As the Special Court for Sierra Leone prepares to resume prosecuting ousted Liberian President Charles Taylor next Monday, the challenge of overcoming a funding shortfall continues to raise concerns about whether the tribunal, funded primarily with voluntary contributions from UN member states, will be able to complete the trial and three others still awaiting verdicts in Freetown. Attorney Elise Keppler with Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, who witnessed the start of the trial, says that donors face an important hurdle to see that justice is carried out.
“The court has got to have additional funding. At this point, it does not have the resources to complete the Taylor trial, to finish its work in Freetown, and that involves three other trials, along with other post-completion activities, including witness protection,” she notes.
A dramatic opening day, boycotted by Taylor on June 4 in the Netherlands, has been followed by a three-week layoff for case preparation. The proceedings will pick up again on Monday, June 25. Taylor’s attorney entered pleas of innocence to 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international law on opening day of the trial. He is accused of fomenting civil war by fueling rebel troops in a neighboring country to enrich himself by providing arms in exchange for Sierra Leonean blood diamonds. Keppler says that the prosecution intends to portray Taylor as masterminding an effort to take over the entire country.
“They believe they have evidence that Taylor was responsible for what they described in summary as a campaign of terror against the Sierra Leonean people and that the murders, the rapes, the amputations were part of this campaign that was a foreseeable consequence of a plan, a joint criminal enterprise, of a group of individuals to take over Sierra Leone,” she observed.
Relocating Taylor’s trial to facilities at the International Criminal Court in the Hague last June was necessitated by concerns of stability in West Africa if the trial were held in Sierra Leone. As for Taylor’s contention that he will be unable to receive a fair trial in a European country, Human Rights Watch attorney Keppler says that the court has a preponderance of African representation.
“It’s very important to note that Taylor is being tried by a UN-backed tribunal composed of Sierra Leoneans and international judges and staff. This is not a European tribunal, and there is a significant African representation and also a Sierra Leonean representation on this court,” she notes.
Assessing fairness, Keppler points out that officials of the Special Court for Sierra Leone have gone to great lengths to meet Taylor’s legal concerns.
“In terms of the resource question, the key here is that Taylor is entitled to adequate facilities and time to prepare his defense. The judges have been addressing concerns raised by Taylor for several months now. And it’s important to find that the trial had been pushed back several times in order to accommodate concerns about needing additional time to prepare. The trial was initially scheduled to start on April 2, and then was pushed back to June 4, and an additional three weeks were then scheduled to provide some further time for Taylor’s defense to prepare, creating this adjournment that we’re currently in,” she explained.