Happy New Year, dear readers, and welcome back.
We have one more week to go before former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, returns to the stand at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to restart his cross-examination by prosecutors. He has been testifying in his own defense since July 14, 2009, trying to fend off 11 charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during Sierra Leone’s civil conflict. Mr. Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
As you will see from the post below — a detailed overview of Mr. Taylor’s defense case under direct examination by his counsel, kindly provided by Jennifer Easterday and Kimberley Punt, trial monitors from U.C. Berkeley War Crimes Studies Center — Mr. Taylor’s testimony has been fascinating. Over the course of four months, Mr. Taylor has provided (although not always consistently) a narrative of a regional peacemaker made into a scapegoat by other international powers. He rejects allegations that he was in a position to prevent or punish crimes committed by Sierra Leone’s rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, during Sierra Leone’s conflict. He also denies aiding and abetting the rebel group by providing arms and ammunition in exchange for diamonds, which prosecutors allege were brought to him by Sierra Leonean rebel leaders, and rejects the notion that he collaborated with the rebels in a joint criminal enterprise to destabilize Sierra Leone in order to instal a friendly governernment which would allow greater exploitation of the country’s natural resources and mineral wealth.
Just before the recess last year, prosecutors started their cross-examination, confronting Mr. Taylor with, among other things, a covert bank account kept in his name through which millions of dollars are alleged to have flowed during the time of his presidency. Mr. Taylor denied that the bank account was for personal enrichment but instead was used for covert operations on behalf of the Liberian government. This cross-examination will continue next Monday, and U.C> Berkeley will kindly provide another report for us covering Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination once that is complete too.
Meanwhile, the site has been quiet, but we have not forgotten about the trial.
Alpha arrived in Sierra Leone not long after the court took its early recess. Over the past few weeks, he has been meeting with journalists, students and civil society organizations in the country to get people’s thoughts on the Taylor trial to date. We will be posting updates from his trips and what he found out over the coming weeks.
The holidays also got me thinking about the broader context of the trial. Many people who comment on this site identify themselves as Liberians or Sierra Leoneans, and regularly provide such rich analyses and discussions of places, people and background to the trial which enormously enrich the legal narratives emerging from the courtroom each day. I realized that a number of other readers are, like me, not from West Africa but are increasingly fascinated with the discussions, ideas and analyses emerging from readers on the site, and want to learn as much as possible about the context and background of Sierra Leone, Liberia, the conflicts in both countries, and more about Mr. Taylor and his current trial. It struck me that the best people to recommend reading/films/analyses for those of us who are not from the region but who want to deepen our understanding of the issues and events which underpin this trial, would actually be many of the readers and regular commentators on this site who are from Liberia and Sierra Leone. So I now ask a request of you, dear readers: Might you be able to offer us some good reading/viewing recommendations as we wait for the trial to begin?
Good to be back on board with you again and I look forward to our continued conversations throughout 2010.