In his second week on the witness stand, a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader convicted of mass crimes during Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year conflict pointed away from Mr. Taylor when speaking about support provided to his forces by outsiders. This week, the witness said that the Ivorian government helped his rebel group much more than the former Liberian president in terms of housing for his troops, and that West African leaders – not Mr. Taylor acting unilaterally — decided to remove one of his rebel colleagues from Sierra Leone when he became a hindrance to the country’s peace process.
On Monday, Issa Hassan Sesay, former interim leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group told the court that from 1996 to around 2000, the Ivorian government provided housing facilities where RUF leader Foday Sankoh was based together with his special adviser David Kallon and an RUF radio operator Memunatu Deen.
Prosecutors have long maintained that Mr. Taylor supported and controlled the RUF rebels during the conflict in Sierra Leone, including the provision of a guesthouse in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, sometime in the late 1990s. The guesthouse, according to prosecutors, served as a residence for RUF commanders when they brought diamonds to Liberia for Mr. Taylor to exchange for arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor himself has admitted that sometime in the late 1990s, he indeed provided a guesthouse for the RUF in Monrovia – but it was solely to facilitate meetings geared towards bringing the conflict in Sierra Leone to an end. On Monday, Mr. Sesay testified that another government – the Ivorian one – was far more supportive to the RUF than Mr. Taylor was, at least in terms of places for his rebel forces to stay.
“Mr. Sesay, what was the distinction between the assistance provided by the Government of Ivory Coast to the RUF and the assistance provided by the Government of Liberia?” Mr. Taylor’s lead defense lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, asked Mr. Sesay.
“Well, the Ivorian government provided housing for the RUF from 1996, so they provided accommodation for a longer period that the Liberian government,” Mr. Sesay responded.
He said that the RUF maintained the residence in Ivory Coast until the year 2000.
When asked about which RUF officials occupied the house in Ivory Coast, Mr. Sesay explained that “it was Mr. Sankoh who was there, but when they arrested Mr. Sankoh in Nigeria, his adviser Pa Kallon was there.
“When they both [Sankoh and Kallon] returned to Sierra Leone in 1999, Mr. Sankoh’s wife Josephine Tengbeh was there up to 2000 with some wounded soldiers,” Mr. Sesay said.
Was there a radio operator based at those premises from 1996 to 2000?” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“It did not go up to 2000 — but up to 1998 an operator was there and it was that operator who left and moved to Liberia,” Mr. Sesay said. “She was Memunatu Deen.”
He added that Ms. Deen returned to Sierra Leone at some point in 1998, but that during the signing of the peace agreement between the Sierra Leonean government and the RUF in Togo in 1999, she was again deployed at the guesthouse in Abidjan. She was subsequently relocated to the RUF guesthouse in Monrovia, Mr. Sesay said.
As prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor served as the main source of support for the RUF, defense lawyers now seek to establish that the RUF received assistance from several other sources, including foreign governments and West African peacekeepers. In Mr. Sesay’s testimony, he has pointed out that the RUF did not receive assistance from Mr. Taylor but rather from officials in Burkina Faso who supplied them with arms and ammunition, and Ivory Coast where he says that housing was provided to the RUF leadership.
Mr. Sesay also on Monday testified about diamonds that were given to him in 1998 and which went missing while he was in Liberia. According to prosecutors, Mr. Sesay had taken these diamonds to Mr. Taylor in Liberia — an account which Mr. Sesay has denied. The former RUF leader has said that he was on transit in Liberia on his way to Burkina Faso where the diamonds were to be used to purchase arms and ammunition. He explained that RUF commander, Sam Bockarie, instructed Ms. Deen to pick up Mr. Sesay in Sierra Leone and take him to Liberia to meet RUF associate, Ibrahim Bah. Mr. Bah was to eventually take Mr. Sesay to Burkina Faso where the diamonds were to be delivered and arms and ammunition collected, Mr. Sesay said on Monday. (Prosecutors allege that Mr. Bah was a close associate of Mr. Taylor).
“She [Memunatu Deen] was instructed by Bockarie to come to Kailahun. The purpose for her to come when Bockarie called her was to take me to meet Ibrahim Bah. Ibrahim Bah was to meet us in Monrovia so that we can go to Burkina Faso,” Mr. Sesay.
The diamonds eventually went missing in Monrovia and were never given to Mr. Bah, Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay refuted suggestions that the diamonds were to be taken to Mr. Taylor, saying that if that were to be the case, he would not have taken several days carrying the diamonds in Monrovia when they eventually went missing.
On Tuesday, Mr. Sesay told the court that atrocities committed during the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone increased when the RUF teamed up with disgruntled members the Sierra Leone armed forces after a 1997 military coup in Sierra Leone.
In May 1997, members of the Sierra Leone army overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone and formed the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). The soldiers invited RUF rebels and together, the two groups formed a junta regime which ruled Sierra Leone from May 1997 to February 1998 when they were forcefully removed from the country’s capital Freetown. As the two groups withdrew to the country’s hinterland, they committed atrocities, culminating in the infamous rebel invasion of Freetown in January 1999, an attack which Mr. Sesay has said was undertaken solely by the AFRC with no RUF involvement. As Mr. Sesay continued his testimony on Tuesday, he told the court that the massive increase in the commission of atrocities took place because the RUF joined up with the AFRC. These atrocities, Mr. Sesay said were committed mainly by the AFRC soldiers who had themselves become a rebel faction in the country. Mr. Sesay explained to the court the kinds of crimes that were committed once the AFRC joined forces with the RUF.
“Well, we are talking about amputations, burning down of houses, killing of civilians, and those were the practices they did upto the time they entered Freetown,” Mr. Sesay said.
“And when they entered Freetown, they continued the same practice, they captured people forcefully, they asked them to carry their loads for them, they amputated civilians, burned and killed civilians, burnt down police stations, killed police men, such things,” he added.
Prosecutors alleged that the Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with both the RUF and AFRC rebels and that it was in pursuit of such a common plan that the rebel forces invaded Freetown in January 1999. Prosecutors say that while the rebel forces were in Freetown in 1999, the high command of the RUF gave regular updates of their activities to Mr. Taylor and his Director of Special Security Services (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten, both of whom allegedly congratulated the rebels for their success in invading the country’s capital. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. According to Mr. Sesay, when the AFRC forces invaded Freetown in 1999, they did not communicate with RUF commanders until they got into Freetown and needed extra help from the RUF, a help which Mr. Sesay said never came in.
The AFRC, Mr. Sesay said, held a grudge against the RUF leadership because they believed “we were responsible for their being driven from Freetown because they said if we had reinforced them, they wouldn’t have driven them from Freetown.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Sesay said that the decision to relocate a fellow RUF commander Sam Bockarie from Sierra Leone to Liberia in 1999 to promote peace in the war-torn country was not taken by Mr. Taylor alone, but rather by West African leaders acting jointly.
Mr. Sesay explained that after the RUF signed a peace agreement with the Sierra Leonean government in 1999, Mr. Bockarie, who was one of the rebels’ top commanders, resisted disarmament. Mr. Bockarie then moved to Liberia. According to Mr. Sesay, a meeting in of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders – including Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo — decided it was best for Mr. Bockarie to stay in Liberia as he had become a hindrance to the peace process in Sierra Leone. This information was told to Mr. Sesay, he said, by the rebels’ then leader, Mr. Sankoh.
In his statements to the Special Court on Wednesday, and consistent with his testimony since taking the witness stand last week, Mr. Sesay continued to distance Mr. Taylor from the Sierra Leonean rebel group — and from prosecution charges that the former Liberian president controlled the RUF and its actions.
“He [Sankoh] went to Monrovia and they had a meeting about Sam Bockarie’s issue and that himself, president Taylor, president Obasanjo of Nigeria attended that meeting and they decided, because Sam Bockarie was an obstacle in respect of the Lome Peace Accord, Sam Bockarie should stay in Liberia and Foday Sankoh should implement the peace process,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“Was the decision for Sam Bockarie to go to Liberia made by Charles Taylor alone as alleged by this prosecution?” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“No, it was not Charles Taylor’s singular decision,” Mr. Sesay responded. “Obasanjo was involved in the decision for Bockarie to stay in Monrovia, including Mr. Sankoh,”
When asked whether Mr. Bockarie had gone to Liberia “on the invitation of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“Sam Bockarie went there because he had a quarrel with Mr. Sankoh. He knew that what he was doing was a bad thing that is why he left to go to Liberia because he knew that if we had met him, we would have disciplined him,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay also explained that when Mr. Sankoh was arrested in May 2000, after having ordered RUF fighters to abduct United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor sent his Director of Special Security Services (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten to invite Mr. Sesay to a meeting with him (Taylor) in Liberia. Mr. Sesay said that upon arriving in Monrovia, Mr. Taylor was very angry about the action of the RUF.
“He [Taylor] looked very angry,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“He [Taylor] said if Foday Sankoh and I thought that we can fight the UN — He said that other people will be thinking now, like America and Britain, they will be thinking now that this is the handy work of Charles Taylor but as long as God almighty knows that my hands are clean,” Mr. Sesay continued.
He said Mr. Taylor informed him that he had received a mandate from West African leaders that “he should talk to the RUF to facilitate the release of the peacekeepers.”
Prosecutors allege that since Mr. Taylor was in control of the RUF, he used his powers over the rebels to secure the release of the peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor has insisted that he was only acting on the instructions of other West African leaders. Mr. Sesay, as he testified on Wednesday, supported Mr. Taylor’s position.
“Was he [Taylor] talking to you because he was in control of the RUF or because he had a mandate from the guarantors of the peace process,” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“He talked to me because he had mandate from the guarantors but he was not controlling the RUF. RUF was under the control of Mr. Sankoh,” Mr. Sesay said.
The witness said that his meeting with Mr. Taylor after the abduction of the UN peacekeepers was the first time he had spoken to or met with the former president.
On Thursday and Friday, the court took early adjournments because Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Mr. Griffiths was indisposed and could not be present in court. The court also commenced a one week judicial recess on Friday in accordance with the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s judicial calendar which indicates that the court will observe a one week summer recess from July 19 to 23 2010.
Also in court on Friday, it was established that the much anticipated appearance by British Supermodel Naomi Campbell may no longer take place on the July 29, 2010. Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian informed the judges that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) had received a call from representatives of Ms. Campbell that they wanted her appearance to be rescheduled. The representatives are supposed to communicate with the court in writing indicating when exactly Ms. Campbell will appear. Mr. Koumjian, however, stated that the rescheduled date will not be very far from the originally scheduled July 29 date and that in any case, the testimonies of Ms. Campbell, along with her friend Mia Farrow and former agent Carole White will be heard before the former RUF leader Mr. Sesay concludes his testimony.