Prosecutors in the Hague have rested their case against former Liberian
leader Charles Taylor who is accused of war crimes in neighboring
Sierra Leone. There are concerns that the special court is running out of money.
prosecution formally rested its case Friday after hearing from 91 witnesses in just over a year.
Mr. Taylor is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity
including murder, rape, enslavement, and conscription of child soldiers.
11-count indictment alleges that the former Liberian rebel chief led
members of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front across the border
and he acted as their effective leader for much of Sierra Leone's
ten-year civil war.
Mr. Taylor has pled not guilty to the
charges which are being heard in a special court jointly established by
the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone. The Freetown
session of that court reached its final verdict Wednesday, finding the
three most senior surviving members of the rebel RUF guilty of murder,
sexual enslavement, and attacks against U.N. troops.
Taylor's trial had been moved to The Hague because of fears that his
supporters might disrupt proceedings held in Sierra Leone.
the special court says Mr. Taylor may go free regardless of the trial
if international donors do not cover a $5 million shortfall in the
special court's $28 million budget. If the money runs out, Prosecutor
Stephen Rapp expects defense attorneys to ask for his release.
defense would be in there trying to move to get Taylor freed because it
wouldn't be fair to hold him if he couldn't be tried. And that would be
a strong argument on their part," he said. "We would, of course, resist
it. We would fight to keep him detained. But that is the kind of risk
that a court faces. You can't hold somebody in jail indefinitely unless
you are able to give him a trial."
Unlike the special courts for
Rwanda or the former Yugoslavia which are funded by mandatory dues,
Rapp says the special court for Sierra Leone is supported by voluntary
"It's sometimes a very challenging thing to raise
these funds because states don't commit to say we will give you this
much this year and this much next and this much the following year," he
said. "Each year they have to make a decision."
"And in every country in
the world, there are other needs that their government has to respond
to. Particularly now with the world economic crisis that has hit some
developed countries very hard, and who have very high budget deficits
and a lot of needs within their borders, it's difficult to get the
pledges that we need," he added.
Rapp expects a verdict by early next
year, but only if money is provided to get the court through its
funding gap this June, July, and August.
"It's been certainly a
well-managed case," he said. "Since Taylor got the attorneys that he
wanted, it has moved ahead very, very quickly. And it would be a
tragedy if this case were somehow not to be able to be concluded."
special court has scheduled oral submissions from Mr. Taylor's defense
to begin April 6 on a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal. If that is
denied, defense lawyers say the former Liberian leader will be their