Ishmail Pamsm-Conteh

Ishmail Pamsm-Conteh


I served in the Sierra Leone Army during the conflict and was privileged as a commissioned officer to have commanded troops in battle as well as holding various staff appointments, both at battalion and joint forces headquarters. My lengthy career in the armed forces, gives me a unique understanding of the war, which brought about these grave atrocities, culminating into the establishment of the Court. And I hope this knowledge would be invaluable as I conduct this research.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

A PhD degree provides an in-depth knowledge in a particular field, on which the research is conducted.

The result of my research should potentially contribute significantly towards the existing scholarship of international law, which is one of the reasons, I am deeply motivated to undertake this study. 

What makes me passionate about my subject?

I am passionate about this research as I believe the lessons learnt from the Court, could be useful in establishing future courts or tribunals, especially now that Africa through the African union intends to establish her own international criminal court.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

On completion of my degree, I intend to join the world of academia, and   my particular   interest is in research. This I hope, would enable me to contribute in some meaningful way to the jurisprudence of international criminal law.

Research interests

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established jointly by the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations Security Council as a bilateral agreement under United Nations Security Council resolution 1315(2000), signed on 16 January 2002. The competence of the Court under Article 1(1) of its statute was to “prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international and Sierra Leone laws, including those leaders who, in committing such crimes have threatened the establishment and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone.

The country had numerous fighting forces during its eleven-year conflict, which started in March 1991 and ended in February 2002. The main protagonists were members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Others were, the country’s  Armed Forces (the Sierra Leone Army and Police, (SLA and SLP)) respectively; the government’s own civil militia, known as the Civil Defence Force(CDF); the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), an off-shoot of the SLA; members of the sub-regional military forces, the Economic Community of West African   States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), elements of which later became the international peace keeper, as United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), which later metamorphosed into the United  Nations Armed   Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The peace keeping elements were not only exclusive to West Africa, there were also troops contributed from the wider international community.

It was undisputed that all sides to the conflict committed grave atrocities which fell within the jurisdiction of the Court.  Without any exception, the Court had the responsibility to prosecute all sides to the conflict.  This included the Peace keepers who were to be investigated   and prosecuted if evidence shows they committed crimes, though by the sending states, and if they were unwilling or unable, the Security Council would have mandated the Court to do. The amnesty which was earlier accorded to the rebels by the Abidjan peace accord in November   1996, was later confined to crimes, committed under Sierra Leone laws. However, none of the convicted persons were found guilty under Sierra Leone laws. The Court issued the first indictment in March 2003, and concluded its mandate on 30 September 2013. A residual court still exists for administrative purposes such as witness protection, management of archives and overseeing of prisoner’s sentences and early release.

The Court prosecuted only a few members of the RUF, AFRC and CDF. Though compelling evidence existed that would have warranted more prosecutions.  Some scholars have argued that the funding, the life span of the Court, and the history behind its creation, could not have made this feasible. However, in the absence of any other mechanism to prosecute the perpetrators, closure for the victims and their families remain elusive. Not to mention the missed opportunity to end the culture of impunity and non-accountability, which has dominated the country’s political and legal landscape since independence in 1961. The consequence of   which was a direct product of the country’s civil war.

The objectives of the Court could be discerned from President Kabba’s request to the United Nations Security Council dated 12 June 2000, aimed at establishing the Court.  A part of the letter reads, “I request assistance from the United Nations Security Council in establishing a strong and credible court that will meet the objectives of bringing justice and ensuring lasting peace.”

My research intends to shed new light on the role of the media, especially between the period of 1996-2001. Radio stations and newspapers played a significant part in inciting and encouraging the atrocities, that fell within the jurisdiction of the Court.

 Existing literature has largely missed or remained silent on their role in the conflict, which in my view, must be examined if the truth is to be   accurately documented. Could a parallel   be drawn with the Hutu extremists working to spread fear of Tutsi inyenzi through Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, in the genocide of Rwanda in the early 1990’s?   In which the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ruled that such incitement through the mass media amounted to violations under international law?

This is why it is very important to scrutinise the workings of the Court now that it has completed its work.

My research is aimed at juxtaposing the objectives of the Special Court with its success and short comings, with a view to assessing how far it achieved its goal.