Sierra Leone has been the site of a bloody civil war that began in the spring of 1991. On 7 July 1999, the government, the United Revolutionary Front (RUF) rebels led by Foday Sankoh, and the UN Secretary General's Special Representative signed the Lome Peace Agreement, which granted amnesty to the RUF and set up a Truth Commission to document violations of international humanitarian law. Shortly afterward, the RUF resumed hostilities, including the targeting of civilians and taking 500 UN peacekeepers hostage. Sankoh was subsequently captured by government forces and the British government spearheaded an effort to establish prosecutions of war criminals, including Sankoh.
"In a 12 June 2000 letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Sierra Leone President Kabbah requested United Nations assistance to establish a special court to try Foday Sankoh and other senior members of RUF "for crimes against the people of Sierra Leone and for taking of United Nations peacekeepers as hostages." In his Fifth Report to the Security Council on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, 31 July 2000 (S/2000/751), SG Annan stated that an information gathering mission conducted by the UN Office of Legal Affairs had concluded a broad-based preference among Sierra Leone's governing authorities and NGOs for a national court with a strong international component, including jurisdiction over international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as well as crimes under national law. In its Resolution 1315 of 14 August 2000, the Security Council requested the Secretary General to negotiate an agreement with Sierra Leone to establish "an independent special court." On 4 October 2000, SG Annan reported to the Security Council on the basic content of an Agreement with Sierra Leone for the establishment of the Special Court. Another 15 months was required to complete negotiations, including funding options, the particular crimes and their definitions, and the category of persons that would be within the jurisdiction of the Special Court.
"On 16 January 2002, the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone signed an Agreement establishing a Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court, which will sit in Sierra Leone, will function in accordance with the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is part of the Agreement. The personal jurisdiction of the court includes "persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996." Subject matter jurisdiction includes war crimes, crimes against humanity and certain crimes under national law. (Genocide was excluded as there was little evidence of that crime.) The Sierra Leone Court differs from its predecessor international criminal tribunals - those for former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda - which are pure international tribunals - creatures of the Security Council acting pursuant to its authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The Sierra Leone Court is, rather, a "hybrid" court of both international and national creation and jurisdiction.