The Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), which is trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, says many commentators refer to the court as a model for international justice.
“It shows that the trial of a former chief of State can be conducted openly and fairly and we’re very proud to date of the progress that’s been made,” Stephen Rapp told reporters in New York today.
Mr. Taylor is facing 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law – including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers – for his role in the decade-long civil war that engulfed Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
Mr. Rapp said the prosecution’s case is that Mr. Taylor aided and abetted two rebel groups, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which committed numerous atrocities during the civil war.
He noted 59 insiders, people who were at one time very close to the former Liberian President, are providing evidence as witnesses to support his case that Mr. Taylor “was behind the planning of this campaign of terror and atrocity, that he did various steps to order and instigate those crimes and, at a bare minimum at least, he aided and abetted these crimes by providing crucial arms and materiel in return for diamonds, at a time when all the world knew that these rebels were committing horrendous offenses against human beings.”
Currently the SCSL is hearing its 35th prosecution witness, Mr. Rapp said, adding that he expected that the trial would wrap up within a year after the defence has also made its case.
In 2006, the Security Council authorized the staging of Mr. Taylor’s trial at The Hague, Netherlands, citing reasons of security.
The Court, established in January 2002 by an agreement between the Sierra Leonean Government and the UN, is mandated to try “those who bear greatest responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against community committed in the country after 30 November 1996.
Last year, it reached an agreement with the British Government whereby Mr. Taylor will serve out his sentence in the United Kingdom if he is convicted.
Mr. Rapp also noted today that the Security Council is holding a debate on children and armed conflict this week, and stressed that the SCSL had obtained the first convictions in history for the crime of the enlistment or use of children under the age of 15 in hostilities.
In February the Court upheld convictions against Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu, who are both serving 50-year prison terms, and Brima Bazzy Kamara, who is serving 45 years, after all three were found guilty of 11 charges, including committing acts of terrorism, murder, rape and enslavement and conscripting children under the age of 15 into armed groups.