In concluding his evidence today as the 19th defense witness for Charles Taylor, Issa Hassan Sesay, the convicted former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group which Mr. Taylor is accused of supporting, used the opportunity to apologise to the people of Sierra Leone for his role in the conflict and the actions of his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group.
As his final question to Mr. Sesay, defense counsel for Mr. Taylor Silas Chikera ask Mr. Sesay thus:
“Now, Mr Sesay, one final question. Your hope is with the people of Sierra Leone, apart from God. You’ve considered yourself that a number of atrocities were committed during the war for which you are also guilty, individual and collectively as a member of the RUF. What do you say to the people of Sierra Leone who are listening to your evidence right now, concerning all the atrocities that went on in Freetown and other parts of the country?”
In his response, Mr. Sesay said that “I say sorry to the people of Sierra Leone and I’m appealing to the people of Sierra Leone, especially the victims, who lost their loved ones, those whose arms were amputated, those whose properties were destroyed, I’m appealing to them that what happened during the war was not good for Sierra Leone, but it has happened. I’m just appealing to them.”
Mr. Sesay added that “And even those who were behind RUF lines, they know that most of these crimes, the commanders who were committing them, Issa had no control over them; but today I am bearing the responsibilities of the RUF, so I’m just pleading with the people of Sierra Leone, because they are seeing the perpetrators around, they are seeing them, those who were doing bad things to them, some of us who were protecting and speaking on behalf of the civilians today, I have found myself in the jail.”
He concluded that “I’m just pleading with them in the name of God for them to forgive me and forget. We are all Sierra Leoneans.”
Mr. Sesay’s evidence has lasted for over one month during which time he has not only spoken about the activities of the RUF in Sierra Leone, but has also made extensive efforts to refute prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor had control over and supported the RUF in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay denied claims that he was part of a team of RUF commanders who took Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds to Mr. Taylor in Liberia in exchange for arms and ammunition which were used to commit attrocities against the civilian population of Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sesay also gave his reason for testifying in The Hague when asked whether he was “here to set the records straight for Charles Taylor.”
“Well, i am here to give my own true side of the story of what i know. That’s why i am here,” he said.
When asked to tell the judges what his motivation for testifying for Mr. Taylor was, Mr. Sesay said that “it was because I used to hear on radio [UN Radio] when my colleague RUF were coming here to say things against me… And they were saying that the way Issa left [RUF leader] Mr Sankoh in jail and disarmed the RUF, we too would prosecute him until he dies in jail. I heard my colleagues saying a lot about Issa, things that Issa didn’t do.”
“So when Mr Taylor’s lawyers told my lawyers that they would need me as a witness, I said: Well, the lies in this case are too much. Let me too go there and give my own account. My colleague RUFs want to destroy me because they are saying that the person who had their future, that is Mr Sankoh, I had betrayed Mr Sankoh, so they were going to make sure that Issa dies in prison. So that was why I came here,” Mr. Sesay added.
This statment from Mr. Sesay prompted a response from the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber Justice Julia Sebutinde that “But, Mr Sesay, this is not your trial. So whatever you say here has no bearing on the sentence that you are serving. I don’t understand that kind of reasoning. How does this clear your name? This is Mr Taylor’s trial, not yours.”
“Yes, my Lord. I know that it is not my trial, but it is for people, those who are following up on the Court, for them to know my own part of the story, because a lot of things that they said against me here are not true,” Mr. Sesay replied to the presiding judge’s comment.
Mr. Sesay reiterated that he is not hoping that Mr. Taylor would help free him from his 52 year jail setnetnec if he (Taylor) is acquitted of the charges against him.
As Mr. Sesay concluded his testimony, defense lawyers recalled Mr. Taylor’s 20th defense witness, DCT-008 a former radio operator in Liberia who told the court on Tuesday that members of Mr. Taylor’s security aparatus, including Benjamin Yeaten, the former Director of Special Security Services had dealings with RUF commanders without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge.
As he continued his testimony today, the witness spoke about trips made to Liberia by RUF commader Sam Bockarie and other Sierra Leonean rebel commanders during which they held meetings with Mr. Yeaten about their operations in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor, he said, did not know about all of these.
DCT-008’s testimony continues on Monday.