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Sierra Leone War Crimes Court in Danger of Funding Shortfalls

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying accused war criminal Charles Taylor, says it is in danger of running out of funds by next month. The president of the Court told the U.N. Security Council Thursday that if additional money is not found immediately, the court would experience shortfalls by the first week of August that could disrupt its work.

The Special Court is the first international tribunal to be fully funded by voluntary contributions. More than 40 countries have contributed to its costs, with significant support coming from the United States, Britain, Canada and Nigeria.

But despite strong backing, the court has run into financial problems before. In March, it said it was on the verge of running out of money, and an appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon helped bring in some new contributions.

But the Special Court's President, Renate Winter, told the Security Council that the Court, which has nearly completed its work, could be in jeopardy of not finishing it.

"This shortfall poses the real possibility of disrupting our work, which would have disastrous consequences for the [Security] Council's extensive peace building efforts in Sierra Leone and Liberia," said Winter. "A disruption in the proceedings would send the wrong message to the international community, jeopardizing the fight against impunity and potentially calling into question our collective commitment to international justice."

She said in total, the court would need some $30 million to complete its work.

The Special Court was set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations to try those responsible for atrocities committed during the country's 11-year long civil war that ended in 2002.

Over the last six years, it has issued indictments against 13 persons. Eleven were arrested and transferred to the Court in Freetown. Two died in custody, one was killed in Liberia before he was arrested and the whereabouts of another indictee [Johnny Paul Koroma] remains unknown.

Justice Winter told the Security Council that she expects the court to wrap up its work in early 2011, after the completion of the trial of ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, which, for security reasons, is taking place at The Hague.

The defense phase of his trial began this week. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and using child soldiers in his role backing rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war. He has denied the charges.

Justice Winter said the court also needs some funds once the trial phase is complete, to provide for residual issues such paying for prison sentences for those convicted and funding a trial for the one remaining suspect who remains at large, Johnny Paul Koroma, the former head of Sierra-Leone's Armed Forces Revolutionary Council.