Trial Chamber judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague today ruled that British supermodel Naomi Campbell will testify on Thursday, August 5, 2010, thereby denying a defense application that the supermodel’s testimony be put on hold until prosecutors honor all their disclosure obligations pertaining to the evidence she will present.
Defense lawyers made their application for a “Stay of Evidence Pending Disclosure of the Statement of Naomi Campbell” on July 30, 2010. They sought delay Ms. Campbell’s testimony asked the judges to require prosecutors to obtain statements from the supermodel and disclose said statements to the defense. In the said motion, Charles Taylor’s lawyers argued that the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Court impose an obligation on the prosecution to obtain a statement from the witness and that such statement must be disclosed to the defense before the witness commences her testimony. The defense lawyers argued that the said obligation on the prosecution is geared towards safeguarding the rights of the accused guaranteed in the Statute of the Court and that it is only through such disclosure that the accused will be adequately informed of the material allegations against him and be in the position to adequately prepare for his defense.
On August 3, 2010, prosecutors responded to the defense application. Prosecutors argued that they were not in possession of any statements or briefing notes of Ms. Campbell’s anticipated testimony because the witness had refused to speak to prosecutors. Prosecutors further argued that the Rules of the Court only impose an obligation on the prosecution to disclose witness statements that are in its possession and that the said Rules do not impose any obligation on prosecutors to obtain a statement from a witness, especially one that has been unwilling to make any statements. They stated that the summary of the issues, which they expect the witness to speak about, have already been disclosed to defense lawyers, and those should be sufficient enough to satisfy any disclosure obligations.
Today, the judges dismissed the defense motion, stating that the prosecution is not obliged to disclose those statements that are not in its possession and that prosecutors are also not obliged to obtain a statement from an uncooperative witness.
“The prosecution is neither able nor obliged to disclose documents that are not in its possession or to which it does not have access…nor is it obliged….to obtain a statement from an uncooperative witness,” the judges said.
The judges further said “the fact that a witness does not have a prior statement does not render a trial unfair or automatically put a party at an unjust disadvantage.”
“A witness may provide evidence which was unforeseen to both parties during his viva voce examination, independent of any previous statements, and it is for the Chamber to determine, on a case by case basis, whether this new information could affect the fairness of the proceedings.”
As a result of this decision, Ms. Campbell’s testimony will take place tomorrow. Ms. Campbell’s testimony will focus on allegations that in September 1997, Mr. Taylor sent men to deliver rough diamonds to her after they had both attended a star-studded dinner that was hosted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The diamonds, prosecutors allege, were given to Mr. Taylor by RUF rebels for him to sell and use the proceeds to purchase arms and ammunition for the rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has dismissed the allegations as “total nonsense.”
Inside the courtroom today, Mr. Taylor’s 19th defense witness, Issa Hassan Sesay, the convicted former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – the Sierra Leonean rebel group that Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for – continued his testimony on behalf of the former Liberian president. Mr. Sesay refuted claims by a prosecution witness that when he (Sesay) became interim leader of the RUF, he went to Liberia to inform Mr. Taylor about the disarmament of RUF fighters in Sierra Leone and that Mr. Taylor ordered him not to disarm to the UN peacekeepers in the country, saying that the UN could not be trusted. Mr. Sesay denied that such a meeting ever took place.
“I did not have such a meeting with Charles Taylor, and he never told me not to disarm to the UN,” Mr. Sesay said.
The prosecution witness who made this claim also told the court in 2008 that after Mr. Taylor had told Mr. Sesay not to disarm, “Issa [Sesay] said he didn’t believe he will continue taking instructions from Charles Taylor.”
“He said Charles Taylor now had peace in his country, that he had won elections in his country. He said Charles Taylor had already given peace to his own people and he doesn’t want he, Issa to give peace to his own people,” lead defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths quoted the prosecution witness as saying in 2008.
The witness also testified in 2008 that Mr. Taylor ordered Mr. Sesay not to handover to the UN the arms that Mr. Taylor had provided. Instead, the weapons were to be handed back to Mr. Taylor if Mr. Sesay and the RUF no longer wanted to use them.
“Charles Taylor had said he was the one who had given them the weapons. If they did not use them, they should be returned to him,” the prosecution witness said in 2008.
Mr. Sesay today dismissed these claims as lies.
“I don’t recall because such a thing did not take place. Mr. Taylor or Yeaten [Benjamin], nobody gave me arms. When I became interim leader, nobody gave me arms. The arms that the RUF had, I disarmed all to the UN,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay accused prosecution witnesses of making up stories against Mr. Taylor, saying that such witnesses lied when they testified that the RUF was like a younger brother for Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group, or that RUF leader Foday Sankoh sought Mr. Taylor’s approval before the RUF amputated the arms of civilians in order to stop them from voting in the 1996 elections in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Friday.