Trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to start in June – UN prosecutor
The lead prosecutor for the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone today said the trial of Charles Taylor, the notorious former Liberian President who has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, will commence in early June.
The trial at The Hague on 4 June “represents the vindication of the principle that no person, no matter what their position, is above the law,” Prosecutor Stephen Rapp, who was appointed to the post last December, told reporters at a briefing at UN Headquarters.
At the same time, he stressed the need for “a fair and just and equitable process” for any person, no matter what their reputation, which is “transparent to the people of the world and particularly to the people of Sierra Leone.”
To ensure transparency, the BBC World Service Trust will send two Liberian and two Sierra Leonean journalists to The Hague for the duration of the trial so that they can report back to their home countries on the proceedings.
Mr. Taylor was indicted in March 2003 by the Court on 11 counts pertaining to his involvement in the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. He is accused of breaching international humanitarian law, including such grave offences as murder, rape, sexual slavery, acts of terror and conscription of children into an armed force.
According to Mr. Rapp, Mr. Taylor’s trial will last approximately 12 to 18 months, which is considerably shorter than other UN-backed trials of people indicted for war crimes. For example, the trial for Slobodan Milosevic conducted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spanned four years before his death obviated the need for it to continue.
Mr. Rapp stated that his prosecution team will “present the most concise case possible,” drawing on evidence from crime scenes as well as testimony already presented in other tribunals.
He also acknowledged that there are several challenges, including the logistics of having witnesses travel over 10,000 kilometres roundtrip to testify at The Hague and ensuring their safety upon their return to their home countries.
Also, unlike two other UN-backed war crimes tribunals – the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) – which are funded by mandatory dues paid by UN Member States, the Special Court for Sierra Leone runs entirely on voluntary contributions.
Mr. Rapp said that he is confident that the Court will raise the $33 million it needs to operate this year and be “a model of international justice serving not just the legal principles that are so important, but also the people of the region.”
The Special Court was established on 16 January 2002 by an agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the UN and is mandated to try “those who bear greatest responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against community committed in the country after 30 November 1996. Thus far, 11 people have been indicted by the Court.