Saturday, January 27, 2007

Taylor’s Trial

New Prosecutor Regrets Change Of Venue

Says Liberians, S/Leoneans Must Have Access

War-crime indictee, former Liberian president Charles Taylor, was flown to The Hague last year on the strength of the argument that his trial in Sierra Leone would jeopardize the peace momentum that was building up in the Mano River Basin.

Taylor’s friends, family members, and defense counsels variously and at different times expressed concerns about his right to access to witnesses and family and fair and transparent trial.

Stephen Rapp

Stephen Rapp - S\Court

But it was the will of the world community, advised by the suspicion that some argued was unjustified, that prevailed.

But the new American chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone is wishing that that decision was never taken, and he has vowed to ensure that the good news of justice is communicated to the victims of war excesses in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The Analyst Staff Writer compiled this report from the files of the Sierra Leone News Agency.

New Chief Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra, Stephen Rapp, said venue change may deny Sierra Leoneans direct access to Taylor’s trial but it will not deny them justice.

The third chief prosecutor since the founding of the special court in 2001, Rapp said it was his mission to present evidence and the strongest possible case against Taylor.

Besides, he told a press conference co-hosted by Special Court registrar Lovemore Munlo in Freetown last Wednesday, it's his goal to communicate whatever happens in the Taylor case to the people of Sierra Leone and the people of the region that were affected by his alleged war atrocities.

He revealed that the special court has completed trials in cases involving the leaders of the rebel Kamajo and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and that the trial of Charles Taylor was set to begin this year in The Hague.

While he supported Taylor’s transfer to The Hague for security reason, he said, he was concerned about the challenges it places on the Court’s Outreach Programme through which it hopes to communicate its messages to everyone to ensure that a maximum number of citizens learn about what is happening in the Taylor case.

“For this reason, some are concerned about the decision to move the trial of Charles Taylor to The Hague. And… let me say how important I believe it is that the Taylor trial be brought home to the people of Sierra Leone and to this region.

“Every effort is being made and will be made to ensure that Sierra Leoneans have transparent access to this trial. Each case at the Special Court is heard, argued and decided in the name of the people of Sierra Leone.

The Judges, some of whom come from Sierra Leone, and attorneys for both the Prosecutor and the Defence that include Sierra Leoneans, and the many miles between here and Mr. Taylor will not change that,” Prosecutor Rapp said.

According to him, while it was not the business of prosecution to ensure domestic media coverage of the trial, modalities were being worked out with the BBC Trust provide opportunities for Sierra Leone journalists to attend at The Hague and also to receive audio and video and other materials from the court to enable them do their job.

“I’m off on a visit this weekend in Europe and in the United States and North America with President King, the President of the Court, Justice King, and we’re going to be talking to national authorities for whom we rely for contributions.

But we’re also going to be talking to non-governmental organizations, and an important part of the support that we seek will be toward this effort of Public Information and Outreach.

We do not want to die with the secret of the Court,” the Rapp, who came to the Sierra Leonean post from Arusha, Tanzania where he served as Chief of Prosecutions, said.

He noted further: “We don’t want to put on great evidence and have a judgment and decisions and for the people affected not to know about it.

Because if they don’t know about it, they’re denied justice, but also what we’re hoping is that a message is sent that no matter how big you are, no one is above justice, and that those who suffered because of the alleged acts of an individual will receive justice and will receive information about it.

And of course to the extent that they’re witnesses, will be well treated and have an opportunity to tell their story in a way that doesn’t compromise their safety and security.”

In response a reporter’s question, Mr. Rapp minced no word that his mission to the Sierra Leone Court was to present the evidence and the strongest possible case against Taylor, to make sure that the story is told so that the judges understand his level of criminal responsibility.

Ex President Charles Taylor

Ex Pres. Charles Taylor

He said this would prove that the court supports the amended indictment in all of its particulars.

“But we do it in a manner that’s efficient, that doesn’t take as long as Milosevic case did at The Hague, that shows how this process can be done right and effectively.

This Court has in many ways set the standard, and has done many things better than the much more expensive institutions that were supported like the ICTR and the ICTY.

For one thing, other than the Taylor trial itself, it’s been in-country, much more accessible to the people of the country than the case of the ICTY, Yugoslavia tribunal which is 1,500km away in The Hague, or the Rwanda tribunal which is 800 kilometres away from Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania,” he said.

He praised those he succeeded for expeditiously conducting the trials of the Sierra Leonean war crime indictees and projected that Taylor’s trial, which will be conducted as with great transparency for the people of Sierra Leone, it will also be a case that will gain great attention internationally because of its location at The Hague.

“And I think it will tell the people of the world about the suffering the people of Sierra Leone experienced, and the people of the region. And I think that will be positive for an understanding of the challenges of the society.

And I also think it’ll be good for international justice to see how things can be done through a court that is a cooperative venture, both the international community and the affected nation,” he said.

Moreover, he said, it will be his mission to make sure that the Taylor case is finished properly, that if he is convicted his convictions would be upheld on appeal.

“If there are decisions by the Trial Chamber that should be challenged on a legal basis on appeal that those appeals are properly lodged by the Prosecutor, and that justice is done in each of those cases right down to the end, and that whatever happens in those cases is communicated to the people of Sierra Leone and the people of the region that were affected by the alleged acts of these men.

So those are my goals,” he said, revealing the special court’s expectation for the conclusion of cases it heard and expected to hear. He discounted reporters’ suggestion that the Liberian government does not favor Taylor’s trial and revealed that government was cooperating with the court.

“We expect a number of witnesses to come from Liberia and we are working with witnesses who’ve agreed to come from Liberia, and we expect cooperation from the Government of Liberia and believe that that cooperation is there,” Rapp disclosed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Rapp said while Taylor’s trial was set for April 2, 2007, the case may not actually be heard until sometime in July this year. “It may well be moved back to June or July, but it’s entirely within the hands of the Judges. The Defence has asked that it be moved to September.

The Prosecutor has said that some delay is justified, but not beyond July, but it’s in the hands of the Judges.

That case will start in the next several months, and we believe be concluded by the end of 2008. And so we can now look, I think, for the Special Court to, after a very busy year of 2007, to be winding down its work to an absolute completion by the end of 2009.

And for that reason the Secretary-General appointed me as Prosecutor for three years or until the work is done, whichever comes first. And obviously if we can get it done more quickly we will,” Rapp said.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which has so far expended US$125M, according registrar Munlo, is moving heaven and earth to get more funding so that the Court goes on efficiently and without disruption.

“We're working on it now and working on it because of the new developments.

We're talking to the International Criminal Court where we are renting premises to try this case,” Munlo, whose responsibility it is to find funding for the court said. He said the court was looking up to the government of the United States and the UN for support.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone, a hybrid court that operates under the jurisdiction the government of Sierra Leone, according Rapp, is both a concrete example and a symbol of the turning point in Sierra Leone.

“The Court also represents a greater hope for the international community as a whole. In the words of the UN security council, it is part of an effort “to end impunity, establish the rule of law and promote respect for human rights and by doing so to restore and maintain international peace and security.”

Link to The Analyst Newspaper : Liberia : 2006