Today marked the historic end of the trial against Charles Taylor. After three-and-a-half years of trial, the Prosecution and Defense both addressed Trial Chamber II for the final time. The parties referred to the passion, intensity, and emotions that became hallmarks of this trial, but thanked everyone involved for their hard work and dedication over the years.
The judges have now received all of the evidence tendered by the parties—amounting to testimony from 115 witnesses and 1097 exhibits. Having heard all of the parties’ assertions and arguments about whether this evidence indicates Taylor’s guilt or innocence, the judges will retire to deliberate and come to a final judgment on whether Charles Taylor is guilty of eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law.
The Prosecution submissions focused on what they considered Taylor’s deceitful efforts to appear publically as a peacemaker, while he privately used the RUF to commit crimes in Sierra Leone. Counsel for the Prosecution focused on the quality of documentary evidence, witness credibility, and alleged mischaracterizations of evidence. SCSL Prosecutor Brenda Hollis also submitted to the judges that the Defense had made the trial into political theater.
Defense Documents Help Prove the Prosecution’s Case
The Prosecution began by attacking the Defense assertion that the documentary evidence in the case clearly showed Taylor’s innocence. In fact, the Prosecution argued, there was a lack of evidence on key issues and the documents used by the Defense only showed part of the story. According to the Prosecution, when viewed in their totality, the Defense documents help prove the Prosecution’s case.
For example, the Prosecution argued that there was a lack of documentation relating to Taylor’s 1998 meetings with Sam Bockarie, then Commander in Chief of the RUF. Although the Defense had numerous documents about the Lomé peace agreements and requests from the international community for Taylor to broker peace in Sierra Leone, the Prosecution claimed that the Defense would not be able to point to a single document that shows that Charles Taylor met with Sam Bockarie in 1998.
This is significant, the Prosecution argued, because Taylor claimed that these meetings were transparent and open, and conducted with the consent of those involved in brokering the peace. The Prosecution alleged that those meetings were in fact secretive, held so that Taylor and Bockarie could plan the war, the December 1998 offensive, and trade diamonds for ammunition.
The Prosecution said that the documentary evidence merely shows that Taylor was publically denying his role in the RUF. Privately, the Prosecution alleged, Taylor controlled, supported and operated the RUF as a proxy army to take control of Sierra Leone so that he could exploit its mineral resources.
Counsel for the Prosecution asked the judges to contrast the complete lack of proof in the Defense documents with the level of proof included in Prosecution documents. A document from the Black Revolutionary Guard written in 1999, the Prosecution claimed, showed that Taylor had promised support to the RUF after Freetown fell to ECOMOG.
Issa Sesay is not a Credible Witness
The Prosecution also attempted to discredit Issa Sesay, calling him a ruthless mass killer, rapist, child abuser and a liar.
“Issa Sesay is a heartless opportunist,” loyal only when it will get him promoted, the Prosecution claimed.
Sesay knew what Taylor did to people he thought betrayed him, and so Sesay became loyal to Taylor, Counsel for the Prosecution claimed. Sesay’s testimony cannot be believed, because Sesay has nothing to lose—all he has is Charles Taylor.
Defense Arguments are “Nonsense”
Lead Prosecutor Brenda Hollis also addressed the Court today. She suggested that the Defense argument that Taylor had not known about the RUF training in Camp Naama was “nonsense.”
She questioned how Taylor could have remained oblivious to this training, given that it happened in his “backyard.” Hollis pointed out several issues with this theory, including that Taylor’s NPFL soldiers were training at the same base, Sankoh had taken RUF recruits from Taylor’s NPFL jails, Sankoh and the RUF recruits passed through various NPFL controlled areas and checkpoints, all in the context of the intense war going on in Liberia at the time. Hollis also criticized the idea that no one reported to Taylor about the RUF presence or activities at Camp Naama.
“We suggest that Sankoh was reporting to him, keeping him well advised of what was happened at Naama,” Hollis told the judges.
Defense Mischaracterized the Evidence
Hollis also discussed how she claimed the Defense had misstated and mischaracterized the facts of the case when alleging certain inconsistencies. She provided several examples, including payment for the Magburaka shipment of arms by diamonds (as opposed to a single diamond) and evidence about the 1999 attack on Freetown. The Prosecutor asked the judges to consider whether these were true inconsistencies, or mischaracterizations of the evidence. Hollis suggested that they were mischaracterizations.
Taylor wanted to Pillage Diamonds
Diamonds, a central issue in the case, also featured in the Prosecution’s final submissions. Hollis countered Defense arguments that the evidence failed to show that Taylor was involved in the war in Sierra Leone so that he could exploit Sierra Leone’s natural resources, including diamonds.
Contrary to what the Defense argued, the war was not about equality in Sierra Leone, Hollis claimed. Rather, the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the purpose of Taylor’s involvement in the war was to pillage diamonds, the Prosecutor contended. Every time the RUF had access to diamonds, they took those diamonds, Hollis claimed. Moreover, she continued, there was evidence that Taylor had received at least 5000 pieces of gem-quality diamonds during Sesay’s time as leader of the RUF.
The Prosecutor also recalled a newspaper article in which Charles Taylor himself admitted that he thought the war in Sierra Leone was a war for diamonds.
Politics and Propaganda
The Prosecutor alleged that the Defense has tried to transform the trial into a political and propaganda platform for Charles Taylor. This has extended into the closing arguments, Hollis claimed, by Defense references to the trial as a 21st century form of neo-colonialism.
This logic is perverse, the Prosecutor submitted, because it means that unless African heads of state will create courts to try atrocity crimes, the rest of the world should just butt-out, leaving victims without justice if the African leaders do not act. However, the Prosecutor reminded the judges that African leaders do take action—as Sierra Leone President Kabbah did when he requested the United Nations to establish a court and provide some form of accountability for the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during its civil war.
The Defense focused nearly its entire two-hour submission on a central issue in the case: the Prosecution’s theory of joint criminal enterprise. Towards the end of the Defense submissions, Lead Defense Counsel Courtenay Griffiths, QC, addressed the judges, closing the case for the Defense and offering a formal apology to the Court.
No Proof of Joint Criminal Enterprise
The Prosecution has alleged that Taylor, the RUF, AFRC and others were part of a group that wanted to take over Sierra Leone so that they could exploit its natural resources. They allegedly intended to achieve this goal by terrorizing the people of Sierra Leone, and committing the other crimes charged in the indictment.
This is a central issue to the case. Counsel for the Defense went through each major period discussed during trial, asking the judges to consider various aspects of this alleged joint criminal enterprise. The Defense argued that taking all of this and other evidence into account, the Prosecution had not proven that Taylor could be guilty of the crimes alleged through a joint criminal enterprise theory.
The Defense discussed the alleged agreement in Libya between RUF leader Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor, training in Camp Naama, the initial invasion into Sierra Leone, the withdrawal of Taylor’s support from the RUF in 1992, the AFRC/RUF junta period, the invasion into Freetown, and the conflict after 1999.
No evidence shows that an agreement was made between these parties, the Defense submitted. Moreover, the Defense suggested, there is no evidence to support the Prosecution theory that a joint criminal enterprise existed throughout the entire period discussed at trial. The Defense questioned whether the evidence showed that the alleged common purpose—taking over Sierra Leone to exploit its natural resources—was shared by Taylor, the RUF, and the AFRC for the entire period in question.
The Defense also pointed to fractions between Taylor and Sankoh, and later between the RUF and the AFRC. The Defense asked whether there was proof that in spite of these fractions, they maintained a common purpose and a shared intent.
To be held guilty for a crime vis-à-vis a joint criminal enterprise, the accused’s participation must be significant, or his contribution substantial. The Defense argued that there was no evidence that Taylor had made a substantial contribution.
Conclusion of the Charles Taylor Trial
Griffiths briefly addressed the judges about how the Prosecution had appeared to suggest that the Defense had a burden of production in this trial. On the contrary, the Defense argued, one of the central tenets of criminal law is that the Prosecution is the only party that bears any burden of proof—proof beyond a reasonable doubt—and that the Defense was not obliged to produce any evidence whatsoever. Griffiths did however point to a number of Defense documents that allegedly show that Taylor had contact with Bockarie in 1998.
Griffiths also made a formal apology to the Court for any disrespect the judges may have felt he had shown during the trial. The judges accepted the apology, bringing the matter of potential disciplinary hearings to a close.
The judges, thanking all involved in the trial, formally adjourned to begin deliberations.
A judgment is expected before the end of the year. Any appeals would then follow, with the final conclusion to the Taylor trial expected in early 2012.