The trial of former Liberian President Charles Ghanky Taylor is due to begin a month from Friday, June fourth in The Hague. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the Sierra Leone civil war. Both the prosecution and Taylor’s defense lawyers are said to be busy preparing for the case.
James Laveli Supuwood is the former Solicitor General of Liberia and one of Taylor’s lawyers. He has just returned from The Hague to visit with Mr. Taylor. Supuwood told VOA the former President Taylor is looking forward to the start of his trial.
“Mr. Taylor is doing well. As you know, he’s a man with a very strong will power. He is looking forward that this wonderful case can start. As you know, Mr. Taylor, as a defendant in a major criminal case, does not have the burden to prove his case. It is the prosecution that has the burden to prove the crimes charged. So we are all looking forward to see this day,” he said.
Supuwood said although Taylor is not comfortable with the position in which he finds himself, still he’s looking forward to the merits of the prosecution’s case.
“Sierra Leone has always had problems like any other country. Liberia has problems, Nigeria has problems, United States has problems, and South Africa has problems. All countries have their own problems. But to single out the president of a neighboring state as one responsible for the problems in Sierra Leone is a serious case for the sub-region,” Supuwood said.
He said the Taylor trial is expected to set precedence for the West Africa sub-region because it is the first time that a sitting head of state has been indicted in the region for crimes committed in a neighboring state.
“For us it is a new experience; it presents new challenges because unless this case is properly managed, it could serve as a source of friction between Liberia and Sierra Leone. That is my fear,” Supuwood said.
He said the former Liberian president would call an array of witnesses to make his case.
“Witnesses will come from Liberia, witnesses will come from Sierra Leone; witnesses will come from other parts of Africa; witnesses will come from Europe, witnesses will come from the United States; witnesses will come from all over the place because this case is a case that involves threats to international peace. So whatever it takes to bring the truth out so that mankind will have a basis for judgment as to what really took place in Sierra with respect to the role Taylor might have played is crucial,” he said.
Supuwood said Taylor is hopeful he will get a fair trial. Contrary to what some had suggested, Supuwood said Taylor does not intend to use his case to put the system on trial the same way that the late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic did.
“I don’t see Mr. Taylor using this case for any other purpose than to defend himself against those who have charged him for being responsible for the socio-political problems of Sierra Leone,” Supuwood said.