Charles Taylor did not have any control or command over Liberians who traveled to Sierra Leone during its 11-year civil war and joined fighting forces there, he reconfirmed to judges today at his trial in The Hague.
Many former combatants from Liberia’s own conflict, who had migrated to Sierra Leone after Mr. Taylor came to power in Liberia in 1997, joined either the group of Liberians known as the Special Task Force – a group aiding the Sierra Leonean army – while some joined the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), he said. Some, Mr. Taylor said, became prey for mercenaries due to their lack of food or jobs.
Mr. Taylor said that he, however, had no control or command over these fighters who had migrated to Sierra Leone and become part of fighting forces there, and could not have punished them for any crimes committed in Sierra Leone.
“How do you punish someone when he is not under your control?” Mr. Taylor asked the court. “You can only be responsible for people under your direct command.”
“Nobody can say that Taylor ordered me to do X, Y or Z. I did not have contact with them and there was no control over them. I did not help them in anyway,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Asked by his defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths what he did as newly elected president of Liberia to control such situation, Mr. Taylor said that the “only thing I could have done was to get international support to build schools and train people or engage them in projects to become productive citizens.” He said this was not possible because he did not have any international support.
Mr. Taylor has been accused of supporting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone by supplying them with arms and ammunition in exchange for Sierra Leone’s diamonds. The prosecution further alleges that in addition to sending Liberian fighters to join the rebels forces in Sierra Leone, he also provided safe haven for RUF rebels in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor accused the United States and Great Britain of making these allegations against him based on rumors and misinformation.
Mr. Taylor referenced a 1999 Washington Post publication after the rebel attacks on Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in January 1999. In the news article, Mr. Taylor said he was accused by the United States and Great Britain of supplying arms and fighters to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor said that his present trial, based on these allegations, is a form of punishment because he stood against the demands of these two countries.
“Firestone Rubber Company had been operating in Liberia since 1925. That company in 1925 did an agreement with the Liberian government for 99 years, 99 months, 99 weeks, 99 days, 99 hours, 99 minutes and 99 seconds. I come to office and I say that this is 99 set of nonsense and we must renegotiate this agreement, and that in fact Firestone had really done nothing for Liberia,” Mr. Taylor said. This, he said did not go down well with the two great powers, the United States and Great Britain and they decided to “go after him”.
Mr. Taylor also confirmed a January 1999 United Nations report that Liberia had become a source for mercenaries. He explained that after the conflict in Liberia, the country had about 60,000 combatants from different fighting factions and he did not have control over all of them.
“The 60,000 figure we use here, these were not all NPFL [Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia rebel group]. These are the whole combatants from all sides. So to a great extent, we dont have control over a large amount of these people,” he said.
Mr. Taylor told the court that more needs to be done to solve the problems of conflicts in the West African sub-region than putting him to trial.
“The trials in Sierra Leone or the trial of Taylor will not end the problems in that region. They can only be resolved if we go to the root causes of these conflicts,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.