Amnesties can not bar prosecution of international crimes—a ruling of the Sierra Leone special court

The recent Kallon-Kamara decision of the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone asserted the Court’s jurisdiction despite the blanket amnesty contained in the Lome Accord extended to all combatants involved in the conflict. According to the Court’s ruling of 13 March 2004, the amnesties afforded by the agreement signed between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) cannot prevent the international prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes.

“It [the Lome amnesty] is ineffective in removing the universal jurisdiction to prosecute persons accused of such crimes that others states have by reason of the nature of the crimes. It is also ineffective in depriving an international court such as the Special Court of jurisdiction”.

The Redress Trust, together with Human Rights First and the International Commission of Jurists, addressed the Special Court as amicus curiae and argued that amnesties cannot apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity and other serious violations amounting to crimes under international law.

We submitted that the Lomé amnesty was inconsistent with states’ obligations that exist under international law to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that constitute crimes under international law, and with the right of the victims of those crimes to a remedy and to reparations.

Dr. Frances D’Souza, REDRESS’ Executive Director, noted that the Court’s ruling is an important precedent, and certainly helps to affirm international law principles relating to the prosecution of serious international crimes and victims’ right to reparation. It also reaffirms the universal character of these violations and its legal consequences.

The Appeals Chamber notes that: “It is not difficult to agree with the submission made on behalf of Redress that the amnesty granted by Sierra Leone cannot cover crimes under international law that are the subject of universal jurisdiction”


The conflict in Sierra Leone that lasted from 1996 until 2002 claimed some 75,000 lives and was marked by particular brutality. As part of a joint agreement, the Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations. It is mandated to try those 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. Indictments by the Court include one against former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

The Amicus Curiae brief and the decision of the Court can be found at For more information on the Special Court of Sierra Leone go to