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Africa: Blogging the trial of Charles Taylor

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is facing 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is being held at the Hague, Netherlands. The trial, which began two years ago, was moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone because of security concerns.

There are two blog specifically covering Charles Taylor trial: The Trial of Charles Taylor-International Criminal Justice in the Making, which is made up of a team of monitors from the global litigation practice of Clifford Chance LLP and the Trial of Charles Taylor blog, a project of Open Society Justice Initiative.

The blogs provide regular posts, expert commentary, daily, weekly and monthly summaries, trial reports and links to relevant documents. Let's see some of the posts and comments on the two blogs.

Taylor Alleges US Govt Helped Him Escape From US Prison:

In a dramatic day of testimony, former Liberian president Charles Taylor told of his 1985 escape from an American maximum security jail with alleged United States government help, only days before a failed US-backed coup attempt to overthrow the then Liberian government.

With his prison cell unlocked by a US prison guard late one night in November 1985, Taylor walked out of the maximum security area of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts, he told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today. Taylor said he was escorted by the same guard to the minimum security area. Tying a sheet to a window, Taylor climbed out the window and over the prison fence, where a car containing two men was waiting to whisk him to New York, he said.
Taylor told the court that he believed the guard who set him free “had to be operating with someone else.” Taylor also said he assumed that the car that took him to New York “had to be a [US] government car” because the men driving him feared he may be “picked up” if Taylor changed cars to be with his then wife, who had driven to meet the escape car with money to get Taylor out of the country.

Summary of the prosecution's case:

The Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor bears individual criminal responsibility for the crimes on the basis that he allegedly participated in the commission of the crimes by planning, instigating, and ordering them; aiding and abetting them by providing military training and support to the RUF and AFRC; and participating in the execution of a plan to take control of Sierra Leone during which the crimes were committed. The Prosecutor further alleges that Mr. Taylor was a superior to perpetrators of the crimes and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or punish the crimes while knowing or having reason to know about them.

Does Taylor's Point of View Matter?:

Former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, will take the stand next Tuesday amid a blaze of media cameras and lights. As the first sitting African head of state to be indicted and prosecuted for his alleged responsibility for some of the worst crimes known to humanity, the laser beam of international attention will zero in as he tells his side of the story. He is pleading not guilty to 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law for his alleged role in a war which ravaged Sierra Leone for 11 years.
The media spotlight can have a downside. For example, lawyers for Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, a Congolese militia leader on trial at the International Criminal Court for allegedly recruiting child soldiers, lamented on the second day of his trial in January 2009 that Lubanga had already been declared guilty by the media. “In the press he is already convicted, convicted before being tried. And in the eyes of a vast majority, as soon as there is an arrest warrant and as soon as the charges are confirmed and the matter is committed to trial, the presumption of innocence disappears,” said Catherine Mabille, Lubanga’s head defense lawyer.
With Charles Taylor, prosecuted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, speculation abounds about his role in the Sierra Leonean war and his alleged link to the crimes committed there. The prosecution spent 13 months bringing Sierra Leonean survivors to the stand whose limbs had been amputated, or who had been raped or sexually enslaved by groups allegedly under Taylor’s control. They also sought testimony from insider witnesses in an effort to link Taylor to the crimes which were so vividly illustrated by the victims themselves. We have, though, only heard one side of the story.
On Tuesday, we’ll hear Taylor’s side. This matters for reasons beyond the narrative he will tell us in court.

Charles Taylor is a peacemaker:

Charles Taylor is not a war criminal but a peacemaker turned scapegoat by the international community. This was the message put forward by Taylor’s defense in its opening statement today.
Charles Taylor’s lawyer told a packed courtroom today that his client will declare his trial “political” and “set the historical record straight”

Trial Chamber holds status conference:

9:30am: On Monday July 6, 2009, the Trial Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone held a Status Conference in anticipation of the opening of the defence case in the Taylor trial. Both Prosecution and Defence counsel raised several issues bordering on the commencement of the defence case on July 13, 2009. Defence Counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtaney Griffiths requested the court’s permission to have the defence opening statement delivered on Monday July 13 while Mr. Taylor would commence his testimony on Tuesday July 14, 2009. The prosecution had no objection to this.  Presiding Judge Richard Lussick informed Taylor’s defence counsel Mr. Griffiths that the defence opening statement should be confined only to the evidence that will be adduced in Mr. Taylor’s defence.
Prosecution Counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis informed the Court that there were a few issues that still remain unaddressed by the defence. These, she said, include;
No. of Witnesses to be called by the Defence: Ms. Hollis said that the defence has now filed updated witness summaries and the time esitmate for witnesses’ testimonies. She said that according to the updated witness list, the defence intends to call 256 witnesses, which is 3 times more than those called by the prosecution. She said that an estimate of the time for the testomonies of these witnesses will amount to 94 weeks or a period of 4 years. This, she said, is a diaproportionate number of witnesses and time for their testimonies.
Ms. Hollis also said that the prosecution would want a list of core and back up defence witnesses. She said that she was aware that the defence will give a more refined witness list by the conclusion of Mr. Taylor’s testimony but she wanted the Trial Chamber to order this in case it did not happen. She further said that the summaries of some defence witnesses remain inadequate.

Pre-trial conference:

9:30am: On Monday June 8, 2009, the Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone hearing the Charles Taylor case held a Pre-Trial Conference to discuss matters relating to the commencement of Mr. Taylor’s defence which is set for June 29, 2009.
After parties for Prosecution and Defence announced their respective representations, Presiding Judge Richard Lissick asked whether anybody wanted to mention any new matter before dealing with items on the anenda for the pre-trial conference. Defence Counsel for Mr. Taylor Courtaney Griffiths informed the court that the Rule 73 motion that was earlier filed by the Defence was incomplete and that his team intended to file a complete version with exhibits as soon as possible.  He said that the exhibits pertinent to the commencement of the Defence Case will be filed.
Justice Lussick then went through the following as list of agenda items for the conference and asked for defence response to each item.
1. Length of Defence Opening Statement
Defence Cousel Griffiths responded that the defence opening statement will not last longer than the Prosecution’s opening statement that was delivered by the Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp at the start of the trial.
2. Defence Access to the Accused during his Testimony.
To this, Prosecution Counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis stated that as a general rule, once a witness commences his testimony in court, he should have no access to either party (prosecution or defence) but that this should be related with accused person’s right to have access to his counsel during the trial. She informed the court that she was in possession of an ICTY rulling which laid guidelines for such a scenario and was willing to share it with the court.
In response, Mr. Griffiths said that in most domestic jurisdictions, there should be no access to the accused once he becomes a witness in his own trial but that this case should be treated differently taking into account the circumstances in this case. He said there was need to take note that the  defence investigations are still ongoing and that counsel will need advice from the accused on some witnesses. Mr Griffiths said that there was need for:
a. Mr. Taylor to have access to all defence staff in order to make progress with his case. These, he said will relate to matters outside his testimony, and
b. He should have access to defence staff in relation to his testimony as far as content and length are concerned. He said that Taylor should be given all necessary assitance and that the accused will need to be in touch with some witnesses.
Ms. Hollis replied that she if the accused had access to counsel and witnesses during his testimony, that should be a suitable area of cross-examination in order to determine what his conversations with those witnesses are.

Here are some of readers’ comments on the two blogs:

David says:

IT is not ony mr. tayors who has commated this crime’s there are other people that need to be arested
too let me ask u people why it is ony him that had been arested what about thos people whos brought war in ur country liberia and kill so maney innocent people.

Liberia still loves Taylor:

Mr taylors need to be free and come black to his lovin country mama Liberia we stail love him please leave him along.

Noko4 writes:

Let the fireworks begins……
I pray and hope JUSTICE…..TRUE JUSTICE based on the MANDATE of this court and the MERITS of the testimonies and evidences are the FINAL verdict.

Aki responds to Noko's comment:

Noko4,

I agree with your thoughts. However I must say unless the Prosecution can really discredit Mr. Taylor’s testimony on cross examination the Defense seems to be in the drivers seat.

Osman says George Bush should be next after Charles Taylor:

after the charles trial the next trial should be George bush senoir and junior for crime committed in iraq and other parts of the world directly or indirectly
my question is what UN is waiting for thier arrest,they should be arrected immediatly before they do more harms

Kpakoja wonders whether George Bush and Tony Blair will be put on trial for crimes they committed in Iraq:

As you rightly put it, Taylor’s trial is a “milestones in international efforts to create a norm of accountabilty for mass crimes”. This a good precedence. My concern is that will leaders of and powerful nations be tried for mass crimes against humanity. Will George Bush, Tony Blair etc, be put on trial for their unjustified war in Iraq that led to killing of thousands of Iraqis? I have not heard any of the International human right group call for the establishment of a war crime court to tried leaders who bear the greater responsibility for the henoius crimes that is be committed against the Iraqis. This is why I had no qualms with the African Union’s decision against the arrest of Bashir from Sudan. Don’t only create war crimes for African leaders, create for Europeans, Asians and Americans also who commit crimes against humanity.

Clarence thinks the trial was politically motivated:

It appears to me that for all I see, this trial was politically motivated, a conspiracy against one of the few Pan-Africanist, who the west wants to silenced. It is apparent that a global media campaign has been staged to demonize and condemn the accused even before he is heard. As a powerful global tool, the international media seems to stress the claims of tragic crimes committed during the Sierra Leone war, but fail to blame the hands of those that directly committed those crimes, who themselves are Sierra Leoneans. As one who lived and experienced the worse of the Liberian civil crisis for 14 years, and a victim of violence I suffered and saw others suffered, with reasons to be infuriated with former President Taylor, am instead baffled at the shameless display of so-called justice. Sierra Leoneans must be made to take responsibility for the gruesome crimes they committed against their own people, whether out of frustration over internal politicking or ethnic dispirited or for gain of what is now referred to as the ‘infamous blood diamond’. Therefore, if the west have other reasons to apprehend former President Taylor, let them raise the charges and forget about the fiasco of “Taylor bears greater responsibility for the atrocities committed during the Sierra Leone civil war.” If they have no charge at all against personally, let to come and appeal to Liberians to raise an issue against former President Taylor on the basis of the Liberia civil war to which former president is directly connected.

Goyah says:

President Ghankay Taylor, Bravo to you. It is time for you to show Uncle Sam and others that you are a great leader and that their campaign to condem you to death or life time in prison is a failure. We are watching you day and night and please be yourself and defend yourself beyond all reasonable doubts. Freedom awaits you soon so that you can come back to complete your dream for Liberia. God bless you and your family.

Let the trial be free and fair:

Please let this trial be free and fair, Liberians did not sent their former president to the hague. Serria Leoneons sent the former president of Liberia to the hague, leaving their leaders out of the trial completely but Liberians are watching.

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