Prosecuting Those Bearing 'Greatest Responsibility': The Lessons of the Special Court for Sierra Leone
51 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2013 Last revised: 13 Oct 2017
Date Written: April 23, 2013
This Article examines the controversial article 1(1) of the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) giving that tribunal the competence “to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility” for serious international and domestic crimes committed during the latter part of the notoriously brutal Sierra Leonean conflict. The debate that arose during the SCSL trials was whether this bare statement constituted a jurisdictional requirement that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt or merely a type of guideline for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The judges of the court split on the issue. This paper is the first to critically assess the reasons why the tribunal’s judges disagreed in the interpretation of this seemingly simple legal question. It then attempts to discern the common ground in the judicial reasoning, and argues that the ultimate conclusion that “greatest responsibility” implied that leaders as well as the worst killers may be prosecuted is a welcome jurisprudential contribution to our understanding of personal jurisdiction in international criminal law. The paper makes several contributions to the literature. First, it takes up and highlights a widely ignored but important legal question. Second, it demonstrates why the reasoning of the Appeals Chamber was results-oriented and wrong. Finally, it identifies the lessons of Sierra Leone and builds on them to offer preliminary recommendations on how the greatest responsibility conundrum can be avoided when drafting personal jurisdiction clauses for future ad hoc international penal tribunals.
Keywords: personal jurisdiction, international criminal law, international tribunals, greatest responsibility jurisdiction, judicial reasoning, interpretation, jurisdictional requirement, prosecutorial discretion, Article 1(1) of the Statute of the Special Court of Sierra Leone
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