On Friday, January 4th, a press conference was held in the briefing room of the ICC in The Hague.
Mr Solomon Moriba, Press and Outreach Officer for the Special Court, opened the session with wishing everybody a happy New Year. Considering the postponement of the last six months, he expressed the Court’s hope not to face a situation similar to the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, which was continuously postponed. Status conferences have been held every month with both parties concerning their readiness to restart the trial on January 7, 2008.
The Chief Prosecutor, Mr Stephen Rapp, stated that the trial will go ahead full speed next Monday and will begin with the presentation of the witnesses in the witness box. He envisages that 8 witnesses will present their testimony in the first 2 or 3 weeks.
It is the intention of the Prosecution to present several kinds of witnesses. Some witnesses will appear in person, but the Prosecution suggested that some testimony would be presented in written form to speed up the process and be more cost effective. The following witnesses will be presented:
• 59 witnesses will testify about the linkage between the crimes and Mr Taylor and his associates (54 will appear in person, 5 will present their testimony in writing since their linkage is much less direct).
• 77 crime-based witnesses will be presented (10 will appear in person and 67 witnesses will testify in writing).
• 8 witnesses who are experts with a historical background in the conflict, such as an expert in international development (including the diamond industry), authors and journalists, will present their testimony (6 in person and 2 in writing).
With the allowance by the judges of the sworn-in statements, the Prosecution expects the witness hearings to last for about 8 months excluding the recess in August and September 2008.
Rapp said he considers it part of his responsibility to be present in Sierra Leone as much as possible, but will be in The Hague from time to time. He is proud of the group he has working for the Prosecution. He stressed again that this trial is an important test for international justice, and that the Prosecution will see to the trial being expeditious and fair in both reality and appearance. He is particularly proud of the fact that the Court consists of Sierra Leonean and international representatives. He is convinced that the proceedings of the trial helped the restoration of law in the region.
Rapp fielded several questions from the audience. One of the questions related to the financial situation of the proceedings. The prosecutor admitted that the financial plan had undergone change. With the postponement of the trial from June 2007 to January 2008 the budget at the time was no longer realistic. At this moment, considering that everything will go as now planned, Rapp believes that the trial will be concluded and judgment rendered by the end of 2009. The international community is still making donations and will continue to do so when the necessity arises. The budget for 2007 was $ 36 million, the budget for 2008 is $ 33 million and $ 20 million is expected to be needed in the concluding year 2009.
Rapp said to ask Mr Taylor to find money to pay for his defense would definitely delay the proceedings. Efforts are being made by the Registry to obtain assets from Mr. Taylor, so he can be expected to pay for at least part of his defense and pay a compensation to the victims. The UK and the US are offering their assistance in this matter. As the Prosecutor stated, Taylor is expected to have tens of millions of US dollars, if not hundreds of millions of US dollars.
Another question was raised about the witnesses for the Defense. The Prosecutor answered that witnesses can travel free from Liberia to testify. On December 23, 2007 the UN Security Council provided that the Sierra Leonean travel ban does not apply to witnesses for this trial.
Another question was asked about how people in Sierra Leone and Liberia feel about the trial. Rapp answered that people are very aware of the Court and its proceedings and are quite interested in the case. One survey held in Sierra Leone showed 90% in favor of peace and reconciliation, another survey had a 2/3 majority in favor. Liberians too are watching the trial very closely since many crimes related to Mr. Taylor took place in that country and especially since he is being on trial outside of Liberia and outside of Sierra Leone.
Rapp confirmed that Mr Taylor will appear in Court and will not represent himself. He is being represented and is convinced that his Counsel is doing the best they can for him. Just in case Mr. Taylor does not show up in Court it is up to the Judges to decide whether the case will proceed or not.
Having no further questions to be answered, the press conference was concluded.