Lessons from the Special Court for Sierra Leone on the Prosecution of Gender-Based Crimes

Posted: 18 Feb 2009

See all articles by Valerie Oosterveld

Valerie Oosterveld

University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 2, 2009


In 2007 and 2008, the Special Court for Sierra Leone issued its first two trial level and its first two appeals level judgments in what are popularly known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Civil Defence Forces (CDF) cases. A number of important lessons on the prosecution of gender-based violations can be drawn from these judgments. The first lesson to be learned from the Special Court's judgments to date is that seemingly gender-neutral crimes may in fact contain gendered elements, and gendered crimes may be multilayered and complex. Gendered crimes may include sexual and non-sexual aspects. This lesson emerges most obviously from the consideration of forced marriage in the AFRC trial and appeals judgments. The second lesson relates to evidence and is clearest in the CDF case. The Appeals Chamber and the dissenting trial judge noted that the circumstances surrounding the collection of evidence of gender-based violations may differ from the circumstances relating to other crimes, and that evidence of gender-based violations is not inherently more prejudicial than other kinds of evidence. The final lesson stems from the CDF case and is that, in weighing the rights of the accused, judges should also ask if there are other relevant factors to be considered, such as access of victims to justice or the overall mandate of the tribunal (including as it relates to the prosecution of gender-based crimes). These three lessons, which in some respects are particular to the Special Court's AFRC and CDF cases, are in other respects also relevant to the Charles Taylor and Revolutionary United Front cases currently before the Special Court, and to the future work of the International Criminal Court.

Keywords: Special Court for Sierra Leone, AFRC, CDF, gender, forced marriage

Suggested Citation

Oosterveld, Valerie, Lessons from the Special Court for Sierra Leone on the Prosecution of Gender-Based Crimes (January 2, 2009). American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1346032

Valerie Oosterveld (Contact Author)

University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law ( email )

London, Ontario N6A 3K7
519-661-2111 (Phone)

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