Global Policy Forum

New Date for Taylor Trial


The Long-Awaited Proceedings against Charles Taylor Will Begin in June.

By Merdijana Sadovic*

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
February 2, 2007

The trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor is due to start this summer, a status conference at the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague, announced last week. The date was set by a judge at the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. The defence had argued that plans to hold the trial in April would not leave them enough time to prepare their case.

The case against Taylor - who is accused of crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone - will begin on June 4 in The Hague. He is charged with the killing, mutilation, and sexual violence involving thousands of victims, as well as the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The charges against Taylor stem from his alleged arming and training of rebels in Sierra Leone during the later years of their insurgency, which began in 1991. Taylor is accused of selling diamonds and buying weapons for the Revolutionary United Front, RFU, rebels, who were notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during a decade-long war.

Taylor's indictment is related to crimes said to have been committed between November 1996 and January 2002. The indictment "covers the gamut of the most horrendous things humans can do to one another", prosecutor Stephen Rapp told reporters after the hearing last week. Tens of thousands of people died in the interlinked conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia. Taylor faces a life sentence if convicted. He was arrested in Nigeria in March last year, and transferred to Holland in June, due to security concerns.

His trial was originally scheduled to start on April 2, but the date has been changed at the request of Taylor's defence team, who said they needed more time to prepare their case. Taylor's lawyer Karim Khan explained to the court that his team would not be ready to start in April given the huge volume of prosecution evidence. Taylor did not appear in the courtroom in The Hague because he is apparently being treated for back problems.

While other trials of the Special Court for Sierra Leone are being conducted in that nation's capital, Freetown, the proceedings against Taylor will take place at the ICC in The Hague. The prosecutors noted that the decision to move the trial was a result of negotiations aimed at keeping the peace in Sierra Leone and the region as a whole.

The decision was supported by the UN and key players in the region, including Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Addressing the reporters soon after the date for the start of the trial was announced, Rapp said that while the trial has been moved to Holland, "it is the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and only the Special Court, that is conducting this trial". He added that "this trial will be conducted first and foremost in the name of, and on behalf of, the people of Sierra Leone".

Regarding concerns that trying Taylor in The Hague would prevent people in Sierra Leone from seeing justice being done, the prosecutor said the main purpose of the extensive outreach programme of the court is to help solve this problem. "Last year, 780 meetings were held in every region of [Sierra Leone] to inform the public of the court's work," he said, adding that every effort is being made to ensure that Sierra Leoneans have transparent access to this trial. "Each case at the Special Court is heard, argued and decided upon in their name, and the many miles between The Hague and Freetown will not change that."

According to Rapp, Taylor's trial will last approximately 12 to 18 months, which is considerably shorter than other UN-backed trials of war crime indictees. Rapp stated that his prosecution team will "present the most concise case possible", drawing on evidence from crime scenes as well as testimony already presented in other tribunals. He also acknowledged that there are several challenges, including the logistics of having witnesses having to make 10,000 kilometre roundtrips to testify at The Hague and ensuring their safety upon their return.

The Special Court was established on January 16, 2002 by an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the UN and is mandated to try "those who bear greatest responsibility" for war crimes and crimes against community committed in the country after November 30, 1996. Thus far, 11 people have been indicted by the court.

Unlike two other UN-backed war crimes tribunals - the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR - which are funded by UN member states, the Special Court for Sierra Leone runs entirely on voluntary contributions. Rapp said that he is confident that the court will raise the 33 million US dollars it needs to operate this year and be "a model of international justice serving not just the legal principles that are so important, but also the people of the region".

About the Author: Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR's Hague project manager.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Special Court for Sierra Leone
More Information on Charles Taylor
More Information on Sierra Leone
More Information on Liberia


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