Press Conference by Prosecutor for Special Court for Sierra Leone

17 July 2009

Press Conference by Prosecutor for Special Court for Sierra Leone

17 July 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


While the activities of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown were expected to end in October, the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in The Hague, Netherlands, including appeals, was expected to run until February 2011, the Court’s Prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Briefing correspondents on yesterday’s Security Council’s meeting on the subject (See Press Release SC/9707), he said that in the Taylor trial, the prosecution had presented 91 witnesses.  The defence had started its case this week, with Mr. Taylor taking the stand on 14 July.  His testimony would continue some four weeks, with the Prosecutor intending a vigorous cross-examination.  The defence planned to call 249 witnesses, but might not hear them all.  The required witness summaries were cryptic and repetitive, something on which the Court might take action.  The trial in the first instance might continue until February 2010, with a ruling in July 2010 and possible sentencing in August 2010.

He said Mr. Taylor received considerable funds to mount his defence, because he was “partially indigent”.  The legal representation available to him had been greater that of any other case in international courts. That was appropriate, given the importance of the case for international justice, the region, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  It must be a case “where justice is done and seen to be done”, and where evidence was subjected to rigorous challenge.

In the last trial in Freetown, three leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had received sentences, respectively, of 25, 40 and 52 years, he said.  The judgment had been historic, as it had included for the first time conviction of sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and forced marriage as an inhumane act, as well as convictions for killing and abducting United Nations peacekeepers.  Appeals were projected to conclude in October.  In earlier trials, the Court had convicted five accused.  The eight prisoners would be moved to other countries before the end of 2009.

Noting that the Special Court was funded through voluntary contributions from Member States for one year at a time, he said the 2009 budget was $28 million, while the 2010 budget would be some $13 million.  By August, however, due to unexpected delays in the Taylor trial, the Court would have exhausted funds, which was why he had alerted the Security Council to the Court’s “desperate” situation.  The Court should be able to complete its important work.  It was “a model of international justice” and worked more efficiently than other international tribunals.  It was a partnership between one country and the international community and enjoyed support in the country and the region.

Asked about the personal impact on him of witness testimony, Mr. Rapp said he had never gotten used to the stories of death, dismemberment and massive sexual violence.  However, the job had to be approached professionally, much as one approached work in the medical field, and evidence had to be dealt with in a way that ensured it was presented clearly.

But there had certainly been cases that had touched him personally, he added, recalling the testimony of a man who had had his left hand shot off while his four-year old had pleaded with the perpetrator not to do that.  The rebels had then brought the four-year-old forward to chop off his hand, at which point the father had offered his right hand to be cut off.

To the people who had come forward, however, bearing witness had great value; facing the perpetrators was a victory of sorts in itself, he said.  It was important that those responsible were held accountable and that a strong message be sent to those who might consider committing or sponsoring such crimes.  The Court had been able to bring a State leader to justice, thereby showing that no person was above the law.  The international community should therefore support completion of its work.

During the conflict, there had been some 275,000 cases of sexual violence, and thousands of women had been enslaved, he replied to a question about forced marriage.  Many of those women had become enforced “bush wives” to soldiers and commanders, conscripted into a conjugal relationship.  Over time, they were perceived as complicit consorts.  After the conflict, they were not welcome in their villages or homes.  Their lives had been destroyed and they were forced to stay with the perpetrators.

He said the Court had argued it was a crime, not specifically recognized as a crime in international law, but as an inhumane act.  If there was an act of inhumanity that was of equal gravity to other acts specifically prohibited, such as rape, murder, extermination and imprisonment, they could be prosecuted.  Conviction had been won against the three RUF commanders for that offence.

From the beginning, he responded to another question, the Court had been expected to have a “finite life”.  It therefore had never managed to establish a private “endowment”.  A residual mechanism, however, would be required after the Court had finished its trials, in order to deal with such matters as reviews requested by prisoners, commutation of sentences, witness protection and archiving.  He envisioned in that regard a small residual mechanism of four to five staff, which could call on others on an ad hoc basis.  That mechanism could also serve for other tribunals once they finished their work.

He informed correspondents that public testimony was videotaped and accessible on the Court’s website,  That included live proceedings in the Taylor trial.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.