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Contested Jurisdictions: Legitimacy and Governance at the Special Court for Sierra Leone


The Special Court for Sierra Leone, established in 2002 to adjudicate crimes committed during a decade-long conflict, represents a new form of tribunal. Its "hybrid" structure was designed to address the domestic populace more directly than at previous international criminal tribunals. The Special Court's architects claimed that the Court's physical location in Sierra Leone and its inclusion of domestic law would generate greater awareness of and participation in its transitional justice objectives. This study examines the role of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the emerging field of transitional justice.

The Special Court claims its authority and defines its objectives through appeals to jurisdiction. As the "speaking of law," jurisdiction involves both the language through which a court argues for its legal power and the domain in which it exercises power. In the horizontally structured field of international law, where unprecedented institutions must establish their legitimacy, jurisdiction is particularly contentious.

Chapter one describes the domestic and international factors that led to the Special Court's establishment and discusses its work in the context of the conflict. Chapter two compares the Court's claims of authority to those of earlier generations of international criminal tribunals. Chapter three assesses the self-proclaimed hybridity of the Court and its law. Chapter four shows how the Court's unique character - as a specifically juridical institution whose claims to authority are grounded in hybrid sources of law - makes it especially vulnerable to criticism in its dealings with West African heads of state, as both witness and as defendant. Chapter five argues that the paradigm of post-conflict justice manifested in the Special Court requires it to go beyond narrow retributive aims and to disseminate the rule of law. Such governmental functions, together with the Court's reliance on voluntary state donations, suggest that international criminal justice projects such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone provide conduits for strong states to pursue their own security and governance objectives under the banner of the rule of law.

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