Prosecutors today questioned former Liberian president Charles Taylor on his decision to grant Liberian citizenship to Sierra Leonean rebel forces who relocated to Liberia in December 1999 after falling out with the Sierra Leonean rebel group’s hierarchy.
Mr. Taylor has long stated in his direct-examination that when Sierra Leone’s notorious rebel commander Sam Bockarie became a hinderance to the peace process in the country and eventually fell out with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, West African leaders took a decision to get Mr. Bockarie out of Sierra Leone and have him relocated to Liberia. As Mr. Bockarie departed Sierra Leone for Liberia, hundreds of his loyal rebel fighters followed him to Liberia. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie relocated to Liberia on the invitation of Mr. Taylor. The former Liberian leader has denied these assertions. Mr. Taylor has stated that upon arrival in Liberia, Mr. Bockarie and his rebel followers were all granted Liberian citizenship before Mr. Bockarie’s followers were recruited into Liberia’s Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU).
During his cross-examination today, prosecution counsel Mr. Nicholas Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor under what authority he had granted Liberian citizenship to Mr. Bockarie.
“Under the constitution of Liberia and long standing practice,” Mr. Taylor responded.
When the Liberian constitution was presented to Mr. Taylor, the former president referred the court to Chapter 4, Article 27, sub-sections (b) and (c) and explained that “the constitution does not spell out exactly but statutes are enacted.” The former president read sub-sections (b) and (c) of the above Article of the Constitution which provide that:
b) In order to preserve, foster and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.
c) The Legislature shall, adhering to the above standard, prescribe such other qualification criteria for and the procedures by which naturalization may be obtained.
Mr. Taylor told the court that “based on those provisions and the legal advise that i received and based on long standing practice from President Tubman, I had the right to grant citizenship.”
Mr. Koumjian refered Mr. Taylor to a document titled An Act to Establish Citizenship and Naturalization Law of 1973 and amended in 1974.
Mr. Taylor immediately raised concerns about the document, saying “I don’t know when this document was published. Laws are amended but at the time i was president and the legal advise that was given to me was this particular practice and so i’ll want to look at the Title 3 of the Liberian Code of Laws of 1956.
Justice Julia Sebutinde intervened to say that the 1973 Act (as amended in 1974) makes clear that Title 3 had been repealed and was replaced by Title 4.
Reading from Article 21 of the 1973 Act (as amended in 1974), Mr. Koumjian explained that sub-sections (a) and (b) make clear that a person becomes qualified for naturalization as a Liberian citizen if he has maintained continued lawful residence in the country for at least two years, and that the person has resided in the country from the day of filing the petition to the day the citizenship is granted.
“I am not a lawyer. I was president. I was given legal advise by my lawyers. So it’s unfair for me to answer questions on these legal documents when i am not a lawyer,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor further explained that exceptional circumstances gave the president the power to grant citenzenship to certain persons and that “it was within the context of peace in Sierra Leone that these exceptional circumstances arose.”
Mr. Koumjian also read provisions of Liberian laws that for a person to be lawfully admitted into the country, he must have “been and still is of good moral character in accordance with the constitution of Liberia.”
“Do you consider Mr. Bockarie to be of good moral character?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
“I cannot pass that judgment. Under normal circumstances, I’ll say no but under exceptional circumstances, I am not in a position to make that judgment,” Mr. Taylor responded.
When asked by the presiding judge Justice Richard Lussick to give a more direct answer to the question, Mr. Taylor said “I’ll say he was a person of good moral background.”
The former president,however, added that “I did not look at that. I did not evaluate him on that background but the circumstances on which he entered Liberia.”
Mr. Koumjian further read that thepresident can waive the two years residency requirement for naturalization but the person for whom the provision is waived will still be required to “make and file a petition with his own handwriting” and sign a declaration that he does not favour anarchy and wishes to become a citizen of Liberia.
“Did Mr. Bockarie sign a declaration?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
“I don’t know. I had an advise from the Ministry of Justice that I had the authority to do this. I had to assume that they filed a declaration of intention,” the former president responded.
Asked further whether Mr. Bockarie took an “oath of allegiance” as required by law, Mr. Taylor said that “I’ll assume that he did so with the appropriate agencies of government.”
In proving their case that Mr. Taylor occupied a position of superior authority over RUF rebels, prosecutors have led evidence on the relationship that existed between the former Liberian president and RUF commander Mr. Bockarie. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie consulted Mr. Taylor before undertaking any major operation in Sierra Leone and that based on the former president’s advice, Mr. Bockarie sent rebel forces to attack the diamond mines in Sierra Leone as well as the country’s capital Freetown in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Witnesses have further testified that when Mr. Bockarie fell out with the RUF leadership in December 1999, Mr. Taylor invited him to Liberia because he had better use for him. According to witness’ testimonies, Mr. Taylor sent Mr. Bockarie to attack Ivory Coast and when the rebel commander attempted to return to Liberia after his assignment in Ivory Coast, he was executed by Liberian forces on Mr. Taylor’s orders. Mr. Taylor has dismissed these claims as “lies.”
Also in cross-examination today, prosecutors sought to present several documents to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility as a witness. This action was taken pursuant to the Trial Chamber’s decision issued yesterday which granted the prosecution’s request to submit “new documents” but only to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility. The judges added that every document will be dealt with on a “case-by-case” basis. The judgment further ordered that any “new document” that goes to point at the guilt of the accused must be disclosed to the defense before it can be used. When the prosecutoin attempted to use certain documents today in order to impeach Mr. Taylor’s credibility, the former president’s defense counsel raised objections after objections, arguing that the said documents pointed to the guilt of Mr. Taylor and must therefore be disclosed to the defense before they can be used. On almost all of the objections, the judges ruled in favor of the defense, stopping the prosecution from using said documents. The documents included records from the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) suggesting that Mr. Taylor had money stored in the bank, newspaper report on Mr. Taylor’s 1997 wedding with names of his close associates who served as his Best Men and Grooms Men, as well as new literature which pointed to the use of child soldiers by Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). These documents, the judges agreed with the defense, were “probative to the guilt of the accused.” The documents were eventually withdrawn by the prosecution.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel raised concerns that the prosecution were conducting Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination like a “relay” wherein lead prosecutor Ms. Brenda Hollis will conduct the cross-examination on particular days while Mr. Koumjian will step in on other days. Mr. Koumjian explained that Ms. Hollis had stayed in the office to put together the documents that were to be disclosed to the defense.
Mr. Taylor is on trial for his alleged role in supporting RUF rebels who waged an 11-years rebel war in Sierra Leone. Crimes committed by the rebels ranged from amputation of civilian limbs, to rape, recruitment of child soldiers and murder. Mr. Taylor is accused of involvement in a joint criminal enterprise with the RUF rebels. He has denied all the allegations against him.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.