This week, a witness for former Liberian president, Charles Taylor denied that Mr. Taylor supplied weapons to Sierra Leonean rebels, backing up information contained in a 1999 military report issued by the rebels. The same witness also rejected the idea that the rebels themselves raped, took “bush wives” or recruited child soldiers during the country’s brutal 11-year conflict (in contradiction to a Special Court for Sierra Leone judgment which found otherwise). Meanwhile, prosecutors raised concerns about payments to a defense witness which they considered excessive.
A Liberian national and former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) member this week denied that Charles Taylor supplied weapons to Sierra Leonean rebels and instead claimed that attacks on enemy forces and purchase from Guinean soldiers were two main sources of obtaining arms and ammunition by the country’s rebel forces. This testimony corroborated information contained in a 1999 Salute Report prepared by RUF commander, Sam Bockarie, for his leader Foday Sankoh upon his release from jail. (In this report, Mr. Bockarie explained how the RUF was run as an organization during Mr. Sankoh’s incarceration. Mr. Bockarie reported that arms and ammunition were captured from enemy forces while some were also bought from Guinean Soldiers. The report did not state anything about the RUF receiving arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor). The witness’ direct testimony was largely heard in closed session on Wednesday, before prosecutors started his cross-examination in open session.
On Thursday, as prosecutors cross-examined the witness, he told the court that RUF rebel forces did not commit crimes of rape, nor did they recruit and use children for combat purposes as alleged by prosecutors.
The witness 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 on Thursday, 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 on Thursday dismissed the claims as lies, telling the court that RUF leader, Mr. 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. This witness, an RUF insider, also this week insisted 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 on Thursday, 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.
On Friday, a protected Gambian witness, whose evidence was suspended on March 10, 2010 to give prosecutors more time to prepare for his cross-examination, took the stand again. Prosecution counsel, Nicholas Koumjian, alleged the witness had been paid excessive amounts as an incentive for him to testify for the former president.
The witness, prosecutors said, has received 11,000 USD in total from the Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) provided to him by the court since he arrived in The Hague to testify for Mr. Taylor. Mr. Koumjian also pointed out that the witness was lodged at one of the best hotels in The Netherlands.
The witness denied the prosecution allegation, saying that his DSA and accommodation should not be looked at as a bribe to testify for Mr. Taylor.
“To my knowledge, all what I am receiving is for my subsistence while I am here in The Netherlands and it is not money that has been given to me as a bribe,” the witness said.
Mr. Koumjian also highlighted contradictions in the witness’ testimony with that of Mr. Taylor, specifically about the arrest of nationals of contributing countries to the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeeping forces in Liberia. In July 2009, Mr. Taylor testified that Nigerian nationals were picked up by his PFL rebel group when ECOMOG forces started bombing NPFL territories in Liberia. The current witness has told the court that no West African nationals were arrested by the NPFL. Mr. Koumjian sought to know who was telling lies between Mr. Taylor and the witness.
“So Mr. Witness, who is the liar: Mr. Taylor when he says he did begin the process of picking up nationals of contributing countries and targeting Nigerians, or you?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
In his response, the witness said that “now, if Taylor is lying, you can prove him to be lying but what I am telling you is the truth and I want you to understand that.”
Before court adjourned on Friday, the judges granted permission for the witness to visit Mr. Taylor at his detention facility after the conclusion of his testimony. While prosecutors did not object to the visit, they asked that a detention facility representative be present at the meeting between the two men.