Here’s Part II of our three-part series of answers to your questions from Stephen Rapp, chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Jose Rodriguez asked: “Could you expand on the reason why hosting the trial in the sub-region will create instability especially in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the sub-region especially when Liberia has about 15,000.00 UN troops and arm embargo is placed on the country?”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: The decision to move the trial happened prior to when I became Prosecutor. Moving the trial is not something that the prosecution sought, though we had expressed a willingness to consider any venue if it meant that Charles Taylor could be brought to justice. The trial was moved from Freetown because of the request of regional leaders who thought that the conduct of this trial in the region, judging from the situation existing in 2006, would have been potentially destabilizing, particularly after the long and bitter civil wars in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, which spilled over into Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire.
Because of this request, I understand that court officials looked at other potential venues – not only in The Hague. At the time, I myself was at the Rwanda tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, and I remember approaches being made to us about whether we had an empty courtroom and sufficient facilities to try the Taylor case in Arusha, which is actually further away from Monrovia or Freetown than is The Hague. But we did not have a courtroom available because the Rwanda tribunal was fully occupied in concluding its work and needed all of its courtrooms.
Eventually the only facility available that had the open court room, the security, the translation services, the access to the necessary detention and witness protection facilities, and the airline connections, to allow this trial to take place outside the region was at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Moving the trial there has not been easy for the prosecution because we had to move staff and open a second office thousands of miles away from our base in Freetown. In a way, it may have been easier for the defense team because its leading lawyers have their homes and professional offices just across the channel in the UK. However, it was difficult for our witnesses, and it will be difficult for defense witnesses as well to travel such long distances to such an unfamiliar place. Additionally, it has required the court to make extra efforts to make sure that the people of the region were adequately informed of the progress of the trial. But in the end, I am pleased that we have able to overcome the obstacles, and put on a trial that is very much a model of international justice, and that means are available, such as http://charlestaylortrial.org, to allow it to be followed closely by the victims and by others in the region affected by the crimes that are the subject of the proceeding.
Shelby Grossman asked: “During their cross examination of prosecution witnesses, defense lawyers used several lines of inquiry to discredit witnesses. They argued witnesses said what they thought the prosecution wanted to hear because of the compensation they received for testifying. They pointed to inconsistencies in witness testimony. They argued that witnesses testified against Taylor to avoid prosecution for crimes they themselves committed. Of these (and other) lines of inquiry, which do you think was the strongest (i.e. most persuasive)?”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: Obviously the defense was doing its job in making those kinds of arguments, or pursuing those kinds of things on cross examination. One always has to consider these things in perspective when you consider the inconsistencies in testimony. When people describe events that occurred many years ago, and sometimes when they describe attacks at places where there were multiple attacks, it is quite common for them to be incorrect on dates and times and places. There are also cultural factors where people don’t relate to the world in terms of directions like north or south, or east or west, or wear wrist watches to tell the time of day. So because people are not relating to those particular directions or those particular times, they may not always be very precise and so an attorney can say that the witness said it was 9 o’clock in one interview, and 10 o’clock in the next interview, and this will look inconsistent. That kind of inconsistency is immaterial – but it is the job of the defense to do everything in its power to discredit witnesses and you’ll expect those lines of attack. If you look at what’s happened in other cases, you will see that almost always judges have said no I don’t see the problem with these kind of inconsistencies – that these events happened and the witness is confused about certain aspects of it, but the basic testimony is correct.
There’s this issue about witnesses having received expense reimbursements in certain situations and that’s something that the defense loves to talk about. Sometimes they will make a great deal about a payment of 10,000 or 15,000 Leones for a witness for transportation to come to and from an interview, but it is only a matter of a few US dollars. They will try to make it look like the witness has sold his credibility for the compensation of expenses that barely covered what the participation in the judicial process has cost the witness and his family. We have made it clear that witnesses are not paid for testimony but are merely reimbursed for what they have lost because of their willingness to testify.
[On people who defense claimed testified against Taylor to avoid prosecution themselves]: That is certainly an argument that’s been made, and there have been individuals who have testified that have admitted to acts that were criminal – but it needs to be borne in mind that the Special Court had a very limited mandate, that it could only go after the people who bore the greatest responsibility and that was essentially defined as people who were in national leadership positions, and since the initial decision on who to indict back in 2003, no additional individuals have been indicted. When most of the individuals who were witnesses in these cases were spoken to, the decision on who to prosecute had been made before they agreed to participate in any kind of interview. Sometimes they asked “Are you going to prosecute me?” and the prosecution always said “no, you are not on the list” and they said “well, can you assure me of that?” and so letters were given to the individuals saying that you are not on the list to be prosecuted. But those letters weren’t given as the result of a bargain. I know that happens in national systems, where people make those kinds of agreements, but this did not happen in regard to any of the witnesses that have testified in the Charles Taylor case or in any other trial before the Special Court, because the decision had been made not to prosecute those witnesses before those individuals were spoken to.
Noko5 asked: “Was the present position you are going to occupy advertise and was there a bidding process? How did you get this job? what did you do? how did you qualify? TELL US!!!”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: For this particular position, I was approached by the office of Secretary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and after discussing it with the Secretary herself, I was later was contacted to ask if I would accept the position. After I said that I would accept, Secretary Clinton recommended me to President Obama. It is a position subject to appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate, one of the many policy-level jobs where it expected that a new person will be appointed when a new Administration is elected and takes office.
As for the reason for my appointment, I can only point to the public record. In an interview with Secretary Clinton published in the New York Times magazine on 23 August, she mentioned my work in prosecuting gender violence at the international level. Those who have followed my career know of my work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where I drafted the indictment of the Tharcisse Renzaho, Prefect of Kigali, the governor of the capital region, including charges for rape as a crime against humanity and war crime that recently resulted in the first conviction of highly-ranked individual for gender violence. While at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, I have been involved in achieving conviction of leaders for rape as a crime against humanity and a war crime, for sexual slavery as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and for the first time in history the crime of forced marriage as a crime against humanity. Before more international service, I was a United States attorney from 1993 to 2001 in my home state where I prosecuted some of the first cases under the American Violence Against Women Act.
As she said on her recent mission in Africa, Secretary Clinton has placed a high priority on efforts to protect women from the massive gender violence that has been committed in several civil conflicts. As she has noted, in many conflict zones a civilian woman is at greater risk than is a soldier. We saw it in Sierra Leone with more than 200,000 women and girls raped, many of whom were also sexually enslaved and or forced into becoming bush wives. Now in Darfur and the eastern DRC, we see the widespread commission of these crimes against women, which are devastating in their effect on individual victims and their communities and are very much part of the strategy of the leadership of armed groups in weakening and destroying a targeted population.
In this position I will be involved in the diplomatic efforts of the US to achieve accountability and deterrence of these crimes, while at the same time I will be working on behalf of my government with international courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals to ensure the expeditious completion of their mandates in a way that leaves a legacy that prevents atrocities from being committed again.
Harris K Johnson asked: “As an Ambassador-at Large for War Crimes issues, what is you option on a Special Court for Liberia to prosecute war lords as recommanded by the TRC?”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: I was asked that question when I was in Monrovia and I quoted from what Ambassador Thomas Greenfield has said about two weeks ago, and what Secretary Clinton said when she passed through Monrovia a little more than a week ago. That was: the decision on how to achieve accountability for the crimes that were committed during the civil wars in Liberia is first and foremost a decision for the people of Liberia through their elected representatives and we really want them to make a decision on how they want to approach this issue and then if they come to us and seek assistance we’ll be prepared to provide that assistance. There are many approaches to achieving accountability but we think it important that the people who experienced this horrendous violence and who were victims of these crimes make that determination themselves. It is not for other countries to say you should do this or you should do that – let’s hear from them first.
Harris K Johnson also asked: “What has happened to the remains of Johnny Paul Kormah that you once told us were found in Foyah, Lofa County, where those remains that of the real JPK?”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: As I’ve indicated publicly, we had certainly received information that Johnny Paul Koroma was killed in Foya in Lofa county in early 2003 and we’ve sought out as much information as we could about where his remains may be. We had some reports that he was buried in a shallow grave in a particular area. We were able to uncover partial human remains and through DNA analysis attempted to determine if were the remains of Johnny Paul Koroma. The scientific report that we got back in relation to partial sets of two remains indicate that they were not Johnny Paul Koroma. We have recently been able to determine the identity of one of the individuals who was a young soldier fighting in the conflict there, and we are in the process, in consultation with Liberian authorities and with his family, to ensure that those remains are returned there for appropriate burial. But we have not as yet been able to identify any remains that can be identified as those of Johnny Paul Koroma. Tragically, however, this was an area in which hundreds of people were killed, and also an area in which there was a fair amount of flooding, and so just because we haven’t found his remains doesn’t mean that he is not dead. However, we can’t definitively close the case without finding remains and identifying them scientifically, and that to date has not been possible.
Noko5 asked: Are you going to make that the U S goverment becomes a part of the ICC, after wards indict president BUSH????”
MR. RAPP’S ANSWER: In regard to the ICC and in regard to my new role as an Ambassador at Large, I will be a representative of the United States government and will be involved in discussions internally in the government about the direction we should take on international justice issues. At this stage in relation to the US participation in the ICC, all I can say is that when President Obama and Secretary Clinton were candidates for President last year, they both said that US membership in the ICC is premature at this time, that that they want to see how the ICC actually does its work. In that regard it should be noted that the US often takes a long time to determine whether it wants to join international treaties. However, there are several issues regarding the ICC treaty as to which President Obama and Secretary Clinton have expressed concern and were of concern to the American government during the Administration of President Bill Clinton when that treaty was negotiated. You will recall that the United States government did not support the final treaty when it came out of the Rome Conference. President Clinton made a decision at the very end of 2000 to sign the treaty, albeit with a statement that the US still had problems with the treaty that they hoped would be resolved. During the first term of US President George W. Bush, the US took a more hostile approach to the ICC. During the second term of the Bush administration, it did not oppose the UN Security Council referral of the Darfur situation to the ICC and eventually became one of the strongest supporters of the ICC when it came to the Darfur situation, particularly in publicly opposing any Security Council deferral of that investigation or prosecution.
Even before President Obama and Secretary Clinton took office, the United States had begun to move to a more cooperative stance with the ICC and this has continued with this Administration. There are issues that need to be discussed within the US government, and I hope to be involved in that process in the coming months, but as yet, there has not been a decision by the President and the Secretary about how specifically to proceed.
Thanks again to Mr. Rapp.