Atrocities committed by Sierra Leonean rebels during the country’s 11-year civil conflict should not be attributed to Charles Taylor as he had no role to play in them, a defense witness for the former Liberian president told the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Those most responsible for the crimes, he said, have already been punished in Freetown.
Charles Ngebeh, a Sierra Leonean national and former member of the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, finished his testimony today, telling the judges that allegations of Mr. Taylor’s support to the RUF are false.
“All the atrocities committed by the RUF are not the concerns of Mr. Taylor. They did happen but it doesn’t concern Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor has no hands in it,” the witness said.
When lead prosecutor Ms. Brenda Hollis put to the witness that RUF commander “Sam Bockarie used his SBUs [Mr. Taylor’s Small Boys Unit] to protect government property from being stolen,” the witness responded that “it happened but Mr. Taylor is not responsible for it.”
Referencing the treatment of civilians by the RUF, Ms. Hollis asked the witness that “and indeed some of these civilians were killed when they were accused of stealing diamonds isn’t that correct?”
“All the atrocities you have explained about, is the cause why Issa and others are in prison today but Taylor is not responsible for that. Mr. Taylor is not responsible for it.”
In 2009, three RUF commanders, Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao were sentenced to terms of imprisonment by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown after being convicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by them in their individual capacities as well as those committed by their subordinates under the doctrine of command responsibility. Prosecutors now say that these RUF commanders took their own orders from Mr. Taylor. Like Mr. Taylor, all defense witnesses have said that these charges are false.
As Mr. Ngebeh concluded his testimony today, another Sierra Leonean national and former senior member of the RUF, Mr. Fayia Musa, started his testimony in defense of Mr. Taylor. Mr. Musa told the court about the circumstances surrounding the start of the rebel war in Sierra Leone and how Mr. Bockarie (alias Mosquito) became leader of the RUF after the arrest of the group’s leader Foday Sankoh in Nigeria in 1997. Mr. Musa said that when the war started in 1991, he was appointed by RUF leader Mr. Sankoh as the group’s Agricultural Officer. According to Mr. Musa, after assuming the leadership of the RUF, Mr. Bockarie became what he called “the devil.” He said that all commands in the RUF were handed down by Mr. Bockarie, not Mr. Taylor. In illustrating Mr. Bockarie’s wickedness, the witness took off his shirt in open court to show the judges various scars left on his body due to alleged beatings he received on Mr. Bockarie’s orders.
“We underwent a lot of punishment, torture, we were tortured, almost every day, both mentally and physically,” the witness said.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths to tell the court on whose orders such punishments were administered, the witness said that “on Mosquito’s orders. That’s Sam Bockarie. He told his boys to tie us until the rope entered my skin and I started bleeding.”
“Sam Bockarie, I have started and I will end with this, he was a devil,” Mr. Musa said.
Mr. Musa is recorded in the report of Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as being one of the original founders of the RUF. He is the third Sierra Leonean national and the eighth witness who has testified in defense of Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Musa’s testimony continues tomorrow.