The Trial Chamber hearing the Charles Taylor case sat for only one day this week as Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths reported ill. On Monday, the only day in the week on which court proceedings were held, Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that significant shipments of weapons, intended for use by rebels in Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil conflict, could have been transported through Liberia without his knowledge.
“It is possible that significant amounts of arms could come into Liberia without my consent. With the level of corruption in the country, it is possible. I don’t run the airports or the roads,” he told the judges.
Mr. Taylor was responding to allegations that he transported arms and ammunition from Libya and Burkina Faso for onward transfer to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
In his testimony on Monday, Mr. Taylor explained that when these allegations against him were made, he took steps to make sure that no such arms were transported through Liberia. His accusers, he said, had no evidence to prove these allegations.
“They could not show us what was coming in. We were as diligent as we could be. If they had the evidence, they could have confronted us with it,” Mr. Taylor said. “If anyone thinks that anything coming into Liberia is with the knowledge of Taylor, then I am already guilty.”
Reinforcing his point that arms could have been transported through Liberia without his consent, Mr. Taylor said that the arms and ammunition that were bought by the Liberian government to fight against the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels were transported through European countries without the consent of their respective governments.
“We imported arms from Europe, these European countries were bound by Chapter VII of the UN Charter. They[arms] stopped in these countries but the governments did not know and they got to Liberia,” Mr Taylor said. “If you have a little bit of money, and you want to move weapons, I don’t care what resolution is passed, you will move weapons including through the best of the countries you can imagine and use some of their own companies to do it.”
Mr. Taylor said that the same thing could have happened in Liberia when individuals or groups could have transported arms into the country and transferred the arms to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. All this, Mr. Taylor said, could have happened without his knowledge or consent.
“So the fact is that something can come into Roberts International Airport [Liberia’s main airport], the president in Monrovia doing what he’s got to do, if sufficient contacts are made at that airport, those things would come into the airport, if its weapons, of course. With sufficient money, you can bribe the officials and the weapons can be brought in at a time, it can happen anywhere,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also reiterated his allegations that western countries, especially the United States, should be blamed for allowing LURD rebels to invade Liberia. Mr. Taylor said that after he had disarmed his fighters in Liberia, his government had no arms and ammunition to prevent LURD rebels from attacking his government. All efforts to get the United Nations to lift the arms embargo that had beeen placed on Liberia proved futile, he said. Mr. Taylor explained that under the presidency of George Bush in the United States, the “Bush Donctrine” gave the United States “the right, if it perceives that the security of the United States is under threat, to take action to prevent that threat.”
“The perception of threat, not the action, could give the United States the right to take necessary steps. So what about Liberia, which the United Nations had recognized was under threat?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor said that failure of the UN to allow Liberia to import arms caused his government to violate the UN arms embargo and import arms from Europe to Liberia. He said that the Liberian government still informed the United Nations about the arms that were bought and the purpose for which they were bought.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths reported a “bad case of sore throat” and that prevented him from appearing in court. Court was then adjourned for a day.
On Wednesday, when Mr. Griffiths could not appear in court for a second day in a row because doctors had diagnosed him, in addition to his sore throat, with an infection and pneumonia, the judges told Mr. Taylor’s defense team that a substitute counsel will be necessary to continue Mr. Taylor’s examination if Mr. Griffiths does not recover from his illness by next Monday. This, he said, will not jeopardize Mr. Taylor’s fair trial rights. The trial was adjourned for the rest of the week.
Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. Several witnesses have testified to the transfer of arms and ammunition from Liberia to Sierra Leone with Mr. Taylor’s knowledge and participation. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.