The Hague, 3rd June 2007 (FH) - Monday morning the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) will open the trial of the warlord Charles Taylor, who has become President of Liberia and is now accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva conventions.

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He is accused of murders, acts of terror against civilians, sexual assaults, cruel treatments, kidnapping, forced labour and lootings committed in Sierra Leone between 1997 and 2000.

Still having strong supporters in West Africa, Taylor, who presided Liberia between 1997 and 2003 before being arrested in March 2006 in Nigeria where he was exiled, will not be tried in Freetown but in The Hague, under high security. Created by an agreement concluded on 16 January 2002 between Freetown and the United Nations, the Special Court prosecutes the persons responsible for a 12 years long civil war which caused around 150,000 deaths and 2 millions of displaced persons.

On Monday Charles Taylor will be the fifth Head of state to appear for international crimes. In the History of international justice, the issue is important: Until now, none of these five men has fully answered for these crimes.

In 1945 the prosecutors of Nuremberg also prosecuted an extra of the war: Amiral Karl Dönitz was tried together with the Nazi dignitaries by default. After the suicide of Hitler on 30 March 1945, he led the country during twenty-two days. He was convicted for war crimes and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Regarding Hitler, his name appeared only furtively in an indictment which was never presented to the judges appointed by the Allies after the fall of the Third Reich. But his name was in the centre of the trial.

Like the name of Slobodan Milosevic in the trials before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (TPIY). The "central architect" of the three wars in former Yugoslavia was charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva conventions and laws and customs of war. But after 466 days of hearing in 4 years and the testimonies of 350 witnesses, the case IT-02-54 closed with a cruel joke instead of a sentence. Forty days before the end of the trial, Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell, on 11 March 2006.

Like Dönitz, Milan Milutinovic is not the main responsible but has been tried for almost a year. Accused of crimes against humanity and violations of laws or customs of war committed in Kosovo in 1999, the former President of Serbia is charged with crimes committed during a campaign led by the President of what was left of Yugoslavia, Milosevic. Without minimizing his responsibility, his title did not make him the commander-in-chief of the Belgrade repressions against Kosovo Albanians.

To this date, among the known dictators, only Saddam Hussein was tried and convicted for crimes against humanity. Prosecuted for the violent repression of a demonstration, the Raïs was sentenced to death penalty by hanging at the end of this first trial. The prosecutions for genocide, which he should have been charged with in a second trial, were therefore forgotten by the Iraqi Special Tribunal, set by the American occupant after the storming of Bagdad and the flight of the ex-President in 2003. Contested due to its form, the trial led by the Iraqi judges has no relevance to the matter in question. But it gave an appearance of legality to the elimination of the dictator from the political Iraqi scene.

In these circumstances, the trial of Charles Taylor must be the object of highest attention. Will it give proof of the chronic impossibility to try dictators for their crimes? In supporting the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with weapons, politically and financially, the warlord exported one of the most atrocious wars from Liberia to Sierra Leone, without setting his foot on the territory of Sierra Leone himself at that time.

Stephen Rapp, former chief Prosecutor of the ICTR who has recently become the SCSL Prosecutor will therefore have to prove the existence of these ties with the rebels on who he exercised no power de jure. During a press conference in The Hague, Rapp announced the hearing of 149 witnesses, of which 62 will be called to testify about the connections between the rebels of the RUF and Charles Taylor. Some of them are repentant former brothers.

On Monday the Prosecutor will pronounce his preliminary declarations in the courtroom number 1, made available by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the needs of the Court for Sierra Leone. After that the hearing will be suspended during one month.

© Hirondelle News Agency