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Watchdog Group Concerned About Lack of Funding for Sierra Leone Special Court  - 2004-09-08


The watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, says it is concerned by the lack of funding for the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone. The special court on war crimes in the Sierra Leone capital Freetown is resuming the trial of leaders of the government-supported Civil Defense Forces for their role in atrocities during a decade-long civil war.

The court was established to prosecute top militia leaders who deliberately attacked civilians and who were known for hacking off the limbs of victims. But Human Rights Watch has issued a report saying the court has not received enough funding.

The spokesman for the U.N.-backed special court, Peter Andersen says funding has always been a concern for the court. "Despite the call by the Secretary-General for all the money to be in place before we even opened our doors, that did not happen," he says. "So, we went ahead with the funding for the first year in place. There was a shortfall the second year and we made that up by some of the larger donors moving their third year pledges, redeeming them in the second year. So, that left us short for the third year."

Mr. Andersen says the court is no longer relying on voluntary donations because the United Nations has provided funding through 2005 to make up for the shortfall. He says their is still concern because it is unclear how long the court will need to operate.

"Now, right now it is not a critical problem. So, at this point the court is still open. The doors are still open. But I think it is fair to say that we are concerned about adequate funding for our operations here in Freetown," Mr. Andersen said. "We do expect that we will wrap this up in the shortest time of any international criminal court in history."

Human Rights Watch is calling for the United States and the United Kingdom to assist with the funding in order to bring justice to the victims in Sierra Leone. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 people died during the civil war and many more were raped and wounded.

The report also calls for former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who has been living in exile in Nigeria, to face charges at the court for his role in the war. But Mr. Andersen says the trials are not insignificant and the focus for the moment should not be diverted.

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