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Liberia; Sierra Leone: Financial Shortfall May Lead to Taylor’s Release

(Mar. 5, 2009) As of May 2009, the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone may face a shortage of funds of more than US$5 million. Donations to the Court have declined due to the global financial crisis. This court is the first of its kind to rely on donations from other nations for its operating funds. Part of the problem is due to the falling value of the currency of some of the major donors, including the United Kingdom, whose contribution of £3 million has lost about half its value due to devaluation. Court Registrar Herman von Hebel has said that it would take $30 million to keep the Court in operation through 2010. (Ozioma Enukoha, Liberia: Financial Crisis – Court Considers Releasing Taylor, THIS DAY, Feb. 24, 2009, available at

The shortfall may result in freedom for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has been on trial since June 2007 for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone, a nation that borders Liberia. Taylor is facing 11 counts of crimes against humanity, in addition to other charges such as rape, enslavement, and conscripting children under the age of 15 as soldiers. The offenses are all related to the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone from 1991-2002, during that nation's civil war. While the main headquarters of the Court are in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Taylor's trial is being held in The Hague. (Id.)

Chief Prosecutor of the Court Stephen Rapp, speaking to the Reuters news agency, stated: “[w]ith the economic crisis continuing, to get funds is not easy … . If we run out, it is now possible the judges will have to release him. That's our real anxiety.” He added that a verdict could be announced early next year and that even if the trial were suspended and Taylor released due to lack of funds, the indictment would remain open. (Id.)

In other news of the Court, on February 25, 2009, three leaders of the Revolutionary United Front were found guilty in Freetown of multiple criminal charges that covered a range of actions, including amputation, murder, enlistment of child soldiers, sexual slavery, and forced marriage. Issa Sesay and Morris Kallon were convicted on 16 of the 18 counts they faced, while Augustine Gbao was found guilty on 14 of 18 charges. The crimes were committed during the Sierra Leone civil war. (Clarence Roy-Macaulay, Three Sierra Leoneans Guilty of Multiple War Crimes, THE WASHINGTON POST, Feb. 26, 2009, available at