Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor, the former President of Liberia is the first Head of State currently on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Believed to be the initiator of a civil war that saw the killing tens of thousands of civilians, Mr Taylor is facing an 11 count indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Currently at the cross-examination stage of his trial, Mr. Taylor continues to deny charges brought against him.
Sitting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Charles Ghankay Taylor still holds the charisma that once propelled him to become one of Africa’s most prominent warlords. Listening to his seductive tone, one almost feels sorry for the man accused as the initiator of a brutal 1991-2002 civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, which left over 200,000 people dead.
Dressed in a flowing traditional virgin white Liberian gown and acing his prosecutors, Charles Taylor is often caught sporting an uneasy smile as he continually states that he “doesn’t recall” many of the key accusations brought up against him before the Court, including a claim that he had trained Sierra Leonean rebel fighters and supplied arms and ammunition to rebels from The Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The first African Head of State to be tried before an international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Charles Taylor appears to rely entirely on his ‘charming’ persona, considering his visibly lackadaisical defense, to convince the Courtroom that he tried to bring peace to the West African nation rather than fan the flames of war.
The accused former Liberian President, ironically known as ‘Ghankay,’ which means warrior in the Gio dialect, faces an 11-count indictment for acts of terrorism, unlawful killings, sexual violence, physical violence, use of child soldiers under the age of 15 years old, enslavement, and pillaging.
Charles Taylor has, however, denied all charges despite the testimony of about 90 witnesses who shared with the Court the cruel acts that he had ordered in the West African countries (Sierra Leone and Liberia). Rebels are believed to have indiscriminately cut off limbs, kidnapped and drugged children and burned down villages. The court also heard stories of cannibalism, as a way for Liberian rebels to show superiority over their enemies.
Indicted in June 2003, while on his first trip outside of Liberia and transferred to The Hague three years later, Charles Taylor is currently at the cross-examination stage of his trial, which is being conducted by the UN-backed Sierra Leone Tribunal, housed in Freetown.
The start of Taylor’s cross-examination
The much-anticipated cross-examination of Charles Taylor started last week with a stumble, as Special Court for Sierra Leone judges did not allow prosecutors to use the Sierra Leone’s peace agreement, as a basis for questioning Taylor, as it had not been admitted as evidence.
In addition, lead prosecutor, Brenda Hollis declared that Charles Taylor had “reasons to lie” during his four months of testimony which he spent denying charges and that he needed to prepare to be “honest” in cross examination. Unfortunately for Mrs. Hollis, the judges also rejected her request to ask, “good faith basis questions” which “will be premised on the documents” but without using the documents themselves.
Cut short, Mrs. Hollis was therefore forced to request the court to give the prosecution more time to re-organize her presentation” and to “rearrange strategies” for the cross-examination.
When she finally returned to the Court, Mrs. Hollis declared she was finally ready to prove that Charles Taylor has been telling lies. To start off, Brenda Hollis used a letter written by Mr. Taylor to former US President Bush in which the former Liberian President claimed he had mentioned his willingness to step down as Liberian President. “I have considered recusing myself from the political process,” indicated his compliance to step down.
Mrs. Hollis also attempted to pressure Taylor into admitting he trained the former RUF commander, Sam Bockarie and his fighters as mercenaries in Liberia but Taylor cut her short saying “I object to the fact of mercinerization.” He also insisted that if he had been training Sierra Leonean rebel fighters and supplying arms and ammunition to RUF rebels, he would have said so. In addition, he denied ever receiving diamonds from RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and then accused the prosecution of building its case on “lies”.
The quality of Dutch food
While it is too early to proclaim the future of Charles Taylor, it will most likely be spent behind bars, maybe outside of the Netherlands, as Mr. Taylor has complained on numerous occasions on the quality of Dutch food.
Life sentence or not, this case validates the International Criminal Court’s willingness to prosecute those who have committed crimes against humanity. In addition, Mr. Taylor’s case also demonstrates the ICC’s determination to make of its jurisdiction not a first but a last option when necessary.
While Charles Taylor will probably continue his attempt to mislead the court and “not remember” the details of the bloody massacres that took place in Liberia, when he was its leader, the prosecutors appear gritty to convict the man who may be responsible for the death of thousands.