New Surprises Bedevil the Charles Taylor Trial

Another week, another twist at the Charles Taylor trial.

Just ten days ago, the proceedings hit an unexpected impasse when Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, learned that his final brief—which had been delivered late—would not be accepted by the court. Griffiths declared that, absent the final brief, he did not see any further role in the case for himself or for his client. Then, in front of a host of international media, he walked out of the courtroom.

For his actions, the judges chose to subject Griffiths to a disciplinary hearing and set the date for Friday, February 25.

But then came the newest surprise—this time from the bench. As the parties gathered for the Griffiths hearing, there was a new notable absence. One of the trial’s three judges, Justice Julia Sebutinde, had opted out.

Justice Sebutinde’s dissatisfaction with the move to hold a disciplinary hearing was no secret. She had dissented from the order requiring Griffiths to apologize or face sanction. When the hearing was convened, she went a step further, stating that as a matter of principle she could not take part in the proceedings.

In a letter read by the presiding judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Teresa Doherty, Justice Sebutinde wrote that “in view of the recent developments in the Trial Chamber, and consistent with my earlier views and opinion on this matter, both in Chamber and on the bench wherein I dissented from the directive to lead counsel, I will on principle not attend Friday’s hearing.”

In addition to making clear her position on the Griffiths hearing, Justice Sebutinde’s message underscored that “recent developments in the Trial Chamber” have not been smooth. In the public gallery on Friday there was discussion about the body language displayed by the judges in recent weeks and the hints it offered about disagreement on many issues.

Nor was the drama finished for the day. With Justice Sebutinde absent, eyes turned to the alternate judge, Justice El Hadjj Malick Sow. But when defense lawyers suggested that Justice Sow be allowed to participate in the proceedings, the Senegalese judge did not wait for the presiding judge to comment before bursting out.

“Let me make this very clear,” Justice Sow said.

This bench is regularly composed with three judges sitting, as it shows. Two judges cannot sign decisions. When the bench is sitting, it’s sitting with three judges, not two judges…I’m not here for decoration. I am a judge…I don’t know how people can think that two judges – I don’t know where in this world you will see two judges sitting. It’s not possible. This bench is regularly composed with three judges…No matter how parties will look at it, it shows and it’s apparent that this bench is composed with three judges. We are three judges sitting.

The words of a man who believes that he has been sidelined by his colleagues.

The guidelines on the alternate judge’s role are spelled out in Rule 16 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence of the Court. The rule reads, “If a Judge is, for any reason, unable to sit in a proceeding, trial or appeal which has not yet been heard but has been scheduled, the President may designate an alternate Judge.”

Rule 16 also states, “The alternate Judge may perform such other functions within the Trial Chamber or Appeals Chamber as the presiding Judge in consultation with the other judges of the Chamber may deem necessary.”

Justice Doherty, as she adjourned the proceedings, invoked the rule but found it did not apply. “The Articles governing the composition of this Court and the Trial Chamber mandate that it is to be composed of three judges,” she said. “This is not a situation where Rule 16 applies. Accordingly, in our view, this Trial Chamber is not properly constituted and we consider we have no alternative but to adjourn this hearing today.”

The day’s developments leave several unanswered questions, most notably whether Justice Sow should have been allowed to take part in the hearings since Justice Sebutinde was “unable to sit in a proceeding.” Or, instead, if his participation falls within the ambit of when “the Presiding Judge in consultation with the other judges…may deem necessary.”

These are all issues for the judges themselves to determine. What is important to note at this stage is that it is, in fact, very common for judges in all tribunals to have disagreements. And disagreements do not necessarily suggest any malfunction in the handling of the particular case. But judges should also be mindful that the eyes of the world are on them and that they carry the enormous responsibility of upholding the dignity and integrity of the judicial process. So, it is essential to make sure that any disagreements that arise not overshadow the substance of the case itself.

In this case, the overriding importance of guiding the trial to a conclusion could not be more clear. Taylor, the former president of Liberia, is on trial for allegedly supporting rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone during the country’s 11 year civil war. The trial is by now three years old and, before the recent complications, was set to enter its final stages. The Open Society Justice Initiative continues to track developments in the case on its monitoring site.

Prosecutors have brought evidence about how rebel forces in Sierra Leone marauded across the country, hacking off limbs, killing civilians and committing heinous crimes, including sexual violence. They have argued that these crimes would not have been possible without Taylor’s support.

The defense team has argued that Taylor’s role has been misunderstood—that he was a peacemaker, whose only involvement in Sierra Leone was in an effort to bring peace. They argue that he is on trial because Western countries wanted to see him out of Liberia.

Both sides have labored to bring the case to this advanced stage, with the aim of bringing this trial to a conclusion—to a final verdict on whether Taylor is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.

In the interests of the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, of the brave men and women who traveled to The Hague to testify for both prosecution and defense, of Taylor’s fair trial rights as an accused, and of the contribution that the Special Court should make toward preventing impunity and ensuring accountability for the most serious crimes, it is crucial to bring the trial to a satisfactory end.


  1. Alpha,

    This is very helpful. I have one question. You say it is for the judges to determine if the alternate judge can sit. But rule 16 says it is for the President to decide. What does the President mean here? Does it mean the presiding judge? The President of the Special Court? (Is there a President of the Special Court?)

    Thank you as always!


    1. Hi Shelby,
      Thanks for your question. The reference to the “president” in Rule 16 talks about the President of the Special Court for Sierra Leone who happens to be the Presiding Judge of the Appeals Chamber. Another ambit of Rule 16 says that the Presiding Judge, (meaning of the Trial Chamber), in consultation with his/her colleagues would get the Alternate Judge to perform any other roles they “may deem necessary.” So the president of the court designates the alternate judge in a case when it becomes clear that one of the judges is nolonger able to sit as judge or where he/she cannot sit for more than five days. If on the other hand it becomes necessary for the alternate judge to perform any other functions, then the Presiding judge, in consultation with the other judges will determine that. This is what i meant when i said it is for the judges to decide (The President or the Trial Chamber judges) whether the alternate judge’s participation falls within what the Rule requires. I hope this explanation helps.

      1. Shelby,
        You should wait and hear what the Appeal Chamber rule on that issue. Alpha has really given you his opinion of this Rule 16, which may not be complete true. The alternate judge’s participation is spell out in Rule 16. The two judges did consult among themselves and decided not to include Judge Sow on Mr. Griffith’s case after asking the defense for a solution in the absence of Judge Sebutinde. That ruling has also been appeal by the defense.

  2. Differentiation, triangulation, repositioning, legal technicality, pendulum swing…the sage continues.

    What next!!!!!

    Free or jail CT! We are waiting too long for you judges to decide.


  3. Well Alpha, u stopped short of identifying the problem in this trial and who to blame. It is very clear that the two white judges do not respect the two black judges in the court. Infact from an independent point of view it is clear that the two black judges are obviously more brilliant than the two white judges who are now seeking to bully everyone including their fellow judges into doing their bidding.

    I have gone through the relevant rules of the court and I still cannot understand the basis of the ruling of the two white judges that rule 16 does not apply in the situation that happened on 25th July. It is a blatant disregard of the rules of the court since the rule did not state that there was an exemption to the rule in a case where one of the judges was unable to sit based on her principle. Since there is no exemption to the rule, it was wrong for the presiding judge to prevent Justice Sow from participating in the proceedings. Her actions went beyond her powers as a presiding Judge. It is the duty of the President of the court to provide an alternate Judge which responsibility the president has discharged by appointing Justice Sow as an altenate Judge in this case.

    Judges Sebutinde and Sow. I love you, the world atlarge loves you. Keep up the fight. Its about time that these white people their learn lessons. Do not compromise your pofessional ethics. Let them know that being black is just a color, and does not mean we are dogs or cats. Teach them their own own rules, let them know your importance. Africans are proud of you. We stand by you now and forever.. once again, BRAVO! BRAVO! BRAVO!!!!!!!!!

  5. Who is Alpha and what is his role at the Special Court? I ask because his commentaries are biased and bent like the views of the two white judges who are also bent on getting a guilty verdict without regard for the fair play of justice. Justice is not about sentiment, Alpha. Understand that Taylor is an “accused” and must be judged with the unflinching reality that he is “innocent” until proven guilty beyond all reasonable means.

    1. Ray, Alpha is writing as a true Son of Africa. I really do not see how one would be a witness to an event in person, but should not report what the atmosphere during that event was, without being labeled bais! Alpha feels the frustrations like anyone else and that’s all. I do not see Alpha rejoicing because trial has been delayed, nor Is Alpha not giving out reasons from both prospectives! Therefore, it will do no one any good focusing on Alpha’s reporting and how he should report, except if this will be another distraction added to the already dramma created by The Black Judge according to taylor fanatics and loyalists to the grave!

      1. Alpha,
        It looks like some folks are putting you on the hot seat but you have a strong advocate in the person of jfallahmenjor.
        Peace to you all.

    2. Alpha has been following this trial evetry day from stem to stern….not everyone agrees all the time on all of his analysis but general consensus on this forum is that he tries his best and does good job…who are you actually? Your comment is wildly inappropriate and surprised it even passes for meeting standards….just attacking without any shred of information to back it up. I dont agree with many of the Taylor-supporters on this foreum but at least even most of them would never say anything so off base as this…..

    3. Ray!
      May I answere your inquiry if you don’t mind; he is the puppet that has been setup to make his fellow black brothers and sister look like ediots. But guess what, his three other fingers are pointing right back at him. He is the ediot. His inexperience sensational senceless unprofessional reports, will make no significant impact on this messy trial . TAYLOR WILL WALK FREE!!!!!!!!

      1. Noko5,

        I respect your right to say what you feel but don’t you think those words directed at Alpha are a bit over the top? I believe he has been very respectful of us all on this forum and has kept his cool dispite some pretty sharp barbs.

        I also commend him for his professionalism in accepting our criticism and being more balanced in his reporting. Though faceless, the people who provide this service on this website are humans with emotions and families also. They do not have to do what they are doing and without this website many including perhaps you would’ve believed that Mr. Taylor was guilty.

        So I encourage us to be respectful in our dialogue.

    4. 3-4-2011

      @ Ray
      Save your breathe! Alpha will never acknowledge his short comings and you will only be frustrated. I look at Alpha as simply another blogger with an opinion to share. His unbiased leagl anyalsis is always wanting.


  6. The days that European think and African follows regardless if it does not benefit them is numbered!!!So to those of our lazy interlectual its time to get thinking….Because in the near future you will be obsolete as your points of views will be deemed foreign and unprogressive ………i’m all for foreign and progressive>>>>>>>>Asia-Africa relation!!!

  7. No matter how high a bird fly it must one day come down! Who suffers from all these dramma, is taylor. He sits in prison with no rights restored! So who cares if he deserves it? There is no sympathy for Mr. Beggar, this little big mice he going to have for the day, no New Year celebration, for Mr. Beggar!

  8. It now appears apparent who is guilty of extrajudicial communications; there is a 50-50 vote in the trial chamber which directs ones attention to the probable parties. In the U.S.A. extrajudicial communications will be grounds for reversal in the event of conviction.

    Let’s assume Mr. Taylor is found guilty (and it is my prayer he will not), will the post trial play out as the Issa Sesay case has. Can anyone say whether Issa Sesay was compensated for the film “War Don Don”? If not, it appears everyone else was. Was the money given to the victims of Sierra Leone?

    As revealed in this miscarriage of justice, Issa Sesay injudiciously believed that he would not be tired if he cooperated with the prosecution investigation; deception on the part of the prosecution is what prevented his confession from being entered into evidence against him. Or, is this film the recording made by the prosecution when they deceived him? Issa and others has spoke of those who testified for monetary gain; can you truthfully believe he was paid for this film?

    Even if Mr. Taylor is guilty, this miscarriage of justice should be canned.

    See links:

    1. 3-4-2011

      Welcome back my friend. You have really been missed. I hope all is well with you and your family. Thank you for sharing the links with us. Do you have any thoughts on Libya?


    1. Yes, Dew, Gaddafey helped distablize West Africa through his mendling and training rebels such as Sankoh and Taylor. Don’t you see how his involvement with Taylor or Sankoh would mean that he participated in the damage done to Liberia and Sierra Leone? Whatever you say Dew, the chicken has come home to roost. Gaddafey never saw it coming, and you can tell how arrogant he sounds, just like Taylor said he would fight street to street, door to door without taking the mighty Law of Karma into consideration! These Lunatics never realize they are motals and can be reduced to ashes until they find themselves cornered and about to be put on a BBQ Grill like Sadam Housin was in 1991! And for those who think Ellen supports Gaddafey, I say this to you; Ellen is a Stateman and “prudence” is her craft! If you understand true Machaivali principles, you will comprehend what that means!Ellen focus is to bring Liberia out of the ashes and not on irrelevance characters, such as Taylor or Gaddafey! Last time addressing these lunatics with capital Letters!

    2. 3-4-2011

      @ Sekou

      Welcome back my friend. You have truly been missed. I hope all is well with you and your family. Do you have any thoughts on Libya?

      1. Dear cen,

        Thank you and my family is doing fine.

        My take of Libya is this:

        I believe people should have the right to assemble and to protect peacefully anywhere. The fine line drawn over time has been the lawful right to assemble.

        Assuming that the people did not have the right to assemble and protect lawfully, Libyan Authorities exercised its right to disassemble any unlawful assembly.

        I will assume the question as to whether the force exerted was proper and necessary; my answer is no. I realize that Gaddafi is not in touch with his people and may not have been for some time. Should he go? Absolutely! There is no just cause to open fire on unarmed protectors.

        But perhaps he is leaving now; See link:

        Good to hear from you cen.

        Take care,


  9. Interesting excerpts from today’s decision from the Appeals Chamber:

    The right to be heard at the conclusion of the trial is the right of the accused, not his Counsel. The exercise of that right under Rule 86 is discretionary, but it is the discretion of the accused that must be exercised, not his Counsel.

    An accused who intends to be heard, either in person or through Counsel, at the conclusion of the trial is required to file a written submission of his arguments in advance of the oral presentations. 106 Rule 86(B) sets out the least amount of time permitted between the filing of the final brief and the presentation of oral arguments, but in no way limits the Court from granting the parties a greater amount of time between the two. In this case, based on the requests of the Defence, the Trial Chamber delayed closing arguments to allow three weeks between the filing of the brief and oral presentations. Specifically, the Defence requested that the Trial Chamber orders the submission of final trial briefs for 14 January 2011 and further requested that the Trial Chamber postpones oral arguments beyond the five day minimum provided by the Rule and order their presentation during the week of 7 February 2011. The Trial Chamber granted both Defence requests in its Scheduling Order. The Trial Chamber’s Order was a legitimate exercise of its authority under Rule 54,109 and the Parties were required to comply with the specific deadlines established by the Scheduling Order, which superseded the general default time limits provided in Rule 86(B).

    Without a clear waiver from the Accused, the decision of the Trial Chamber is reversed. The Accused’s final trial brief is ordered accepted subject to the Trial Chamber’s determination on issues of length and format and the Trial Chamber is instructed to expeditiously set a date to hear the Defence closing argument and rebuttal arguments of the Prosecution and the Defence. If Counsel for the Defence attempts by word or action to waive the Accused’s right to oral argument, the Trial Chamber is instructed to assure itself that the Accused himself is knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waiving this right.

    Accordingly, pursuant to Rule 106 of the Rules, the Appeals Chamber hereby:

    (i) GRANTS the Motion and REVERSES the decision of the Trial Chamber;

    (ii) DIRECTS the Trial Chamber to accept the Defence Final Trial Brief, subject to its further determination as to length and format; and

    (iii) DIRECTS the Trial Chamber to set a date for the Defence closing arguments and any rebuttal arguments.

    See link:

      1. That seems to be the case Sekou. The earlier the judges concentrate on the case at hand the better for everbody.

  10. Alpha Sesay & Sorious,two people that makes money from the west out of the wars in SL……….I suppose they were entertaining western people with african barbarism,Just as the west will like it to be told……..Alpha please get your trouble shooters in the west to invest in infrastruture in SL as the Chinese are doing…Instead of this constant witch hunt,people that really means well for SL are investing in our infrastruture and doing business with us these fackers you allied with gives nothing tangible….look around your country most of the little infrastructure we have are built by the Asians,Our so call masters gives nothing apart from little AID with lots of strings attached,which lives us in debt.

    I am not speaking in ignorants i was brought up with these people,live,eat and sleep with them…i am not a racist i just overstand their nature…perhaps more than these journalist and politicians in SL….

    1. Cee, I am afraid, your piece above is not (readable) or maybe you had difficulty expressing your despise for Alpha.” please get your trouble shooters in the west to invest in infrastruture in SL as the Chinese are doing…Instead of this constant witch hunt,people that really means well for SL are investing in our infrastruture and doing business with us these fackers you allied with gives nothing tangible….look around your country most of the little infrastructure we have are built by the Asians,Our so call masters gives nothing apart from little AID with lots of strings attached,which lives us in debt. ” Are you saying that even though you hate Alpha’s method of reporting to the West, but In fact, He would be a better person to covey your ‘beggings’ to the Western Man to come and built your shamlessly self-destructive infrastruture? Of all people, you, CEE will request these evil people to come to your aid? Why not get your Pan Africanists, such as Taylor’s wealth to rebuilt your hopelesness and seemingly, constant dependence on the Western Man’s money,justice, and hand-outs? Give me one reason, Cee!

  11. Dear JTF,

    Unfortunately, we cannot approve your comment at this time. Can you please remove or edit the clause in the first sentence beginning with “but you made money from…” This phrase does not comply with the website’s policy as it accuses people of crimes they have not been convicted of. If you edit, we will then post.

    Thank you.

  12. Cee, I agree with you that both Alpha and Sorious made money from the West. In Africa, our Leaders including most of us who failed to learn makes money from inflinching terror on our own brothers and sisters like what happened to us in the Sub-region through the command of your so called Charles Taylor. From this point of you, who is better African, Alpha Sesay and Sorious or these leaders. You people (mercernaries brought to Liberia by Charles Taylor) are altogether confused in what to write.
    You talk about African Barbarism, yes I agree with you but, you have been moore barbaric in your life as a trained mercernary and the only person who stopped you carrying on your barbaric attitudes was the West and not Africans because they are barbaric. Today we have seen what happen in Ivory Coast. After the man ruled for 11 years, he called for election. He did not win by scoring 46% yet he became barbaric and only the West was able to stop him from destroying his own people and not Africans yet, you go on criticizing the West. Your Home Training Country Libya, your Boss man Col. Gardhafi after 42 years as president used Jet Bomber on his own people with disregard who is killed becase they asked him to step down since he is not the only Libyan who can rule Libya. Who now will stop him from killing his own people and distroying properties in Libya, only the West yet you on daily basis write against the West. You altogether against the West becase the West stopped your President Taylor from destroying West Africa in totality.

  13. Thank you Mr. Stevenson for your advise. Maybe I misunderstood this phrase from Mr cee’s comment on the 4th of March 2011. “Alpha Sesay & Sorious, two people that makes money from the west out of the wars from SL” I am wondering whether this phrase is accusing these people of receiving money from the West during Sierra Leone’s war.

  14. I have been keenly following of the trial at ICC against Charles Taylor,
    I think I commend the Defence team particulary Barister Courtenay Griffiths, The learned Lawer is smart and knows his Job.
    Let me also commend the True African Lady .(Justice Sebutinde’s ) for showing true leadership and for standing on principles. I was forced to read her profile and I am convinced that she is one lady who would like to see justice prevail. She carries along a rich legacy
    Congrats to both Justice Julia Sebutinde’ and Griffiths).


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