Prosecutors spent much of today’s cross-examination of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, reading out statements by other West African leaders condemning Mr. Taylor Liberian rebel group for crimes committed against Liberians and members of international humanitarian agencies, including American Catholic nuns and peacekeepers during his country’s civil war.
In a 1992 statement read by lead prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders condemned Mr. Taylor’s rebel group (the National Patriotic Front of Liberia – NPFL) for their actions against West African peacekeepers serving in Liberia under the banner ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The ECOWAS leaders had “warned all warring factions against the commission of war crimes” in Liberia. The statement alluded to the killing of civilians, peacekeepers and American Catholic nuns during “Operation Octopus,” an operation launched by Mr. Taylor’s NPFL on the Liberian capital Monrovia in October 1992.
Mr. Taylor, in his response explained the circumstances surrounding the death of the nuns.
“That issue remains contested. They were killed in the area controlled by Senegalese forces. It remains contested. The United States raised that issue, we investigated it and it was determined that they were not killed deliberately by the NPFL but they were killed by crossfire,” Mr. Taylor explained.
“If you have a document showing that they were deliberately killed by NPFL, then you can bring it here,” the former Liberian president challenged the prosecution counsel.
“We will bring it later,” prosecutor counsel Ms. Hollis responded.
Ms. Hollis also read portions of the 1993 Cotonou Peace Agreement that was signed between the Interim Government of National Unity of Liberia (IGNU), the NPFL and the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). Among many other things agreed to in the Cotonou Agreement, the various parties declared a ceasefire, agreeing to stop all hostilities and to disarm all fighters in Liberia. Ms. Hollis pointed out that fighters were not disarmed as agreed in Cotonou and immediately after the signing of the agreement, Mr. Taylor’s NPFL started attacking Liberian towns and peacekeepers. In his response, Mr. Taylor said that other parties were responsible for the ceasefire violation.
“There were fightings but various parties were responsible,” he said. Mr. Taylor explained that the peacekeepers were taking sides in the conflict, and therefore their neutrality was brought into question.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that in 1994, his NPFL rebels held Tanzanian peacekeepers hostage, taking away their arms and ammunition, but admitted that radio communication sets were taken from the Tanzanians.
“I do not recall the NPFL arresting Tanzanian peacekeepers and taking away their ammunition. NPFL soldiers took radio sets from the Tanzanians but we took care of that by punishing those who were responsible,” he said.
Ms. Hollis also read portions of the August 1995 Abuja Agreement signed by the various parties to the Liberian conflict which established executive authority in Liberia in the hands of a “six-member Council of State” headed by Wilton Sankawolo. The agreement also established a time-table for certain actions to be taken including the deployment of ECOMOG peacekeepers and the disarmament of all fighters. Mr. Taylor agreed with Ms. Hollis on the contents of the agreement. Mr. Taylor also agreed that in May 1996, ECOWAS Ministers of Foreign Affairs met and issued a communique in which they raised concerns about fighting in Monrovia and other parts of Liberia.
In response to a question about massive looting allegedly carried out by his NPFL rebels during fighting in Monrovia on April 6, 1996, Mr. Taylor told the judges today that civilians were mainly responsible for pillaging in the country’s capital.
“The lootings as far as I am concerned that happened in Monrovia were done by civilians, in fact most of the lootings were carried out by the large population that moved to Monrovia. So all of the factions including the NPFL didn’t loot but in fact most of the lootings were carried out by civilians,” he said.
Though Mr. Taylor is being tried for crimes committed by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, the prosecution, during the presentation of their own case submitted evidence of atrocities committed by Mr. Taylor’s forces in Liberia in order to show evidence of a consistent pattern in the actions of the RUF in Sierra Leone and Mr. Taylor’s NPFL in Liberia. Today’s cross-examination focused on the NPFL’s activities in Liberia.
The prosecution alleges that Mr. Taylor was in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied claims that he was in a position of superior authority to RUF rebels and so he knew or had reason to know that the rebels were committing atrocities in Sierra Leone but that he failed to prevent the commission of those crimes or failed to punish the rebel forces when he knew that the crimes had been committed. Mr. Taylor is testifying as a witness in his own defense. He is presently being cross-examined by the prosecution.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.