|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY PROSECUTOR FOR SPECIAL COURT FOR SIERRA LEONE
With preparations for the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor “on track”, the arrest, transfer, indictment and trial of the former Chief of State represented a vindication of the principle that no person, no matter their position, was above the law, and that no person, whatever their reputation, should receive an unfair trial, Steven Rapp, Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference today.
Of all the trials before the Sierra Leone Court, the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, which was set to begin on 4 June 2007, had gained greatest attention, he said. Indicted by the Special Court in March 2003 and transferred to the Court in March 2006, Mr. Taylor’s trial should be a fair, just and equitable process where the evidence presented by the prosecution could be vigorously tested and where the defence had an opportunity to present its case in a manner that was transparent to the world, particularly to the people of Sierra Leone. The prosecution would attempt to present the most concise case possible, trying to limit it to the really fighting issue, namely the connection between Charles Taylor and the groups that committed the offences directly in Sierra Leone.
He added that, while the case involving Charles Taylor would be tried at the venue of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, it would be conducted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone with judges appointed both by Sierra Leone’s President and the United Nations Secretary-General. The case would be conducted in the name of -- and on behalf of -- the people of Sierra Leone. The Court would do everything it could to ensure that it was accessible to the people of Sierra Leone. Efforts had been undertaken with the assistance of the BBC World Trust to provide two Liberian and two Sierra Leone journalists, who would be brought to The Hague in groups on a monthly basis to cover the trial and to report back to the region.
One of the Special Court’s greatest accomplishments was its outreach programme, he added. He looked forward to travelling around Sierra Leone and the region to make sure that the news about the trial and the judgements to come were explained and understood.
Appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 8 December 2006, Mr. Rapp said he took up his post in Freetown earlier this month. Prior to that, he had served as a senior trial attorney for six years at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, leading the prosecution of the “Media Trial” involving the RTML Radio and the publisher of Kangura newspaper. He had also served as Chief of Prosecutions in charge of 12 trial teams which had put some 60 people on trial in Arusha. Before the Rwanda Tribunal, Mr. Rapp served as a Chief Federal Prosecutor and United States Attorney in his home state of Iowa.
He said the Court had set the goal for completing the trial in 12 to 18 months, which was obviously much faster than other trials. It would be challenging, as witnesses would have to travel a roundtrip of 10,000 kilometres to testify at The Hague and would have to be protected where they lived, not just in Sierra Leone but in Liberia and other countries in the region. The Court was developing plans in conjunction with the judges and the Registry to make sure that was done. So far everything was on track.
Regarding other cases, he said the trials of the nine individuals were progressing well. Indeed, trials had been completed for those individuals. Closing arguments had been heard at the end of November and early December. Those trials concerned, among others, the three charged as responsible for the civil defence force that had been allied with the Government, and three responsible for the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, which had held power in Freetown in 1997 and 1998 and had allied itself with the Revolutionary United Front.
For the three other persons accused, he said the prosecution’s case had been completed and the Trial Chamber would begin to hear evidence for the defence on 2 May. He was looking for that trial to be concluded by the end of 2007. In each of those trials, there would be, depending on the judgements, appeals by the defence, or as permitted by the rules in certain cases, by the prosecution.
On the Court’s funding, he explained that the Court, unlike the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was supported by voluntary contributions and not mandatory assessments. In that regard, he would be in New York until tomorrow afternoon, meeting with the representatives of the various mission seeking contributions needed to complete the Court’s work. Four years since the Court’s establishment, it recognized that some things had not moved as rapidly as hoped. A report on the Special Court urged it to prepare a three-year budget showing that the Court could finish its work.
He said the resources needed for the Court would be substantial this year, with a budget of some $33 million to establish the Court at The Hague. The budget would, however, be reduced substantially next year and dramatically in the final year, when the front completed its work in 2009. That was a realistic schedule requiring hard work. Gratified by the level of support from Member States, he was confident that there would be a continued effort to obtain the resources needed for the Court, making it a model of international justice, serving not only legal principles but also the people of the region.
Asked to clarify the issue of the Court’s resources, he said the budget of $33 million covered the Court’s expenses for 2007, including the cost of what was happening in Freetown and the cost of going to The Hague. The actual budget figure for next year and the following was a work in process, to be completed by 15 March.
Regarding the issue of contributions, he said the Court had enough funds in the bank to keep going until June -- through the opening statement of the trial. Pledges had been made and discussions were under way with various countries. He believed that it would be possible to raise this year’s budget. He had met last week with representatives of the United States Congress and State Department. The United States had been a strong supporter of the Court, traditionally providing a third of its funding, or about $13 million in 2006. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands had provided about a sixth each of the Court’s budget. The Court would also work with other Member States to raise monies and in-kind services from a variety of sources. He invited more countries to participate.
Asked what arrangements were in place should Charles Taylor not be found guilty, he said he was not sure he had an answer to that question. The issue that had come up during Taylor’s transfer to The Hague from Freetown was the Dutch Government’s assistance that a place be located for his imprisonment if convicted. The Court had entered into agreements with Austria and Sweden. The United Kingdom had agreed to accept Mr. Taylor if he was convicted and imprisoned. As far as the issue of his being acquitted, he would have such rights as he had beforehand in terms of where he would go. He did not think the issue had been specifically resolved, however.
Referring to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the case of Slobodan Milosevic, a correspondent asked Mr. Rapp how long it would take to pronounce Taylor’s verdict.
Responding, he noted that the Court’s completion strategy talked about the trial being completed in 12 to 18 months. It was believed that the Trial Chamber could then render a verdict in about three months. The Appeals Chamber would need six or seven months to deal with the appeal, if there was one. The Court envisioned a process that was much briefer than the Milosevic case. Frankly, it did not have the flexibility to go that long. The Office of the Prosecutor would attempt to present the most concise case that it could. It was, however, a complex case, involving a wide geographical area and associations that Mr. Taylor allegedly had some 20 years ago. Some of that evidence would come in, but he expected the fighting issues to be his responsibility for the Revolutionary United Front and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council during the period of the Court’s temporal jurisdiction, which began on 30 November 1996 and generally extended up to early 2002.
Asked whether a possible delay in the start of the trial, he said the defence had launched an appeal from the decision of the judges to deny in part the motion to delay the start of the trial to September. From the Prosecutor’s point of view, he would not object to that going before the Appeals Chamber immediately for their decision. The Court supported the June trial date, but wanted to make sure that that issue was resolved and that they would not have to fight over it two years from now and run the risk of having a new trial. The defence had believed that it needed more time and had presented merit for that time. The Court had said that it was justified in part but not a delay until September. In the Court’s view, given the disclosure made of its prospective witnesses, including 133 core witnesses and more than 100 back-up witnesses, the defence knew what the case had involved and had had time to prepare for it.
Asked how many judges were from Sierra Leone, he said there were two judges from Sierra Leone. The international community appointed a simple majority of each panel. There were to be five judges in the Appeals Chamber. The Secretary-General had appointed three and the country had appointed two. Sierra Leone’s President had appointed Justice George Gelaga King and Sir Geoffrey Robertson. Although the later was an English barrister, that had been the country’s appointment. In the first Trial Chamber, there were to be three judges, two appointed by the Secretary-General and one appointed by the President, namely Justice Bankole Thompson. In the third Trial Chamber, the President had appointed a non-Sierra Leonean. Of the total number of 11 judges, 2 were actual citizens of Sierra Leone, Justice Thompson and Justice King.
Responding to another question, he said the decision to move the venue to The Hague had been based on security concerns in the region. In Sierra Leone, there had been a brutal war with horrendous crimes committed from 1996 to 2002. The peacekeeping mission there –- the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) —- had recently become an observer mission. At the same time, a peacekeeping mission of some 15,000 was in Liberia, a country coming out of almost a quarter a century of conflict. With a trial of such length there was valid concern that forces could form and threaten the Court’s security, as well as the security of the accused. That had been the determination made. He was very happy that the Netherlands was hosting the trial, that the International Criminal Court was allowing use of its building and that the United Kingdom had made the necessary decision in regard to imprisonment. It was a “done deal”.
The challenge at the Court was to make sure that this case was available to the people of the region, he said. Every effort would be made by his Office to talk about what had happened in the case. The Outreach Office was invaluable in that respect. The public from every part of the country and every walk of life was following the process closely.
On the 133 witnesses, he said those were core witnesses whose evidence the Court believed was necessary to present the case. The indictment was originally a 16-count indictment. Just prior to Taylor’s arrest and transfer, however, an amended indictment had been proposed by then Prosecutor Desmond da Silva and approved by the Judge, reducing the counts to 11, including both counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, essentially for other acts of violence, namely mutilation, rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and the use of child soldiers. He hoped that only 80 witnesses would have to be called in person. The Court would attempt to ask the Trial Chamber to admit evidence in writing, which was permitted under the rules. Under precedent of the Tribunals and the Special Court, that testimony could come in writing if it did not deal with the specific actions of the accused.
Was there no place in all of Africa to hold the Tribunal and, if so, was the Court sending the message that justice had to be imported? a correspondent asked.
The decisions had been made, he responded. The Arusha Tribunal was working full time with four court rooms occupied everyday. It had been impossible to envision the use of that facility. Also, not any courthouse would do. The trial needed a facility that provided for, among other things, security, bullet proof glass, language translation, detention facilities, witness transportation and housing. Outside of Arusha, no facility could have been used without the dramatic investment of resources. It was an international court, being tried under international humanitarian law. “It is international justice and we live with the world we have,” he said.
Asked whether he was seeking funding from other institutions, he noted that the United Nations had decided two years ago not to accept private donations for core functions. Donations for non-core functions could be accepted, making it possible, for example, for the BBC World Trust to assist in outreach activities.
On witness protection, he said the general responsibility rested in the hands of the Registry. They had done an excellent job to date in dealing with witnesses. There was the responsibility of other protective measures, however, which could be particularly important when dealing with insiders. In that context, the prosecution was working with Governments to try to make sure that those people were not threatened. He could not talk about the specific ways they were doing that, however.
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