'It is a political trial,' says Taylor's lawyer.
"There is a much wider dimension to the trial of Charles Taylor. This trial is not about the law as such, it is about politics. There are important political considerations at stake", says Courtenay Griffiths, the lead counsel for Charles Taylor. According to him, "Western influence has much to do with Taylor being charged in the first place."
AFTER GOING THROUGH 91 PROSECUTION WITNESSES over a period of 13 months, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in the The Hague in the Netherlands, was told on 6 April 2009 by former President Charles Taylor's lawyers to acquit their client even before he opened his defence (likely to be in July), because the evidence adduced so far by the prosecution could not lead to a conviction, now or later. "May it please the court," said Taylor's co-counsel, Morris Anyah who submitted the oral motion, "we are here pursuant to Rule 98 of the Special Court Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and we are here to move the court ... to dismiss each and every count of the second amended indictment against the accused, Charles Ghankay Taylor.
"In sum and substance," Anyah continued, "our position is that the evidence presented to date, viewed by a reasonable trier of fact, viewed in an objective manner, does not support or is not sufficient or capable of supporting a conviction. Your Honours are well familiar with the standard of Rule 98, namely, is the evidence capable of supporting a conviction? Indeed, the rule states it in the form that there is no evidence capable of supporting a conviction."
For three-and-a-half hours, Anyah went through all the legal basis for conviction on the 11 counts that Taylor faces, and, in conclusion, told the Court: "We have gone through the different modes of liability, and I again stress that this is a case about the degree of Charles Taylor's responsibility, his participation. It is not a case about what crimes occurred in Sierra Leone. It is not a case about the gravity of those crimes. It is a case of methodically and meticulously going crime by crime, element by element vis-a-vis each of the seven modes of liability: planning; instigating; ordering; committing; aiding and abetting in the planning, preparation and execution; joint criminal enterprise, [and] Article 6.3 superior responsibility. When you consider those modes of liability, each and every one of the counts in this indictment fails. It fails at this juncture of the case midway through, and assuming for the sake of argument the case proceeds beyond this point, it will fail."
Of course, the prosecution did not agree. In its counter submission on 9 April, the prosecution insisted that it had made a convincing case for conviction and that the court should proceed and allow Taylor to open his defence. The Court was due to rule on the motion on 9 May.
Meanwhile, on 8 April, the Court's Trial Chamber I sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone, sentenced three former rebel leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to a total of 117 years for various war crimes and crimes against humanity. Issa Hassan Sesay was sentenced to 52 years, Morris Kalllon to 40 years, and Augustine Gbao to 25 years. The Court "concluded that the inherent gravity of the criminal acts for which Sesay, Kallon and Gbao have been convicted is exceptionally high".
On 29 March, Charles Taylor's lead lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, called a press conference in Accra, Ghana, to sensitise the people of West Africa, and indeed the world, to the proceedings going on in The Hague. He later appeared on Ghana's Metro TV to amplify his message that "there is a much wider dimension to the trial of Charles Taylor" than the public had cared to notice. "This trial is not about the law as such, it is about politics. There are important political considerations at stake," he said, adding that "Western influence has much to do with Taylor being charged in the first place". He pointed accusing fingers at the Americans and the British who, according to him, had spent "a lot of money and time" on ensuring that Taylor was convicted. He hoped that the Special Court judges would refuse to bow to external pressure, "and if they do maintain their independence and are willing to return a just verdict, it will be an acquittal for Mr Taylor".
Earlier, at the press conference, Griffiths had said he had "come to the birthplace of Pan-Africanism, Ghana, in the hope that we can together rekindle that non-negotiable demand that Africans be treated equally on the global stage. Sadly, if the experiences of Charles Taylor and more recently President al-Bashir of Sudan provide a guide, then we must be prepared to re-engage with renewed vigour in that struggle. In both instances, the 'international community' - the code for Western interests - is promoting the idea that there can be no impunity for those who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is somewhat curious then that no one is calling with equal ferocity for either former President George W. Bush or former Prime Minister Tony Blair to stand trial for the atrocities instigated by them in Iraq".
Likewise, Griffiths said, "there is studied silence from that same international community when it comes to the crimes committed so recently by the state of Israel in Gaza. The cruel reality is that impunity only becomes an issue if the perpetrator is a black African who does not enjoy the backing of the West, hence a Jonas Savimbi is safe. This is an opportune moment to consider that debate. When Charles Taylor was arrested and dragged in chains to The Hague to stand trial, he warned, to borrow a phrase, that if they came for him in the morning, they would come for others that night. That vision has now come true as the president of Sudan can now testify, and watch out Robert Mugabe!"
Griffiths, a Queen's Counsel (QC) in England, said it was time for Africans to take charge of their own destinies. "Taylor's trial has received very little publicity here in Africa, yet it is the continent most affected by the outcome of those proceedings," he pointed out. "Why did his trial not take place in Africa? Why has the African Union not established its own court to deal with issues that affect Africans in Africa? If a corporal in the American Army cannot be tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, how come an African president can?"
According to Griffiths, one reason that Taylor's trial and the trials of other Africans were taken to The Hague was because it was easier to destroy the rights of a people when they were kept in the dark. "The majority of Africans have not got a clue about what is going on in The Hague," he said. "It is time for us to shed some light on this misuse of international criminal law. That can only be done if we organise to ensure the rights of our African sons and daughters are given proper regard, and that international criminal law does not become a 21st century form of neo-colonialism. This is not just about Charles Taylor, but it is a useful place to start. We who defend him need your support."