The Hague, 15 May 2008 (FH) - The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses in the trial of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, have been advancing at a sustained pace since January with 26 witnesses out of list of 72 , have already appeared on the stand of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) without interruption.

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Shortly after the arrest of the former head of state in April 2006, in Nigeria, the Special Court, headquartered in Freetown, decided to hold the trial in The Hague.

The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, had made the request, considering that the trial of her predecessor in West Africa was likely to destabilize the region.

Taylor is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes for having wanted to seize the diamantiferous riches of Sierra Leone, at the prices of some 150, 000 deaths, and several million displaced persons. According to the prosecutor, Taylor would have, once he forcible acquired power in Liberia, supported, trained and financed the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, the neighbouring country.

One of the major difficulties of this trial is that it is not about crimes committed in Liberia, but those perpetrated in Sierra Leone starting in 1996.

The peace agreement in Sierra Leone, signed in 1996, and quickly violated, envisaged amnesty for crimes committed in this country. Organized 5, 000 kilometres from the sites of these crimes, the trial is in many regards remarkable after the notable wanderings of the international tribunals.

The proceedings are firmly directed by the judges, and delaying tactics, from either party, are not tolerated. The witnesses called by the prosecution directly mention the facts without reconsidering the history of the war in Liberia or in Sierra Leone, a part of the trial left to the experts. One of the major difficulties of the prosecutor comes from the defendant being tried for crimes committed in Sierra Leone, where he was not physically present.

Also, a number of witnesses are former acquaintances of Taylor, able to describe from the inside the machine of death and who testify without special precautions.

Several of them refused the use of a pseudonym or closed sessions. At the end of April, the prosecutor had to abandon the testimony of a victim. Three "insiders" had received threats.

Alimamy Bobson Sesay had complained to the Court that Joseph Marzah, chief of a death squad during the war, had been threatened to face consequences at the end of his testimony and on his return to Monrovia.

Moses Blah, who was president of Liberia in 2003, after the indictment of Taylor and his departure from the country, and who has been on trial since 14 May, also stated to have received a death threat by email. Called to testify by the prosecutor, he refused to voluntarily present himself.

Blah, inter alia, mentioned the training of 180 of Taylor‘s men in the camps of President Muhammar Ghadafi in Libya, before the beginning of the civil war in Liberia or the execution of commanders accused of conspiring to attack Taylor.

He mentioned the support of Blaise Compaore for Taylor's war, and that of the defence minister of Cote d'Ivoire, who had provided several trucks of weapons.

According to the witness, President Ghadafi would have announced his dissatisfaction with Taylor, for the support brought by him to the men of Foday Sankoh, the chief of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone, support which, for the Libyan leader, was not in agreement "with the principles of the revolution".

In the dock, Taylor seems perfectly at ease. After a few weeks, the lord of war replaced hid gold-framed glasses with darker tinted glasses.

He follows each testimony conscientiously and makes some annotations on post-its of various colors which he hands to his lawyers, in which he consults regularly.

His lawyers, members of the Bar of London and Monrovia, receive 100, 000 dollars per month for the defence of their client.

The Prosecutor Stephen Rapp announced that he was continuing his investigation on the assets of Taylor, which could allow the court to render him responsible for the expenses of his defence, until now ensured by the international community.

On this subject, the Special Court has issued several requests for co-operation. According to the prosecutor, the former president allegedly has two accounts in the United States of 375 million dollars.

The trial of Taylor is the first against a former African head of state. Before him, only Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia had been prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Saddam was sentenced to death and hung at the end of an "irregular" trial, according to Human Rights Watch. Milosevic died before the end of his trial at the tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.


© Hirondelle News Agency