Global Policy Forum

Taylor, Koroma Frustrate UN Court


June 27, 2005

Trial Will Not Complete Unless They Appear-But Will They Even Appear?

The cruelty that characterized the Sierra Leonean civil war and the intransigence of the RUF leadership personified by Foday Sankoh and chief mentor Charles Taylor, forced the United Security Council to bless plans by the Ahmed Tijan Kabbah administration to fight ruthlessness through the rule of law. By this, the Kabbah administration had hoped that it will be able to contain impunity while hammering home to would-be warmongers that "even wars have limits." The hybrid court that evolved from this understanding, the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, was therefore established to prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility for crimes against humanity.

But the process seems not to be working and frustration is stepping in. There are clear indications that administrators at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone are becoming frustrated over the continued uncertainty surrounding the arraignment of indictees Charles Taylor and Johnny Paul Koroma for trial. "The fact that two of the accused, Charles Taylor and Johnny Paul Koroma, remain at large and therefore cannot be tried until they appear before the Special Court may still affect the completion of all trials," the special court administrators said last month in a report to the UN Security Council.

But while the completion of the trials is essential to the overall mandate of the court which was to offset impunity in the ECOWAS subregion in the wake of the flagrant violation of human rights by so-called liberators over the last 15 years, the financial position of the special court is becoming a major challenge. According to reports, the court will receive UN direct support until December this year after which it will have to find alternative sources of income to carry out its activities. What this means, according to court administrators, is that as of January 2006, the court will have to rely on voluntary donation from countries wishing to support the rule of law in West Africa as a way of maintaining peace and stability.

Observers say the most workable alternative to seeking funding from independent sources is to hasten trials. This may involve the trial in absentia of Messrs Taylor and Koroma, but the court's own rules will not allow for trial in absentia. "Under the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Special Court, an accused may not be tried in his absence unless he has made his initial appearance and has been afforded the right to appear at trial and but has refused to do so, or alternatively, has made his initial appearance but is at large and refuses to appear in court," says the court's rule. It is clear from this rule that neither Mr. Taylor nor Mr. Koroma may be tried unless they appear in court in Freetown, something many say is near impossible. None of the two men had appeared in the special court, except for Taylor's lawyers who appeared before the court to argue about jurisdiction which they lost.

There is currently growing tension between the governments of Nigeria and the U.S. over the extradition of Charles Taylor to Sierra Leone to face the special court on 17-points of indictment. Nigeria is refusing to release Taylor unless the term of his asylum is exhausted or until an elected government in Monrovia says he should be turned over to it. And because Nigeria's position on the issue is fluid, many say it is unlikely that Taylor will appear voluntarily before the court as its own rules appear to suggest.

In fact addressing herself to the issue of Taylor's indictment and trial in Sierra in a magazine interview, the wife of Mr. Taylor, Jewel Howard-Taylor contended that her husband had already been convicted and that if he lives to go through the trial, he would not get fair hearing. She then suggested that the case be transferred to a more neutral ground in Geneva. No one has given this suggestion any serious thought as some Taylor former aids believe Taylor's going to Sierra Leone will not only be a heroic thing to do to prove his innocence, but that it will also exonerate the name of his former associates, family members and the name of his country Liberia which has been blamed for all the atrocities that occurred during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. No one knows for certain where the argument will lead eventually, but many are hoping that Nigeria, fearing economic isolation from Washington may eventually yield, letting go the Taylor-factor for the good of the Nigerian nation.

This leaves the question of Johnny Paul Koroma who has been at large since his indictment was approved by the Special Court on May 7, 2003. It was rumored that Koroma and Sam Bockarie were royal guests of President Charles Taylor, but opinions began to change after news of Bockarie's death at the Ivorian border with Liberia indicated that rather than a royal guest in Monrovia, Sam Mosquita Bockarie had been a hireling leading a crack mercenary contingent in Cote d'Ivoire. This revelation though, did not address the question about the whereabouts of Johnny Paul Koroma, the man who led the military junta, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to unseat the then infant civilian administration of President Tijan Kabbah. It is not known to the Special Court or to anyone else where Koroma is or whether he has any intention of walking voluntary into the trap set for him.

From the onset of trial back in July 2001, prosecutors at the special court were optimistic once the men indicted for bearing the greatest responsibility for crime against humanity in Sierra Leone were successfully prosecuted, the culture of impunity in Sierra Leone and other countries of the Mano River Union would be wiped out. Those targeted at the time were the then president of neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, RUF leader Foday Sankoh, RUF commander Sam Bockerie, and AFRC Junta leader, Johnny Paul Koromah. Event of the last few years, especially those surrounding the release of Taylor to the Special Court indicate that the initial euphoria regarding the wiping out of impunity is slowly dampening. And if it does, then it is no longer an exaggeration that the issue of Taylor and Koroma may go on and on to its miserable closure.

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


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