity under international law. Lawyers for Sam Hinga Norman will challenge his client's indictment for recruiting child soldiers, claiming there are no international laws against it. Defense lawyers for other indictees are planning to argue that their clients are protected by the Lomé Accord and that the Special Court was not lawfully established.

3 October 2003: Construction of the courthouse for the Special Court commences at a groundbreaking ceremony in Freetown. The Registrar announces that approximately 800 Sierra Leoneans will be employed in the construction of the courthouse and that construction will be completed in five months.

23 September 2003: At his initial appearance before the Special Court, Santigie Kanu pleads not guilty to all 17counts with which he was charged. Kanu was transferred into Court custody by Sierra Leonean authorities who had been holding him since March on charges of treason.

20 September 2003: The Registrar announces the award of $3 million contract to a local construction company to build the new Special Court courthouse in Freetown. No date has been set for its completion, though Court officials says that trials can be held in the existing temporary court buildings until the permanent facilities are finished.

18 September 2003: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo warns former Liberian President and indictee of the Special Court Charles Taylor that Nigeria has not agreed to give Taylor immunity from the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The threat follows accusations that Taylor is still running Liberia from exile in Nigeria.

17 September 2003: Santigie Kanu is indicted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including killings, mutilations, sexual violence, forcible recruitment of child soldiers, enslavement of civilians, destruction of property and attacks on UN peacekeepers. Kanu is a former leader of the West Side Boys, one of the militias accused of atrocities during the 10-year civil war.

4 September 2003: The UN Security Council approves the appointment of Judge Hassan Bubacarr Jallow (Gambia) as Chief Prosecutor of the ICTR. Jallow was serving as an appeals judge for the Special Court.

3 September 2003: The Special Court turns the alleged body of indictee Sam Bockarie over to the Sierra Leonean government for burial. Bockarie was allegedly killed in Liberia before being handed over to the Special Court. Court investigators are still awaiting the results of DNA tests to determine the body's identity. The indictment against Bockarie will remain until the body has been positively identified.

1 September 2003: Jacques Klein, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia, defends Nigeria's decision to offer asylum to indictee Charles Taylor as the only solution to the crisis in Liberia. Taylor has been living in Nigeria since he stepped down as President of Liberia on 11 August 2003.

20 August 2003: The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia, Jacques Klein, notes that indictee Charles Taylor still poses a threat and will be arrested and turned over to the Special Court if he ever returns to Liberia.

12 August 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor arrives in Calabar, Nigeria where he will live in exile. Taylor has been granted asylum by Nigeria and is being housed in a hill-top mansion in the city.

11 August 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor leaves Liberia for asylum in Nigeria. Taylor, the former President of Liberia, handed over power to his Vice-President, Moses Blah, following intense international pressure. Officials from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) say that Taylor's departure is a "significant but incomplete step forward." The OTP reiterates its call on all countries, specially the governments of West Africa, to see that Taylor is turned over to the Court.

10 August 2003: The Court moves its detainees to a new high-security detention unit in Freetown. Until now, indictees in custody had been held in the Court's temporary lockup on Bonthe Island.

7 August 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor submits his resignation as President of Liberia to the Liberian Congress. The letter of resignation stipulates that Taylor will step down on 11 August 2003. No word on when or if Taylor will take up his exile in Nigeria.

7 August 2003: A motion to quash Nigeria's offer of asylum to indictee Charles Taylor is now before a Nigerian court. A group of Nigerian journalists asks the court to invalidate the asylum offer, accusing Taylor of complicity in the deaths of two Nigerian reporters in Liberia. In 1992, Taylor admitted that the reporters had been killed by Liberian troops, but without his knowledge. The journalist association is asking that the Nigerian court order the government to hand Taylor over to the Special Court if he steps foot in Nigeria. The court has postponed a hearing on the case until 14 August 2003.

5 August 2003: Liberia files a complaint before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), requesting that it quash the Special Court's indictment and subsequent arrest warrant against Charles Taylor. The complaint charges that the indictment violates the internationally accepted legal standard that heads of state are immune from criminal prosecution. Lawyers for Taylor filed a similar motion with the Special Court last month challenging the indictment.

3 August 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor says that he will only accept exile in Nigeria if the Special Court drops its indictment against him. Taylor still maintains he will step down as Liberian president on 11 August 2003.

29 July 2003: Indictee Foday Sankoh dies of natural causes. Doctors had been seeking treatment for Sankoh, who suffered from a stroke several months ago, in another country, but no country was willing to accept him. The Prosecutor's Office issues a statement saying that his death will not affect the cases pending against other indictees.

25 July 2003: Terrence Terry, an attorney representing indictee Charles Taylor, files a motion on his behalf and on behalf of the Liberian government challenging the indictment against Taylor. The motion, filed under protest and without waiving immunity, claims that the indictment against Taylor violates the principles of head of state immunity and sovereign equality of states.

23 July 2003: Michail Wladimiroff, a Dutch lawyer, says he has been engaged to handle all of indictee Charles Taylor's legal interests, including those related to the Special Court. Wladimiroff represented Dusko Tadic in his trial before the ICTY and acted as a "friend of the court," or advisor to the Trial Chamber, in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, but was dismissed last October after ICTY judges said he had compromised his impartiality.

23 July 2003: Switzerland freezes two million Swiss francs ($1.5 million) in two bank accounts belonging to associates of indictee Charles Taylor at the behest of the Special Court.

22 July 2003: The Court dismisses a defense request to stay proceedings against indictee Foday Sankoh on the grounds that his ill health makes him unfit to stand trial. Judge Itoe says that the court is not capable of assessing Sankoh's medical condition without a full examination by experts. Such care is unavailable in Sierra Leone, but no country has stepped forward to allow Sankoh entry for examination and treatment.

17 July 2003: Special Court President Geoffrey Robertson, in a reference to indictee Charles Taylor, asks the international community for assistance in bringing indicted war criminals to justice. Robertson urges cooperation between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Special Court to end impunity for war crimes.

17 July 2003: In the case of Foday Sankoh, defense counsel requested a stay of proceedings against the accused on the grounds that he is medically unfit to stand trial.

14 July 2003: The UN Security Council president calls on all UN Member States to consider making new or additional financial contributions to the Special Court in an effort to battle budgetary problems.

9 July 2003: Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo says that Nigeria will not turn Liberian president Charles Taylor over to the Special Court as long as he does not engage in political activities relating to Liberia.

6 July 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor accepts an offer of asylum in Nigeria in return for stepping down as Liberian President. Taylor says, however, he will not step down until a US-led peacekeeping force is in place in Liberia. Nigeria has implied that it will not turn Taylor over to the Special Court.

2 July 2003: In their initial appearance, Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa plead not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity.

27 June 2003: The Court indicts Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, both former members of the Civilian Defense Force (CDF) and its Kamajor militia. The men have been in custody since May 2003.

23 June 2003: Switzerland freezes the accounts of indictee Charles Taylor at the request of Chief Prosecutor David Crane. Crane says that the money may be used as evidence of a joint criminal enterprise between the Liberian President and other indictees.

22 June 2003: A security guard is under arrest following a burglary at the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Court. It is not clear what was stolen.

20 June 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor blames the government of Sierra Leone for his indictment. Taylor says that the indictment is not against him personally, but a move by Sierra Leone against Liberia. He claims that he has 40,000 troops loyal to him that "will not feel comfortable" if he remains an indicted war criminal.

16 June 2003: Chief Investigator Allen White announces that he has credible information that Special Court fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma has been killed.

13 June 2003: US Congressmen urge the Bush Administration to release $10 million in additional funding for the Special Court to help with increasing security threats following the release of the indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor.

12 June 2003: Indictee Charles Taylor says there will be no peace in Liberia until the Special Court drops its indictment against him. Rebels fighting Taylor’s government refuse to negotiate with Taylor because he is an indicted war criminal. Taylor says no peace deal can be made without his participation.

11 June 2003: Special Court President Justice Geoffrey Robertson writes UN Secretary-General Koffi Annan asking for a Security Council resolution that would grant the Court Chapter VII authority. Chapter VII authority would oblige UN Member States to cooperate with the Court.

11 June 2003: The Special Court notes that the health of Foday Sankoh is deteriorating and that he should be sent abroad for medical treatment. Sankoh reportedly suffered a stroke before being transferred to the Court in March 2003. The Court’s doctor says Sankoh is incapable of walking, talking, or even feeding himself, adding that his condition requires medical treatment beyond what is available in Sierra Leone. The UN Security Council, however, has indicated it will not lift a travel ban on Sankoh until a country that is willing to offer him medical treatment gives assurances that it will not grant him safe haven.

5 June 2003: Chief Prosecutor David Crane expresses disappointment over the Ghanaian Government’s failure to arrest Charles Taylor while in Ghana. He reminds other states that they are all “on notice they cannot provide [Taylor] with safe harbor.”

5 June 2003: Special Court Chief Investigator Alan White says an autopsy on the body believed to be Sam Bockarie is complete, but declined to give any results. He says investigators are searching for blood relatives of Mr. Bockarie so that DNA testing can be conducted on the body.

5 June 2003: Brima “Bazzy” Kamara pleads innocent to 17 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in his first appearance before the Special Court.

5 June 2003: At an initial appearance before the Court, defense lawyers for Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa, who were arrested last week without charge, argued that their detention was unlawful. Under court rules, the prosecutor can detain a suspect for up to 30 days without charge. Judge Pierre Boutet asked defense counsel to put their arguments in writing so that they may be reviewed by all three judges of the Trial Chamber.

4 June 2003: Chief Prosecutor David Crane announces the indictment against Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor’s indictment on war crimes and crimes against humanity was approved on 7 March 2003, but had been kept sealed until today at Crane’s request. Crane says they were waiting for a time when Taylor was outside of Liberia and thus susceptible to arrest by a third party. Taylor was in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, for peace talks with rebels in the on-going Liberian civil war. The Court says it notified Ghanaian officials and INTERPOL of the arrest warrant. Ghanaian officials claim they never received an arrest warrant, a claim the Court rejects. After the indictment was announced, Taylor returned to Liberia.

1 June 2003: Officials from the Court take the alleged body of indictee Sam Bockarie into custody. The Liberian Government released the body following weeks of international pressure to do so. The Court will conduct a forensic examination of the body to determine if it is indeed Bockarie.

29 May 2003: The Court announces the indictment of Brima “Bazzy” Kamara, a former senior commander of both the Armed Forces Revoluntionary Council (AFRC) and the West Side Boys. Kamara is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. He is expected to make his initial court appearance next week. The Court announces it has also detained two others—Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa—under a court rule that allows detentions of up to 30 days before formal charges are filed. Both are affiliated with the former Civil Defence Force.

27 May 2003: Special Court physician Dr. Donald Harding says indictee Foday Sankoh would not be able to stand trial in his present medical condition. Harding says Sankoh is paralyzed and unable to speak. He is also being treated for hypertension and trauma. The doctor says Sankoh is “not on death’s door” but cannot receive the treatment he needs in Sierra Leone. Plans are underway to assess Sankoh’s mental capabilities.

27 May 2003: The Court responds to claims by former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman that he is being detained in conditions that violate his human rights. Norman is now in his 11th day of a hunger strike in protest of his living conditions. Special Court physician Dr. Donald Harding denies charges that Norman’s cell is mosquito infested and says that all prisoners are provided with mosquito netting and that the cells are sprayed every evening. The Court also states that the detention facilities have been inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations. According to Harding, despite his hunger strike, Norman remains in good health.

22 May 2003: The Court plans to ask the UN Security Council to increase pressure on Liberia to turn over the alleged body of fugitive Sam Bockerie. Officials from the Office of the Prosecutor say that the Charles Taylor’s government is “not in compliance with their international obligations.” Citing UN Resolutions 1470 and 1478, the OTP says Charles Taylor’s regime is in “flagrant disregard of the United Nations.” Security Council Resolution 1478 singles out Liberia, calling on it to cooperate with the Special Court.

15 May 2003: Chief of Investigations, Dr. Alan White, announces that he has credible information that the family of Sam Bockarie has been murdered at the direction of Liberian President Charles Taylor. Liberian officials have yet to turn over the body of fugitive Bockarie, who they claim was killed in a shootout with the Liberian military. Chief Prosecutor David Crane reiterates his demand that Liberia arrest and transfer fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma, alive, to the court.

13 May 2003: Chief of Investigations of the Special Court, Dr. Alan White, calls on Liberia to hand over the body of Sam Bockarie. Court officials indicate they will not recognize Bockarie’s death until an independent forensic examination is conducted to provide positive identification. White also calls for the arrest and transfer of fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma, noting the existence of credible information indicating that Koroma is still in Liberia. White states that Liberia’s failure to comply with either of these requests indicates Liberia’s “unwillingness to cooperate with the international community in the pursuit of international justice.”

7 May 2003: Chief Prosecutor David Crane calls on the Liberian Government to transfer the body of fugitive Sam Bockarie to Freetown for identification. Crane states that “Until we are able to do a forensic examination and positively identify the body, we will assume Bockarie is alive.” Crane reiterates his demand that Liberia turn over fugitive Johnny Paul Koroma to the Special Court.

6 May 2003: Liberia announces that Special Court fugitive Sam Bockarie was killed in a shootout with Liberian military as he tried to cross into Liberia from neighboring Cote d’Ivoire

6 May 2003: UN Security Council passes Resolution 1478, which extends sanctions against Liberia for allegedly trying to destabilize its neighbors, including Sierra Leone. The Resolution calls on all countries to cooperate fully with the Special Court.

4 May 2003: Chief Prosecutor David Crane reiterates his demand that Liberian President Charles Taylor turn over two fugitives wanted by the Special Court. Crane states that he has “credible information” that Johnny Paul Koroma is in Foya Kamala, Liberia and that Sam Bockarie is in the Liberian village of Kahnple.

30 April 2003: Chief of investigation for the Special Court, Alan White, calls on Liberian President Charles Taylor to turn over indictees Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie, who are believed to be under President Taylor’s protection.

25 April 2003: At his initial appearance, former rebel commander Augustine Gbao pleads not guilty to 17 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, including rape, murder and attacks against UN peacekeepers.

16 April 2003: Judge Bankole Thompson confirms an indictment against former rebel commander Augustine Gbao. Gbao has been in custody for nearly a month.

10 March 2003: Today the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, David Crane, announced the Court's first indictments. Seven individuals were charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of humanitarian law. All seven indictees were high ranking officials of either rebel groups or militia groups loyal to the government during the civil war.

Five of the indictees were arrested and are currently being detained by the Court. They are: Foday Sankoh, the former leader of the rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF); Alex Tamba Brima, former senior member of the rebel movement the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); Issa Sesay, former senior official and interim leader of the RUF; Maurice Kallon, former senior officer and commander of the RUF; and Sam Hingh Norman, former commander of the Kamajor militia, leader of the Civil Defence Forces (CFD) of Sierra Leone and immediate past Minister for Internal Affairs.
Sankoh, who appeared in court on March 15, 2003, gave no response when questioned by the presiding judge Benjamin Itoe. Judge Itoe ordered a psychiatric and medical evaluation of the accused and scheduled a second hearing for March 21, 2001, at which time he ordered further psychiatric examinations of the accused. Brima, Sesay and Kallon all pled not guilty to the charges against them. Norman, who is being held out of the country until his trial begins, made an initial appearance at a closed hearing at an undisclosed location. Prosecutor Crane has indicated, however, that his trial would be open to the public.
Also indicted, but still at large abroad are: Johnny Paul Karoma, leader of the rebel movement the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and ruler of Sierra Leone from 1997-1998, when the legally elected president of Sierra Leone was ousted by the AFRC and Sam Bockerie, a.k.a. "Mosquito", RUF Battle Field Commander.
An eighth man, Agustine Gbao, is currently being held by the Special Court as a suspect, but has not yet been indicted.