Sierra Leonean rebel forces did not commit crimes of rape, nor did they recruit and use children for combat purposes as alleged by prosecutors, Charles Taylor’s defense witness told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today under cross-examination in The Hague.
A Liberian national who was a member of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group today disputed prosecution claims that RUF rebels committed heinous crimes such as rape, destruction of civilian property and recruitment of children for combat purposes during Sierra Leone’s 11-years civil conflict.
The witness, who has been testifying with protective measures, also denied claims in Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report that the RUF was the most notorious group among all warring factions in Sierra Leone’s conflict. According to the TRC report, portions of which were read in court today, in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone alone, the RUF committed more than 1,000 violations of forced labor, rape, sexual slavery and destruction of civilian property among many others. Mr. Taylor’s defense witness today dismissed the claims as lies, telling the court that RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, forewarned the RUF about the commission of the crimes mentioned in the TRC report.
Speaking specifically about allegations of rape by the RUF, the witness told the court that “I said, there was a law concerning raping, that any soldier who raped, the instruction from Foday Sankoh was that any soldier who raped should be executed but I did not see any soldier, nor did I get any report that a soldier raped and be disciplined in my presence. I did not see that,” the witness said.
Prosecution counsel Mohamed Bangura who conducted the witness’s cross-examination, asked the witness about his denial of the RUF taking women as “bush wives” in Sierra Leone
“You also denied that the RUF took women as bush wives, you denied that, didn’t you?” Mr. Bangura put to the witness.
In his response, the witness explained that “I said, most of the men who went to the base to be trained, they had their women but I did not see people forcing women to take them to be their women. I did not see that.”
Mr. Taylor is on trial for allegedly providing support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. RUF commanders have already been convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes of rape, sexual slavery, recruitment of child soldiers and terrorizing the civilian population committed in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil conflict. Prosecutors claim that Mr. Taylor, while in Liberia, exercised control over the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that he knew or had reason to know that these crimes were committed but failed to prevent those crimes from being committed, nor punished those who committed the crimes. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor aided and abetted the RUF in the commission of these crimes. Prosecution witnesses, comprising RUF insiders and victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, have testified to the commission of these crimes by the RUF.
Mr. Taylor has consistently denied the allegations, saying that he did not provide any support to the RUF and that he did not know that any such crimes were being committed in Sierra Leone. The former Liberian president’s witnesses testifying on his behalf have also dismissed prosecution allegations against him as lies. The current witness, an RUF insider, also now insists that Mr. Taylor did not support the RUF and that prosecution allegations that the RUF committed crimes in Sierra Leone are false.
Also in his cross-examination today, the witness denied prosecution allegations that the RUF recruited and used children for combat purposes in Sierra Leone. According to the witness, no fighters in the RUF were below the age of 17 years.
“They told us that it’s from 17 upwards before you’ll be recruited on the base, so I believe that everybody who was on the base, their ages were above 17, from 17 upwards,” the witness said.
Asked by Mr. Bangura to say who told him “that the fighters should be 17 upwards,” the witness replied that “it was Foday Sankoh who gave the instruction.”
The witness would be surprised, he said, if somebody told the court that there were fighters in the RUF who were below the ages of 15 and 17.
“I did not see children, so it will surprise me because where I was, all the soldiers who carried arms, they were not children,” he said.
Certain portions of the witness’s cross-examination today were heard in closed/private session for purposes of protecting the witness’s identity.
The witness’s testimony continues tomorrow.