Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Liberia / Sierra Leone / International Criminal Court

Is the Case Against Charles Taylor Falling Apart?
By Thomas Darnstädt and Jan Puhl
Spiegel Online, November 3, 2010
Photo: "Former Liberian President Charles Taylor appears with his defense attorney in the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 2006." (Agence France-Presse)
"[...] Crimes against humanity, mass murder, rape, mutilation, the blame for the massacres that took place during the civil war that raged in neighboring Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002: the charges against the African politician are as massive as the prosecutors' ambition to force a murderous head of state to atone for his crimes for the first time in history. But the more unbearable the details of this bloody African conflict become in the neon-lit courtroom, the more agonizing is the game of guilt and atonement, and the more untouchable this former president, in his silver-gray tie, gray suit and white pocket handkerchief, becomes. Nothing seems to stick this defendant. Cannibalism? Taylor feigns disgust. What does he have to do with such atrocities, he asks? More than 90 witnesses have already testified. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is currently in the process of hearing the last of the oral evidence, and the man who was almost certain of taking his place in history as the 'Butcher of Monrovia' appears to be emerging as a winner, at least for now.
... In 2006, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia failed in its attempt to convict former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. The defendant died of a heart attack before the court could fully process the completely overloaded indictment against him. The prospects of bringing Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, before the International Criminal Court are also slim. Although the court has issued an arrest warrant against the tyrant, he remains untouchable in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, where he continues his dictatorial rule. Now the Taylor trial, seen as the most promising of such cases to date, threatens to fall apart in The Hague. In the worst case, the Taylor trial could reveal to the world that it's impossible to measure national leaders by the yardstick of the law. Stephen Rapp, the chief prosecutor in the Taylor trial until a year ago and now an advisor in the United States State Department, must already regret the bold statement he made after the defense had submitted its evidence: 'It has been demonstrated that it is possible to prosecute a former chief of state in a trial that is fair and efficient, even where the indictment covers wide-ranging crimes.' ... The prosecution's biggest challenge has not been to provide the court with evidence of the horrors of the civil war in Sierra Leone. No one doubts that the 1990s uprising by the 'Revolutionary United Front' (RUF), under its bloodthirsty leader Foday Sankoh, claimed far more than 100,000 lives. The death squads that mowed down entire villages for the RUF referred to their operation as 'No Living Thing.' The gruesome details are collected in 42,000 pages of evidentiary material. They include accounts of children butchering their own parents on Sankoh's orders, mass rapes and ritual bloodbaths. ... Charles Taylor, who has been held at the tribunal's prison in The Hague's Scheveningen district for the last four years, was allegedly the mastermind of the carnage in neighboring Sierra Leone. After seizing power in Liberia with no less brutal means in 1996 and having himself elected president, he allegedly fueled the civil war in Sierra Leone with arms shipments. For years, politicians and legal experts alike were convinced all of this was done out of pure greed. Taylor, whose reputation as a swindler had already preceded him as a young man, was allegedly trying to gain control over the hugely productive diamond mines in Sierra Leone. Taylor's lust for diamonds is the link prosecutors have tried to establish. So far, however, they have not managed to offer convincing proof of this crime story in public court hearings. The most important witness, former RUF commandant Foday Sankoh, one of Taylor's comrades from the wild days, died of a stroke years ago. [...]"

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