By Impunity Watch Africa
The trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone began today in The Hague. Taylor boycotted the first day of the trial, claiming he had lost faith in the UN-backed court. In a letter read by the defense counsel, Taylor stated that he “cannot participate in a charade that does no justice to the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone.” Taylor also dismissed his defense attorney Karim Ahmad Khan from the case and is now seeking to represent himself. Khan walked out despite an order by presiding Justice Julia Sebutinde to continue representing Taylor for the remainder of the opening arguments. Taylor’s letter caused confusion in the court, and came as the prosecutor was making a four-hour opening statement. Justice Sebutinde assigned another attorney to represent Taylor and directed Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp to begin his statement.
Taylor faces charges for numerous war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2001 civil war including murder, rape, mutilation, and recruitment of child soldiers. He was the first sitting president of Africa to be indicted by a foreign hybrid court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case is to be handled exclusively by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague and is predicted to last until December 2008 with a judgment likely in mid-2009.
Taylor has pled not guilty to all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors claim in the indictment that Taylor supported the RUF rebels in order to gain control of Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth and destabilize the government, thereby increasing his regional influence. Taylor’s defense does not dispute the horrors that occurred in Sierra Leone, but argue that Taylor did not give any orders to troops and did not supply any weapons to the rebels.
Civil society groups have launched a website designed to keep West Africans, particularly those from Liberia and Sierra Leone, informed on the trial. The website, www.CharlesTaylorTrial.org, will provide daily updates with detailed information and expert analysis on the trial. The hope is that this website will help keep the victims and those affected in Sierra Leone and Liberia informed, since the trial is being conducted in Europe and many Africans did not know that the trial was beginning, nor why it had been moved.
Amnesty International (AI) released a press statement cautioning the court to keep the trial accessible and known to the victims. AI pleaded that the victims must observe the justice process and they should be able to see that the trial is “conducted fairly in accordance with international standards, respecting the presumption of innocence.” Officials for Human Rights Watch, however, have stated that they see the trial as undoubtedly a step in the right direction for prosecuting former heads of state for serious human rights violations and other war crimes.
For more information, please see:
AllAfrica – Liberia: Taylor in the Dock Today! – 04 June 2007
AllAfrica – Website Launched to Cover Taylor Trial – 04 June 2007
Amnesty International – Press Release – 01 June 2007
HRW – Liberian Ex-President Goes on Trial – 30 May 2007
CNN – Taylor Boycotts ‘Charade’ Trial – June 2007
MSNBC – Liberia’s Taylor Goes on Trial Over War Crimes – June 2007