The long-awaited trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor gets underway Monday in The Hague, Netherlands. Taylor was indicted by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. But his supporters see the trial as politically motivated, one in which the former president is unlikely to get true justice.
David Crane is a former prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He signed the original indictments against former President Taylor. From The Hague, where he will be observing the trial, Crane told VOA Taylor's trial is a milestone for Africa.
“I think this is a great day for the people of Africa. For the first time in the history of Africa we have an African head of state who’s being prosecuted fairly for war crimes and crimes against humanity that had done against his own people. So from now on, the world knows and more importantly the people of Africa know that their lives matter,” he said.
Taylor is the first African head of state to go trial for crimes against humanity, and the stakes are high. But Crane said the evidence against the former Liberian president is solid.
“Before I signed the indictments, I ensured that my investigators and prosecutors had and proved to me that each and every element of the crime was provable beyond the reasonable doubt for not only Charles Taylor’s indictment but also the indictment of all the others because as I said to them and as I said to your listeners and others that these people should never see the light of a free day again. So the burden is on us to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, but we have very, very solid case against Charles Ghankay Taylor,” Crane said.
While he would not be specific about the details of the case against Taylor, Crane said prosecutors would present an array of evidence.
“I don’t want to get too much into the case itself. That is for the current prosecutor. However, there would be witness testimony as well as documentary evidence, and it’s very strong. We have some of the inner circles as well as victims’ witnesses who would be coming forward to testify against him,” he said.
Taylor’s supporters see the trial as politically motivated, one in which the former president is unlikely to get true justice. But Crane said Taylor will get a fair trial.
“It’s absolutely important that he gets a fair trial because again we want to show the people of Africa, particularly West Africa, that the law is fair, that no one is above the law and that the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun. And so it’s absolutely important that he gets a fair trial because at the end of the day, the people of Africa, the West Africans in particular, that will have to live with the results. They may not like the results, but they have to live with them if they believe that trial is fair,” he said.
One of Taylor’s lawyers, James Laveli Supuwood, told VOA recently he believes the former Liberian president was singled out to bear the burden of all the problems in the West African sub-region.
But Crane said Taylor was one of the kingpins of a joint criminal enterprise that ruled West Africa for over 25 years moving diamonds, gold, timber, cash and guns.
“During the 1990s, there were three heads of state: Charles Taylor, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya as well as Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, all of which were very much involved in a criminal enterprise which resulted in the destruction of over one point two human beings,” Crane said.
He clarified why Taylor alone was being put on trial for crimes against humanity and not Blaise Compaore or Muammar Gaddafi.
“You have to look at the evidence, the facts, and also the standards by which the Security Council told us to try those who bear the greatest responsibility. And of those three heads of state, Charles Taylor bore the greatest responsibility. Blaise Compaore and Muammar Gaddafi are both unindicted co-conspirators and are named in the indictment and will be shown to have been very complicit in the terror that took place over the past 10 years,” Crane said.