Charles Taylor was “not honest” with the United Nations Panel of Experts set up to investigate his alleged dealings with Sierra Leonean rebels, prosecutors told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today during cross-examination of the accused former Liberian president.
The UN Panel of Experts report released in 2000 accused Mr. Taylor of fuelling the conflict in Sierra Leone through diamonds and arms trade with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, a group that fought an 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone. In cross-examining Mr. Taylor today, lead prosecution counsel Ms. Brenda Hollis pointed out that when the UN Panel of Experts met with Mr. Taylor in 2000, the former president lied to them about the whereabouts of notorious Sierra Leonean rebel commander Sam Bockarie. In 1999, Mr. Bockarie, having fallen out with the leadership of the RUF, relocated to Liberia where Sierra Leonean rebels loyal to him were recruited into Mr. Taylor’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU). According to some prosecution witnesses, Mr. Bockarie relocated to Liberia on Mr. Taylor’s invitation. Mr. Taylor on the other hand has said that Mr. Bockarie’s relocation to Liberia was based on a decision by West African leaders. In 2000, reports indicate that Mr. Bockarie left Liberia for Ivory Coast, where he was involved in the conflict there, allegedly on Mr. Taylor’s orders. Mr. Taylor has refuted such assertions. In his cross-examination today, the former president denied prosecution claims that when asked by the UN Panel of Experts about the whereabouts of Mr. Bockarie, he told them he “did not know where Bockarie was.”
“Well, I could not tell where he was,” Mr. Taylor said.
When told by Ms. Hollis that Mr. Bockarie “was carrying out your duties undermining other governments,” Mr. Taylor responded that such an assertion was “a blatant hallucination.”
“Charles Taylor had no money, so why is he undermining other governments?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor insisted that he was honest in his response to the UN Panel of Experts, asserting that he was not asked directly where Mr. Bockarie was.
“I was never asked precisely where he was. I was being honest with the UN because as president of Liberia, I needed to be sure of where he was. I told them the official position of my government that he was escorted to the Ivorian border,” he said.
Mr. Taylor explained that when Mr. Bockarie indicated that he wanted to relocate to Burkina Faso, he asked to be escorted through Ivory Coast and therefore the Liberian government had to escort him to the Liberian border with Ivory Coast.
Asked by Ms. Hollis whether he informed the Ivorian government that Mr. Bockarie, though on a UN travel ban, was being escorted to their border and was passing through their territory, Mr. Taylor said that he did not see the need to share such information with the Ivorian government.
“I did not feel the obligation to tell them. It is not the function of the government to tell other governments that somebody is on a travel ban and was on his way to their country,” he said.
Ms. Hollis further pointed out that Mr. Bockarie travelled on a Liberian passport with the name Solomon Johnson.
“This could have been a travel document given to him in 1998 because we gave him a passport in 1998. I don’t know what name he travelled on,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor agreed that when Mr. Bockarie was given a Liberian passport in 1998, he was not a Liberian citizen. He said the RUF commander and his followers were given Liberian citizenship only when they left Sierra Leone for Liberia in December 1999.
Ms. Hollis also pointed out that in Mr. Taylor’s direct-examination, he had said that the UN Panel of Experts had not asked him about diamonds from Sierra Leone during their interview with him in Liberia. Ms. Hollis read portions of notes prepared by a member of the Panel of Experts, Ian Smillie, on his October 6, 2000 meeting with Mr. Taylor. The notes indicate that the UN Panel of Experts asked Mr. Taylor about comments made by the then United States Under-Secretary of State, Thomas Pickering, to Mr. Taylor that he had evidence of Mr. Taylor’s dealings in diamond with RUF rebels. Mr. Taylor insisted that those notes were prepared by Mr. Smillie and could well not reflect what was discussed in the meeting.
Mr. Taylor’s association with RUF commander Mr. Bockarie has occupied a huge portion of the case against him. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie used to take orders from Mr. Taylor and that when the RUF commander left Sierra Leone in 1999 and relocated to Liberia, the former Liberian president sent him to launch attacks in Ivory Coast, with an aim of destabilizing that country. These allegations add to charges against Mr. Taylor that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. It is alleged that while the RUF rebels took orders from him, he also received diamonds from the rebels in return for supplies of arms and ammunition. The prosecution argues that Mr. Taylor bears responsibility for crimes such as rape, murder, terrorizing the civilian population and recruitment of child soldiers by the RUF in Sierra Leone.
To buttress these claims against the former president, the prosecution has been pointing out atrocities allegedly committed by Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia as a means of showing a consistent pattern with those committed by the RUF in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these claims.
In cross-examination today, Ms. Hollis pointed out to Mr. Taylor that “forces under your control such as the ATU committed crimes against civilians.”
“Crimes committed by your faction were definitely systematic,” Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor.
“No. Not to my knowledge. It is possible that individuals in those units did commit crimes. In some parts of the country, I’ll say that was possible,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor, however, denied prosecution claims that his forces burned entire villages and killed civilians.
“In fact the best kept places in the country were those under NPFL [National Patriotic Front of Liberia] control. Winning 70 percent in an election does not seem like reigning terror on people. You lost on that Ms. Hollis, you are wrong,” Mr. Taylor asserted.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues on Monday.