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THE TRIAL OF 'BROTHER' CHARLES

FORMER PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA, MR. CHARLES TAYLOR
FORMER PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA, MR. CHARLES TAYLOR

In the first week of March 2012, something of global significance happened and that was the announcement from the International Crimes Court in the Hague, Netherlands, that come April 26th 2012, the prolonged trial for alleged war crimes of the former strong man of Liberia, Mr. Charles Taylor will come to an end with a landmark judgment that will enter the Guinness book of World record as the first time that a former President of a sovereign nation would be brought before the International Crimes Court and prosecuted successfully for alleged heinous crimes against humanity.

The trial of erstwhile President Taylor has elicited varied global reactions and the matter had brought with it several implications one of which is the fact that henceforth, any Head of a sovereign nation that hid under the guise of diplomatic immunity from prosecution by unleashing a regime of human rights violations and other atrocious crimes against humanity, must be prepared to face the full weight of international law because in these days and times, there is no hiding place for mass murderers or those who use their political offices to commit heinous crimes either against their people or citizens of neighboring country or countries.

The irony of the rise and fall of Charles Taylor whom this writer met and interviewed in Abuja, Nigeria, during his [Charles Taylor's] reign as Liberian President, is that here is a man with some of the finest western education and exposure that money and privileges can bring, but later turned out as one of the fiercest and brutal dictators of all times and indeed his style of leadership plunged his homeland to ceaseless civil war so much so that hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens of mainly old men, women and children were mercilessly massacred, maimed and destroyed. His alleged atrocities never ended with his local people but he apparently exported his brand of mass murders and maiming to his neighboring Sierra Leone whereby he allegedly supported the rise of different brutal warlords who aided his insatiable quest for blood diamonds.

Charles Mc Arthur Ghankay Taylor, was born on the 28 January 1948. After an illustrious educational career, he became the 22nd President of Liberia, serving from 2nd August 1997 until his forced resignation on 11th August 2003.

Charles Taylor was born in Arthington, Montsernado country, Liberia,and he earned a degree at Bentley college in the United States before turning after being removed for embezzlement, he eventually arrive in Libya, where he was trained as a guerrilla fighter.

Charles Taylor returned to Liberia in 1989 as the head of a Libyan-backed resistance group, the national patriotic front of Liberia, to over throw the Samuel Doe-led brutal dictatorship, and in the process, initiating the first Liberian civil war.

Following Samuel Doe’s shameful Execution by one of the many Liberian warlords, Charles Taylor-led rebel movement gained control of a large portion of the country and in the process became one of the most prominent warlords in Africa. Following a peace deal that ended the war, Taylor was alleged by political historians to have terrorized the population into electing him and indeed he manipulated the electoral process to emerge the President of the Republic in the 1997 general election. This electoral process that brought in Charles Taylor was adjudged as one of the worst in the political history of election observation because of the total absence of political freedom for political opposition.

As a rebel leader not used to the democratic tenets of respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizenry, Taylor was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result of his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war.

Intellectuals with strong knowledge of political history of Liberia recorded that because of Charles Taylor's muzzling of opposition and political liberalism/pluralism, a large segments of the civil society turned their backs on his regime leading to an unprecedented emergence of domestic opposition.

The growth of domestic opposition against Charles Taylor's style of government inevitably led opposition to the outbreak of the second Liberian civil war in 1999. By 2003, he had lost control of much of the countryside and formally indicted by the special court for Sierra Leone. That year, he resigned as a result of growing international pressure and went into exile in Nigeria.

Charles Taylor was subsequently arrested as he made to escape from Nigeria through one of the many porous borders and handed over to the International Crimes Court in the Hague, Netherlands where he is charged with eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to 18th Jan. 2002.

The prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor is responsible for crimes which including cutting off the limbs of innocent citizens of Sierra Leone; using women and girls as sex slaves; and abducting children, young adults and forcing them to perform forced labor or become fighters during the conflict in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Taylor is charged on the basis that he allegedly backed Revolutionary United front (RUF) rebels fighting in Sierra Leone; that he had with senior leaders in the RUF-such as today Sankoh, Sam bockarie (a.k.a mosquito), Issa Sessay, and others-in addition to a second warring faction, the Armed forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC): and that he was responsible for Liberia forces fighting in support of the Sierra Leone and rebels.

Specifically, Charles Taylor is facing five counts of war crimes such as terrorizing civilians, murder, outrages on personal dignity, cruel treatment, and looting. He also faced five counts of crimes against humanity comprising Murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilating and beating, and enslavement; and another related one count of serious violation of the International humanitarian law; recruiting and using child soldiers.

After many years of preliminary and substantial trials which saw the appearance of some high profile prosecution witnesses including the internationally renowned Model from the United Kingdom Miss. Naomi Campbell who allegedly received but returned a gift of 'blood' diamond from Charles Taylor at a social outing in South Africa, judgment in the trial of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor will take place on 26 April 2012, in accordance with a scheduling order issued early March 2012 by Trial Chamber II.

The judgment will be delivered at 11:00 am in a courtroom belonging to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, where the Taylor trial has been taking place.

The case at the International Criminal Court or what I have dramatically chosen to call the trial of 'brother' Charles commenced on 4th June 2007 in The Hague. It was adjourned immediately after the Prosecution’s opening statement when Mr. Taylor dismissed his Defence team and requested new representation. Witness testimony commenced on 7th January 2008, and ended on 12th November 2010. Closing arguments took place in February and March 2011.

Interestingly, the global crimes Court heard live testimonies from 94 prosecution witnesses, and received written statements from four additional witnesses. The Defence presented 21 witnesses, with Mr. Taylor testifying in his defence.

A local newspaper in Sierra Leone reported that at a meeting in early March 2012 with members of Sierra Leonean civil society, Special Court Registrar Binta Mansaray said that although delivery of the judgment had taken nearly a year, this was due largely to the complexity of the case. She noted that, amongst other matters, the Judges had to read through more than 50,000 pages of witness testimonies, and to examine the 1, 520 exhibits which had been tendered in evidence. She said the time-frame was consistent with similar high-profile cases at other international tribunals.

Ms. Mansaray told the local Sierra Leone media that with this judgment, the Special Court is set to reach another critical milestone, given that this is the last trial stemming from Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, and that it will be the last major trial to be held at the Court.

At the Special Court, as in other international tribunals, both the Prosecution and the Defence have the right to appeal. If Mr. Taylor is acquitted on all charges, the appeals process will begin immediately. If he is found guilty on any of the 11 counts, the Trial Chamber will schedule sentencing proceedings. As the World await the verdict of Charles Taylor with berthed breath, it is expected that the cause of justice would be served and that political leaders around the World would draw great lessons from the ordeals of Mr. Charles Taylor and rule their respective countries in accordance with local and international humanitarian laws.

Written By EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

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