Security Council Resolution 1315, adopted in August 2000, asked the U.N. Secretary-General to negotiate an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone to create an independent Special Court to try those persons who bear the "greatest responsibility" for "crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as crimes under relevant Sierra Leonean law committed within the territory of Sierra Leone." On Jan. 16, 2002, the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established by treaty between the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone. English, the official language of Sierra Leone, was chosen as the official language of the Special Court.

The Special Court differs from the ICTY and the ICTR in several significant respects. First, while the international community is fully in control of the ICTY and ICTY, the Sierra Leonean government retains significant control over the Special Court, including the appointment of judges and prosecutors. (The government of Sierra Leone appointed one judge to the trial chamber and the Secretary General appointed two; Sierra Leone appointed two judges to the appellate chamber and the Secretary General appointed three. The Secretary General selected the prosecutor after consulting with the government of Sierra Leone and the government of Sierra Leone chose the deputy prosecutor.) The Special Court incorporates elements of domestic law, while the ICTY and ICTR do not. Sierra Leone is the only government legally bound to comply with the Special Court's decisions, while all U.N. member states are required to follow the decisions of the ICTY and the ICTR. (This means that states are not required to extradite defendants to the Special Court.) The Special Court was developed by agreement with Sierra Leone, not imposed on it, as the ICTY and ICTR were on their respective countries. The Special Court sits in Sierra Leone and is thus not geographically separate from the location of the crimes, as the ICTY and ICTR are. Finally, the Special Court works in tandem with a Sierra Leonean Truth and Reconciliation Commission.