The London-based human rights organization Amnesty International says a shortage of money for Sierra Leone's special court of justice risks jeopardizing the successful outcome of the country's peace process.
Amnesty says the international community needs to make a renewed commitment if perpetrators of atrocities during Sierra Leone's 10 year civil war are to be brought to justice.
In August last year, the United Nations Security Council estimated that $114 million was needed for the court's first three years of operation. It said this could be raised through voluntary contributions. But when U.N. member nations failed to give, it slashed the budget by half, to $57 million.
Amnesty International says $1 million is still needed for the court's first year of operation, and it says less than half of the necessary pledges have been made for the second and third years.
Amnesty says this means that only a small number of those responsible for human rights abuses will be tried. It says this may also threaten the independence and impartiality of the court, and undermine its role in ending impunity.
Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front allegedly killed, maimed, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of civilians in a 10 year war fought chiefly to gain control of the country's government and diamond fields.
Jenny Hawley, of Amnesty's international office in London, says the success of the court is vital to reconciliation and lasting peace. "Amnesty believes that the need to end impunity, to bring to justice those who are responsible for human rights abuses throughout the conflict, that that is the crucial part of the peace process," she said. "Unless people are brought to justice for those crimes then it will be much harder to achieve peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone."
Amnesty says it is also concerned about the prolonged detention without charge of 200 political detainees. These include at least 100 members of the RUF and their former leader, Foday Sankoh. "There's added urgency to the need to establish the court by the fact that at least 200 detainees have been held since May 2000, for over a year now, without charge or trial pending the establishment of the special court or pending any other judicial proceeding," said Jenny Hawley.
Amnesty International also says it wants the start date for the special court to be put back from November 1996 to March 1991. The reason, they explain, is to allow for the prosecution of those accused of crimes during the entire period of conflict in Sierra Leone.