|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY special court for Sierra Leone prosecutor
The Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, said today that the case was in its fifth month of hearing the prosecution’s evidence, and could possibly wrap up “within a year”.
During a Headquarters press conference, Stephen Rapp also told reporters that today on the stand in The Hague was the thirty-fifth witness for the prosecution to appear, and before the end of the week, the thirty-sixth might take the stand. If the Prosecution succeeded on some procedural issues that might speed the case, there was the possibility that its case could be concluded in the next three or four months. The Freetown, Sierra Leone-based Court planned a four-week recess, beginning Friday, he added.
He said that the Defence had announced that its case would take about three or four months, and that then it would be up to the judges to determine his guilt or innocence.
Many outside observers following the trial had hailed the proceedings and the cases put forward by both the Prosecution and the Defence as “models of international justice”, showing that the trial of a former Chief of State could be conducted openly and fairly, “and we’re very proud to date of the progress that’s been made”, he said of the Court’s handling of the case.
Mr. Taylor was charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the 10-year civil war in next-door Sierra Leone, which ended in 2002. He is alleged to have supported the rebels in Sierra Leone who committed murder, rape and mutilation of civilians, and arms trafficking and the use of child soldiers, aiming to gain control of the country’s mineral wealth, particularly its diamond mines. The Security Council authorized the Special Court to transfer Taylor to The Hague for trial, “due to the security implications if he is held in Freetown”.
Despite the Court’s progress, Mr. Rapp said the Taylor case had presented the Prosecutor’s Office with some unique challenges, especially since it was dealing with the responsibility of a Head of State and former rebel leader from one country for crimes against humanity in a neighbouring nation. “For that reason we have the special challenge of showing the linkage between Mr. Taylor and crimes committed on the ground [in Sierra Leone] by the RUF and their allied AFRC military group.”
To address this, the Prosecution had listed in its case some 59 insiders, people who were at one time or another very close to the former Liberian leader. They were now providing evidence as witnesses to support his case that Mr. Taylor “was behind the planning of this campaign of terror and atrocity, that he took various steps to order and instigate those crimes and, at a bare minimum, at least 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 offences against human beings”.
He told correspondents that one of the Court’s ongoing challenges involved the selection, transportation and protection of witnesses. “We deal with people that may be very hard for us to reach and protect, since, in the Charles Taylor case, they have to be brought all the way to The Hague to testify,” he said, adding that, even though witnessed could be transferred to safe houses for interviews, 42 days before they appeared in Court, their identities had to be disclosed. That often involved another move and, after their testimony, the Court had to often consider relocation.
“We have ongoing responsibilities in this area,” he said, recalling that last year Court officials had spoken to the Security Council about helping to urge countries to enter into relocation agreements with the Court, just as they had in more than a dozen cases with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and in several cases with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
While the Court’s intention was always to relocate individuals in country, there were those, including families and friends, “at such great risk” that they had to be relocated outside the region. He added that perhaps 25 of the witness that had taken the stand thus far in the case would need “ongoing protection of one kind or another”.
Responding to questions about the news today that the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court had presented evidence against Sudan’s President for alleged war crimes, including genocide, in the strife-torn Darfur region, Mr. Rapp said that, while the cases against the two leaders might differ, the lesson of the Charles Taylor indictment, arrest, transfer and trial -- as well as that of [former Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic -- was that when an international count ordered an arrest, even of a Head of State or Government, “it’s not an issue of if, but when”, that leader would face justice.
“If the arrest warrant is [executed], I would expect the day will arrive when President Al-Bashir is going to face justice,” he said, adding that day might not be tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or even next year. The steps between the issuance of an arrest warrant, an arrest, a transfer and trial, “are somewhat unforeseen at his point”, but the momentum was such -- and expectation of the victimized communities, human rights groups and mobilized populations across the globe, was such -- that there would come a day when there would be justice. While the decision was in the hands of the Prosecutor and the judges and all the States parties involved, “I am confident that day will arrive,” he said.
Mr. Rapp is also at Headquarters in connection with the Security Council’s debate this Thursday on “children in armed conflict”. The Special Court handed down last June historic first convictions by any United Nations-backed tribunal for the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers. The judges found the three accused, Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu -- members of the rebel Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) -- guilty of war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, he said.
Those charges had been affirmed on appeal in February and the three accused now faced “long sentences”, up to 45 years, in one instance, and 50 years for the other two. Mr. Rapp will join the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict and the Permanent Representative of France to present the film Mad Dog Jonny, a drama about child soldiers fighting a war in an unnamed African country that premiered to rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. That film, shot entirely in Liberia and including a cast of former child soldiers, was produced with backing from the French and Liberian Governments and with the help of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
“While the movie doesn’t specifically focus on Liberia, I think it presents a very realistic and, to some extent, shocking picture, of this crime” and the way it affected recruited children and the persons who were subjected to their acts of brutality, he said. Indeed, it had been one of the horrors of Sierra Leone and Liberia that children had been used to fight where adults, quite frankly, couldn’t be motivated to join the conflict because it didn’t involve any substantial political issues. “So these children became instruments of warlords, and sometimes, then, committed the most brutal acts,” including amputating limbs, in the case of the Sierra Leone conflict.
He said that the film underscored the importance of ending impunity for the crime of child soldiering. Since the Court’s prosecution and since the United Nations had stepped up its involvement in the issue, there had been, to some extent, a reduction in the use of children in war. “But it still happens,” he said. “It happens too much.” He stressed that the recruitment of child soldiers could be deterred through criminal prosecutions and raising public awareness. At the same time, “the damage needs to be repaired” to help the children and their victims heal the scars of the brutality. He added that former Liberian President Taylor now also stood accused of that crime.
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