As Prosecutors today described Liberia under Charles Taylor’s rule as a country in which human rights abuses were rampant and the rule of law was undermined, the former president denied that he was politically interfering with the Liberian judiciary or that human rights abuses were rife under his leadership.
As his cross-examination continued into another week, prosecutors have sought to establish that Liberia, under Mr. Taylor’s presidency, did not enjoy good governance, with widespread reports of human rights abuse, corruption and political interference with the country’s judiciary. Questioning Mr. Taylor about his alleged judicial interference, lead prosecution counsel Brenda Hollis read a report of a conference at which lawyers and other judicial officials made statements that the “Liberian judiciary is rotten.” Ms. Hollis quoted two Liberian lawyers who both alleged that there was a “strong influence of the government on the judiciary.” She further read portions of the statement made at the conference by the then Chief Justice of Liberia that there was government interference in the judiciary and that the government’s financial support to the judiciary was very low.
Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegations as “totally incorrect.”
Referring to the report on the conference as read by Ms. Hollis in court today, Mr. Taylor said that “your conclusion of this entire document is ludicrous.”
“The judiciary was rotten, I agree with the contents, but I met it this way and I’m trying to fix it. This is a conference where Liberians are trying to solve historical problems,” Mr. Taylor said.
In her response, Ms. Hollis asserted that there was nothing mentioned in the statements by the various speakers at the conference that they were referring to historical problems.
“The interference into the judiciary continued during your presidency,” Ms. Hollis insisted.
“No it didn’t. The alleged interference didn’t continue,” Mr. Taylor replied.
As Mr. Taylor gave his responses to Ms. Hollis’s questions, the lead prosecutor accused Mr. Taylor of using his responses to deliver speeches. To this, Mr. Taylor responded that
“I am not delivering speeches, except you are the audience, so stop referring to my comments as speeches.”
During Mr. Taylor’s direct examination, he said he brought good governance to Liberia and that he respected the fundamental human rights of his citizens. Prosecutors now seek to establish that Mr. Taylor was not a good president for Liberia. Prosecutors allege that as leader of Liberia’s rebel group the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Mr. Taylor was involved in the commission of atrocities against the people of Liberia and that when he became president of the country in 1997, his system of governance did not reflect a democratic society. Mr. Taylor wanted the same system of governance to be reflected in neighboring countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia and that is why he kept supporting rebel forces in these countries, prosecutors allege. Mr. Taylor has dismissed the prosecution accounts as “untrue.”
“You did not act in a way to show the people of Liberia that your new order replaced the old order of violence,” Ms. Hollis stated to Mr. Taylor.
“You are totally incorrect,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Ms. Taylor also denied Ms. Hollis’s assertions that “human rights abuses were rife” during his presidency.
In seeking to demonstrate the dire human rights situation in Liberia under Mr. Taylor’s presidency, Ms. Hollis also read portions of a letter written to Mr. Taylor by former United States president Jimmy Carter on November 6 2000, explaining why his human rights organization, The Carter Center for Human Rights, was withdrawing from Liberia.
When first asked whether he was told why the Carter Center was withdrawing from Liberia, Mr. Taylor originally said “I don’t know why they pulled out. I was not answerable to the Carter Center. I have great respect for President Carter but I don’t know why they pulled out.”
Ms. Hollis continued to read the contents of the letter, which indicated that the Carter Center was withdrawing from the country because of the actions of Mr. Taylor’s government.
“Because of prevailing conditions and the actions of your government, you have made it difficult for the Carter Center and others to operate within democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Reports of serious human rights abuses are common, journalists and civil society members are suppressed. Liberia’s role in the conflicts in the sub-region has become a destructive one,” President Carter was quoted as writing in his November 2000 letter today.
“On reflection, I now see this,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the rebels in return for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds and that he helped them plan certain operations during which atrocities such as rape, murder and amputation of civilian arms were committed. From July 14 to November 10, 2009, Mr. Taylor testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.