For the whole of this week, Mr. Taylor has been responding to allegations made against him in a 2000 United Nations Expert Panel Report that he was involved in fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone through diamond and arms trade with Sierra Leonean rebel forces. The UN report reinforces prosecution allegations against Mr. Taylor that he supported the rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. Mr. Taylor dismissed the report as “disgraceful” and full of “disinformation,” as he refuted all its allegations against him. Mr. Taylor said that the report made recommendations that not only hurt him, but punished Liberia. This, Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges this week, was a “travesty of justice” and was at the heart of the whole case against him.
“This report actually is at the heart of this case and because of the way this report is written, together with the level of disinformation in it, it puts us in a bad position because it talks about diamonds, arms and training bases in Liberia. This is the basis of the case that has not been subject to legal scrutiny,” Mr. Taylor said.
The report, which Mr Taylor dismissed as biased against him in his testimony this week, alleged that Mr. Taylor received diamonds from two key rebel commanders in Sierra Leone: Ibrahim Ba, a Senegalese rebel commander who worked with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, and Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of soldiers who overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The AFRC joined forces with the RUF rebels but they were forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in February 1998. Mr. Taylor denied receiving diamonds from any of these individuals.
“I never had a business relationship with Ibrahim Ba. I have never collaborated with Ba for any sale of diamonds. There has never been a business relationship with Ba. None whatsoever. There are no documents to prove this. I don’t recall any evidence that mentioned diamonds taken from Johnny Paul Koroma,” Mr. Taylor said.
The report also accused Mr. Taylor of having representatives in Kono and Tongo Fields in Sierra Leone, where the RUF rebels mined diamonds. Mr. Taylor denied having any representative in any of these places.
“I don’t know who they are talking about but I never had any representative anywhere,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
According to the report, “this trade [diamond trade with the RUF] cannot be conducted without high level government involvement.” Denying his government’s involvement in the diamond trade with RUF rebels, Mr. Taylor told the court that “the nature of the diamond trade then and now did not require any government involvement. This is the case not only in Liberia. Tourists buy diamonds,” he said.
Mr. Taylor referenced that even though the United States has a fence separating its border with Mexico, that has not stopped drug cartels from transporting drugs into the United States. “Why do they expect Liberia to detect little stones coming to the country? It is insulting,” he said.
In describing the report, Mr. Taylor said that he raised alarms when he found out who was appointed as the reporting expert. When Ian Smillie–who in a prior report had accused Mr. Taylor of involvement in diamond-for-arms trade in Sierra Leone– was named an expert, Mr. Taylor wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General questioning Mr. Smillie’s appointment. These concerns, Mr. Taylor said, were ignored by the UN and Mr. Smillie remained on the panel.
Mr. Smillie has already testified as an Expert Witness for the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s prosecution against Mr. Taylor.
“I had concerns about people who had made allegations against Liberia being on the panel. You have already prejudiced the report by doing that,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor accused Great Britain and the United States of manipulating the findings of the report by putting pressure on Mr. Smillie, who was their own nominee on the panel.
“Britain and America are bringing the pressure. We know that the pressure is coming on Smillie because of the interest,” Mr. Taylor said. “I am confronted with these people who have already made those allegations even before the panel report is out.”
It was no surprise therefore, Mr. Taylor said, that when the report came out, he was accused of active involvement in the provision of financial and military support to the rebels in return for diamonds. Mr. Taylor said that while these allegations were made against him, Britain and the United States failed to provide any “tangible evidence” of his involvement in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, also this week read portions of the book “Intervention in Africa” written by former United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen. In this book, a whole chapter is dedicated to the conflict in Liberia from the late 1980s to the 1990s. Mr. Cohen states in the book that the United States government, through its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), provided support to Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group. In his response, Mr. Taylor confirmed that his NPFL indeed received assistance from the United States.
“We were given some very high power technical radios by the embassy [United States], by the CIA at the time, that we used for rapid communications, that we could call almost any where in the world and get to anybody that we wanted to get to on the ground,” Mr. Taylor said.
He explained that the assistance from the United States government was given to the NPFL as a deal to protect United States facilities in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor also accused the United States of providing similar support to other rebel groups in Liberia.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor accused the UN of ignoring the good work he did to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone. He said that any fair report would have pointed out that he made significant contributions to take the RUF rebels to the negotiating table. The report, Mr. Taylor said “does not present the whole truth. There is not one mention of my contribution towards peace in Sierra Leone. This report is not fair, it is fickle and should not stand.”
Mr. Taylor told the court that when the report was published in 2000, his government in Liberia sent an immediate response to the UN Secretary General in which they tried to put the record straight. “We were furious and we did not hesitate to respond immediately. The government put a team together and we responded,” he said.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor said that for almost a decade, the international community saw his role as one which fueled Sierra Leone’s civil conflict through gun running and drug smuggling, and that nothing he did could change this impression and Liberia suffered because of it.
“They had made up their minds, it really did not matter whatever I did,” Mr. Taylor told the judges when responding to international community allegations against him that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that in after the release of the UN Expert Report on Sierra Leone in 2000, accusing him of providing support to the RUF rebels, the United Kingdom, through its ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, proposed sanctions against Liberia at the UN Security Council. As a condition to lift the sanctions against Liberia, Ambassador Greenstock said that Liberia “needed to take urgent steps to stop support for the RUF and the trafficking of diamonds and arms to and from Sierra Leone.”
Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders, Mr. Taylor said, asked for a delay of the sanctions “so Liberia could take steps to address the concerns in the report in two months.”
Despite this plea from ECOWAS leaders, the UN Security Council went ahead and voted for sanctions against Liberia. “Sometimes, regional response does not matter. When one of these big countries want to do something, they will do it.”
As a condition to lift sanctions, Mr. Taylor said that the UN asked him to address the following concerns:
1. Expel all RUF members from Liberia
2. Stop all military and financial support for the RUF
3. Stop the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone
4. Freeze all RUF assets in Liberia
5. Ground all Liberian aircraft
To address these issues, Mr. Taylor said that he gave a 72-hour ultimatum to all RUF personnel to leave Liberia. Mr. Taylor said that even RUF commander Sam Bockarie, who had relocated to Liberia with the approval of the international community, had to leave for the Ivory Coast with a handful of his followers. The bulk of the followers that Sam Bockarie took with him to Liberia when he left Sierra Leone in 1999 had to stay in Liberia because they had now become Liberian citizens and were part of Mr. Taylor’s Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU). He said he therefore saw no need to ask them out of the country. Mr. Taylor said that Sam Bockarie had become a “center of allegations and was bringing harm to the Liberian republic” and so he had no option but to ask him to get out of the country.
On the other conditions raised by the UN, including stopping all support for the RUF, Mr. Taylor said there was no need to respond, as he had not been providing any support for the RUF. He said that he took steps to stop the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone and even asked for international support to monitor the Sierra Leone-Liberia border but he did not receive any such support. Mr. Taylor also said he took steps to check if RUF members had any assets in Liberia which needed to be frozen but he found none. Mr. Taylor said he further grounded all aircraft that was registered in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges this week that the United States, under the presidency of George H. Bush issued an executive order on May 22 2001 which declared that Liberia posed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign interest of the United States.” Responding to a question as to what US interest Liberia could have posed a threat to, Mr Taylor said that “we did not know what US interest in the region was. We were as stunned and could not understand. We believed they had economic and military interest in West Africa.”
Mr. Taylor said that he took the US executive order to mean a call for “regime change and a declaration of war against Liberia.”
He said he saw all of these as unfair steps taken against him and the people of Liberia. “This whole thing is couched that Liberia is sitting on a time bomb. Everything could be raised to act against Liberia,” he said.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he had control over RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that in return for diamonds, he provided arms and ammunition for the rebels which they used to cause mayhem on the people of Sierra Leone. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.