The international community knew and approved of Charles Taylor’s contacts with rebels forces in Sierra Leone during its 11-year conflict because it was seen as a way to help bring peace to the war-torn country, Mr. Taylor told a court in The Hague this week. He also said that he was wrongly accused by the international community of having links with, and control over, Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone during the war.
Mr. Taylor has been accused by the Special Court for Sierra Leone – a court set up by the United Nations and Sierra Leonean government – of supporting members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and their Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta counterparts during Sierra Leone’s war, by supplying them with arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. He has also been accused of sending Liberian fights to fight alongside rebel forces in Sierra Leone and that my his actions or inactions, he is responsible for the crimes committed by these rebel forces against the people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations.
On Monday July 27, 2009, Mr. Taylor told the judges that upon his appointment as head of the Committee of Five – a group set up by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to bring peace to Sierra Leone – he regularly communicated and held meetings with members of the RUF, but all these contacts were done with the consent and participation of ECOWAS and the United Nations.
“Subsequent to my appointment on the Committee of Five, I spoke with the RUF many times. I held meetings with them with the knowledge, consent and acquiescence of ECOWAS. The United Nations knew because for most of my discussions with the RUF, I spoke with Kofi Annan directly or through his Special Representative in Liberia. Everything I did in Sierra Leone was done with knowledge and consent of ECOWAS and I have documentary evidence to prove that,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that he supported the AFRC junta which overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. He told the judges that, like other West African leaders, he was part of the decision that foreign governments should not recognize the junta government of the AFRC. For this reason, he said that Liberia did not recognize the AFRC junta regime in Sierra Leone. “There was a decision that the junta should not be recognized. My government did not recognize the junta,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the AFRC and RUF while he was president of Liberia. Taylor told judges that all fighting forces in Liberia had been disarmed and the Liberian military was non-existent at this time. “Here is a country just coming out of war with no economy, no army, what am I doing with another country? I did not even have arms for my own security. My protection was in the hands of ECOMOG,” Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges on Wednesday that as a member of the ECOWAS Committee of Five, he had no option but to support the decision to oust the AFRC junta from power and restore the democratic government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.
“Liberia pledged its support for the ECOWAS decision to restore the government of President Kabbah to power,” Mr. Taylor told the judges. He said that if Liberia had the military man power, he would have contributed troops to remove the junta from power by force. Mr. Taylor said he, however, wanted any use of such force to be authorized by the United Nations Security Council.
On Thursday July 31, 2009, Mr. Taylor accused the United Nations of making him responsible for the presence of Liberian fighters among rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its 11-year conflict. This misconception, he said, had landed him in jail today.
Mr. Taylor’s defence counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, read from a 1998 United Nations Security Council report which stated that over 100 Liberian fighters were identified among rebel forces killed by Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) soldiers after the military intervention that forced the AFRC and RUF junta from power in 1998. The report further read that about 65 Liberian fighters had been arrested and detained at Sierra Leone’s maximum security prisons. The information is said to have been provided by Mr. Francis Okello, the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor denied these allegations and informed the judges that the government of Sierra Leone was aware that the Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were not sent by him, but were former members of the Liberian army who had escaped to Sierra Leone and had become part of the Special Task Force (STF)– a group of Liberian fighters who reports indicate fought alongside the Sierra Leone military, supported the AFRC coup of 1997 and became part of the AFRC/RUF junta. Mr. Taylor has denied any associations with the STF.
“We are shocked by this because we knew, the government of Sierra Leone and ECOWAS knew who the Liberians were,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that this was the first time that such an allegation had been made against him and it only happened when he asked the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo that had been imposed on Liberia. “For the first time, this is raised. It is a complete shock to me and my government,” Mr. Taylor said. “If Okello had taken his time to investigate the matter, he would have known that they were not my people. If he had done his homework, he would have known the fact. He did not do his homework.”
Mr. Taylor told judges that his failure to clarify the presence of Liberians in Sierra Leone is what has brought him to his present state. “We never succeeded in putting the fact that there were Liberians in Sierra Leone but not sent by Taylor. This is what got me to jail today,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also dismissed prosecution witness “Zig Zag” Marzah’s testimony that Mr. Taylor dined on human intestines as nonsense and blamed the witness’ illiteracy for coming up with such an allegation. In his 2008 testimony, prosecution witness and former commander of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Zig Zag Marzah told the court that he sat with Mr. Taylor and together, they dined on intestines of human beings who had been killed on Mr. Taylor’s orders. “I felt like throwing up when I heard that nonsense from him, and I think even the prosecution were shocked at listening to that foolishness,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor denied all allegations that he was a terrorist, saying that it was a phrase developed by former United States President George Bush, but its use has now been stopped by President Obama. He said western countries were opposed to him because he wanted an African solution to an African problem.
“I resent being labeled a terrorist. Africa has to be free, Africa has to determine its own destiny,” he said.
Mr. Taylor has been charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law for his alleged role in the Sierra Leonean conflict after 1996. His testimony will continue Monday.