The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor resumes Monday in The Hague. The trial opened briefly on June 4, but Taylor, the first African leader to be tried outside of the continent, refused to come to court on grounds he will not receive a fair trial.
The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has charged Taylor with 11 counts of war crimes for his alleged support for Sierra Leone rebels during that country’s civil war from 1991 to 2002. Taylor has pleaded not guilty to the charges. But the question on the minds of many is will Charles Taylor show up in court Monday?
John T. Richardson is the executive director of the Association for the Legal Defense of Charles Taylor. From the Liberian capital, Monrovia, he told VOA that unless certain requirements are met, Taylor may not show up again in court.
“We have no way of knowing whether the court has fulfilled the minimal requirement for the adequate legal defense of Mr. Taylor because Mr. Taylor has been held incommunicado; he has been denied phone calls except to four members of his family. And so we cannot know from Mr. Taylor. But since we have heard no information from any new counsel for Mr. Taylor, we cannot believe that there are reasons that this trial will resume because the conditions have not changed since June fourth, “ he said.
Not only did Taylor not show up in court on June fourth, but also in a letter to the court, he also reportedly terminated the services of his lawyer, Kharim Khan. But Richardson said the press has not fairly represented Taylor’s side of what transpired on June fourth.
“I think the press has to be fair to Mr. Taylor. The lawyer read two letters in the court. One letter was from the principal defender stating that the registrar had denied basic resources to furnish minimal requirement for a lawyer, and the lawyer then read Mr. Taylor’s letter saying that because you have been incapacitated by the registrar, I can no longer instruct you because this would be a charade,” he Richardson said.
He said the former Liberian president is being held incommunicado, and this has made it impossible for those working on his behalf to do a good job.
“This is not a ruling from the court. The registrar, as the principal administrator, has now restricted Mr. Taylor to only contacts with sole members of his immediate family. As such, those of us that are responsible to assist in soliciting resources or finding probono lawyers are incommunicado from Mr. Taylor,” he said.
Some have suggested that by his refusal to appear in court, Taylor was implying guilt. But Richardson said the court has stacked the legal deck against Taylor.
“Mr. Taylor pleaded not guilty when the indictments were read. But in the process of legal filings, lawyers, investigators and all these, there have been a request for equality of arms. And this has been denied by the registrar of the court,” he said.
Richardson said he has not been able to speak directly to Taylor since June third. But Richardson said he was in contact with Taylor’s immediate family members who, he said, speak regularly to the former president.
He reiterated that Mr. Taylor might not show up in court again come Monday.
“I would want to presume that not haven’t heard that a lawyer has been appointed or to even work with Mr. Taylor, not haven’t heard that even offices have been provided for Mr. Taylor, not haven’t heard that information from the prosecution have now been supplied to Mr. Taylor about what people are going to say against him to mount an adequate defense, I would suspect that the court would reasonable enough to not demand that the trial continue,” he said.
Richardson said he does not believe the court can force Mr. Taylor to appear before it.
“That question I believe you will need to get from a lawyer. But I do not know how denying someone the opportunity to defend themselves and then forcing them into court would resemble justice. Then I think the court could just go ahead and rule, as the international media is trying to do, that Mr. Taylor is guilty and forego any expense of a trial,” Richardson said.
He reiterated what other closed associates of Taylor had said that the former Liberian president will not get justice in the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“I think Mr. Taylor has been prejudged; I think by all indications, Mr. Taylor has been aggressively prosecuted in the court of public opinion. We constantly hear people, or world leaders, opinion leaders, speaking of Mr. Taylor’s guilt. And I don’t think it’s a rush to trial; I think it’s a rush to judgment,” Richardson said.
Richardson served as minister for public works in Taylor’s government and later as national security advisor. But he said serving in Taylor’s government does not and should not deny Taylor the international principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.