Sierra Leone’s top rebel leader waged a war on the West African country in 1991 to free the people from the misery of the country’s politicians, a Sierra Leonean witness testifying for Charles Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
The witness, testifying in open session but with partial protective measures, told the judges that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader, Foday Sankoh, started agitating for multi-party democracy in Sierra Leone in the 1980s. Defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Terry Munyard, told the judges that the witness was using protective measures because he is afraid of facing reprisals in Sierra Leone after testifying for Mr. Taylor. In his testimony today, the witness exonerated Mr. Taylor from involvement in the formation of the RUF. The RUF, he said, was not created in Liberia.
As he led the witness in direct-examination, Mr. Munyard sought to know what had motivated RUF leader Mr. Sankoh to wage a rebel war on his own country.
“What did you understand his purpose in bringing war to Sierra Leone to be?” Mr. Munyard asked the witness.
“What I understood was that he had launched the war in Kailahun and the war was coming to free the Sierra Leoneans from the misery of these politicians,” the witness responded.
The witness explained that he, together with RUF leader Mr. Sankoh, was a member of an underground group called “The Study Group,” which existed in Sierra Leone in the 1980s with an aim of advocating to change “the profoundly corrupt system which characterized governance in Sierra Leone.” When Mr. Sankoh waged war on Sierra Leone in 1991, the witness said he joined the RUF in 1992 and eventually became the rebel group’s “Civilian Coordinator.”
Today’s direct-examination of the witness was the shortest that Mr. Taylor’s trial has had since it started in January 2008. After almost three hours of direct examination, prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian started cross-examining the witness, and sought to know the birthplace of the RUF.
“Where was the RUF formed? You said it was formed when you heard Sankoh on the radio in January 1991,” Mr. Koumjian said.
“No idea,” the witness responded.
“Sir, you know it was in Liberia, don’t you?” Mr. Koumjian asked further.
Laughing, the witness insisted that “I said no idea. I’ve never been to Liberia. I only went to Liberia for the peace process, period.”
Mr. Koumjian asked the witness whether his response was because he was afraid of implicating Mr. Taylor “who created the RUF in Liberia.”
The witness insisted that he was not afraid of anything.
The witness also refuted prosecution evidence that diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Liberia and handed over to Mr. Taylor. He made specific reference to a 21 carat diamond which prosecution evidence suggested was taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. According to the witness, he was present when the diamond was discovered by the RUF and when it was handed to Mr. Sankoh. Mr. Sankoh, the witness said, received the diamond one week before his Freetown residence was attacked on May 8, 2000. The witness said that he was part of the team that escaped with Mr. Sankoh that day, but they were unable to take the diamond with them as they had to flee without any belongings. The diamond, he said, stayed at Mr. Sankoh’s house in Freetown and was never taken out of Sierra Leone.
The cross-examination of the witness continues tomorrow.