Prosecutors today questioned former Liberian president Charles Taylor about crimes committed by his rebel forces during his country’s civil conflict. This formed part of a broader effort by prosecutors to show consistent crime patterns with those of neighboring rebels in Sierra Leone, whom Mr. Taylor is accused of supporting during the West African country’s bloody 11-year civil war. The aim is to show rebels in both countries had the same command structure, with Mr. Taylor at the top. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations.
As she questioned Mr. Taylor today about crimes committed by his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels, lead prosecutor Brenda Hollis reminded Mr. Taylor of his November 19, 2009 statement under cross-examination that certain types of crimes committed by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces in Sierra Leone (such as amputations) were of a surprise because they did not occur in Liberia. In doing so, she sought to demonstrate that while the specific types of crimes committed in each country may have differed, the approach used by both sets of rebels were the same in that they involved widespread and systematic attacks against civilians. Mr. Taylor has consistently denied he was in control of the RUF rebels, and sought to show in his direct testimony that in Liberia, he held his own rebels to account for any crimes, and that those crimes were not, he argues, widespread in nature.
“Crimes committed by all factions in Liberia including your NPFL were widespread and systematic in nature,” Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor today at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“I’ll say it’s incorrect,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Ms. Hollis also pointed that “the NPFL did not put in place the minimum standards to mitigate against these widespread abuses” in the NPFL.
In his response, the former president said that “the NPFL had military tribunals to mitigate abuses.”
Mr. Taylor also dismissed as “totally not correct” prosecution claims that his “NPFL targeted women as victims of crimes such as rape, sexual slavery and other forms of violence.
In response to Ms. Hollis’s assertion that the “NPFL were responsible for burning of entire villages,” Mr. Taylor said that “that is not to my knowledge.”
Demonstrating that crimes are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians is important in this case because it is one of the elements needed to prove that crimes committed by rebels in Sierra Leone, such as murder, torture or rape, rose to the level of crimes against humanity. Mr. Taylor is charged with five counts of crimes against humanity for crimes committed in Sierra Leone. One of the ways he can be held responsible for these crimes is by evidence indicating that he was in effective control of Sierra Leonean rebels and was in a position to prevent or punish their crimes. Showing that crimes against humanity were committed in both countries is a way of demonstrating a pattern between the two conflicts, prosecutors are also trying to show a consistency in command structure. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations, asserting that his involvement in Sierra Leone was purely for peaceful purposes in the West African country.
Meanwhile, as prosecutors tried to submit new evidence today in the form of documents or reports which point at crimes committed by Mr. Taylor’s NPFL, the judges rejected the use of most of the documents on grounds that they were prejudicial to the guilt of the accused and that the prosecution had not established that it was in the interest of justice to use them and that they would not affect the fair trial rights of the accused. While she was not allowed to use the documents, that did not stop Ms. Hollis from pointing out to Mr. Taylor the crimes committed by his NPFL rebels. The former president continued to dismiss Ms. Hollis’s assertions as incorrect.
Referencing the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor that “it is correct that your NPFL recruited and used child soldiers during the conflict and you continued to use child soldiers during your presidency.”
“Incorrect,” the former president said. “The factual nature of the TRC report is a subject of challenges in the courts of Liberia right now,” he added.
As Ms. Hollis attempted to read the relevant portion of the TRC report, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths objected to the use of the report on grounds that it was prejudicial to Mr. Taylor’s guilt and since the requirements of it being in the interest of justice and the fair trial rights of the accused were not met, it should not be allowed. The judges upheld the defense objection and Ms. Hollis was not allowed to read the relevant text.
Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor about the Liberian TRC’s account that the NPFL committed the largest percentage of abuses during Liberia’s conflict. She also pointed at reports which alleged that the NPFL massacred civilians in various villages, some on the basis that they belonged to the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, that the NPFL killed foreign nationals of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) countries because of the actions of ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG)– a sub-regional peacekeeping force that was put together by West African countries to stop the conflict in Liberia. Also discussed in court today was the killing of five American nuns, allegedly by NPFL rebels in Liberia. Mr. Taylor dismissed Ms. Hollis’s accounts as untrue.
Responding to the issue of the alleged killing of the nuns, Mr. Taylor denied that his NPFL rebels had deliberately killed the nuns. He called the situation a “tragic situation” which had taken place by accident.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.