Osgoode professor will aid Sierra Leone war crimes prosecutors

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Garry Watson (left) has been invited by Luc Côté, chief of prosecutions at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to take a small group of trial advocacy teachers to Freetown, Sierra Leone from April 16 to 23 to conduct a training session for the team prosecuting war crimes there.

The highly experienced, international group of trial advocacy teachers includes Sheila Block of the Canadian firm Torys LLP; Jim Seckinger, a professor at Notre Dame Law School (University of Notre Dame, Indiana); and Leeona Dorrian, QC, of the Faculty of Advocates (Scottish Bar), Edinburgh, Scotland.

“Sheila is one of Canada’s leading counsel. Jim is one of the best-known trial advocacy teachers in the US and Leeona is a senior Edinburgh counsel,” said Watson. “All three teach regularly at Osgoode’s annual Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop.”

Located in Western Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Liberia, the tiny country of Sierra Leone endured a decade of violent civil war in the 1990s. The conflict between the government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than two million people (over one-third of the country’s population). The displaced population caused a humanitarian crisis for neighbouring countries. The conflict in Sierra Leone was characterized by deliberate attacks on civilians, including murder, rape, torture and mutilation.

Although the country is now in a state of peace, the road to achieving that peace has been plagued by numerous setbacks, including rogue bands of armed rebels, extreme poverty and disease. Through the support of the United Nations peacekeeping force, the World Bank and the international community, the warring factions have now disarmed and demobilized. National elections held in May 2002 resulted in a government which has slowly been able to reestablish authority and order. Many of the country’s citizens still live in poverty and must cope with disfiguring injuries inflicted during the war.

Watson and his team will be working with the Sierra Leone prosecution staff on trial advocacy. “We will be working with the prosecution staff, many of whom are volunteers,” said Watson. The staff members come from various parts of Sierra Leone and from other countries. A newly built courthouse located in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone will house the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a legal body established to ensure that prosecutions under international humanitarian law proceed in a fair and judicial manner.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (left) was set up jointly by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations. Mandated to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in Sierra Leone since Nov. 30, 1996, the court aims to prosecute top militia leaders from both sides in the war.

The court is unique because it is both an international and national court, with international and Sierra Leonean judges. It is also an African court established to try those accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes against Africans.

As of February 2004, 11 individuals associated with each side of the country’s former warring factions stand indicted by the special court. They are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Specifically, the charges include murder, rape, extermination, acts of terror, enslavement, looting and burning, sexual slavery, conscription of children into an armed force, and attacks on United Nations peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, among others.

Right: Some of the results of the torture inflicted on the citizens of Sierra Leone.

Indictments against two other persons were withdrawn in December 2003 due to the deaths of the accused.

More about Garry Watson

Watson was recently awarded the prestigious Samuel E. Gates Litigation Award by the American College of Trial Lawyers. The award, which was established in 1980 in memory of Samuel E. Gates of New York, an outstanding lawyer and fellow of the college, honours a lawyer or judge who has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the litigation process.

In making the award, the American College noted that Watson’s reputation and record of service in the teaching of advocacy skills and the intricacies of the litigation process to hundreds of law students and lawyers is renowned across North America.

Photographs courtesy of Osgoode Hall Law School, the United Nations and The Special Court for Sierra Leone.