In an exclusive interview with Awoko yesterday, the Prosecutor of the Special Court Stephen Rapp countered the accusations made by the defence counsel for Charles Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths who claimed that the trial of Taylor was about politics not about law.
Mr Rapp said “he is wrong. His trial is about law; it is about the indictment, confirmed by judges and now supported by 91 witnesses almost all of them from Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is about facts and law. Its alleged to be the responsibility of Charles Taylor for the murder of tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans, the amputation, rape and abduction of hundreds of thousands.”
Prosecutor Rapp stated Griffiths is trying to divide attention from the suffering victims by claiming that Taylor is the victim and that he is not the individual accused of having been responsible for those crimes. He maintained that Griffiths “can’t evade that responsibility by saying that somehow he is being unfairly charged. The judges are giving him his day in court he has been able to cross examine each of these witnesses. He has an able well compensated defence team. He now has time and facilities to present his defence to testify on his behalf and to present witnesses from any region of the world if that is what he wants to testify, at the end of the day the judges will decide his case based upon the facts and the law.”
During the prosecution case 91 witnesses were presented, half of which were linkage witness and the rest were crime based witnesses.
According to the Rules of the Special Court written testimony of certain witnesses who have testified in a particular case, will be tendered in court which does not allow the people to physically be present in court, in order to save time and money.
Speaking about these witnesses the Prosecutor said “Mr Griffiths insisted on them coming to The Hague and this is the most bizarre argument I have had on his part. When he said he never asked for these witnesses to be present in court.”
Rapp noted “We had offered to present the testimony of almost 50 witnesses in writing and statements which did not directly implicate Charles Taylor. But Mr Griffiths and his client did not want that evidence and they say that they will have to come to The Hague in any case, he insisted that the witness come physically to testify and to subject them to cross examination.”
He recalled that Taylor’s defence counsel (Griffiths) subjected these witnesses to cross examination, among which were a double amputee and he was questioned by Mr Griffiths whether he can read or write and the man said “sorry I don’t have any hands now to write anymore.” Another, he went on was a rape victim whom Griffiths claimed her story was not true as there was a problem of interpretation. “He is the one who insisted on these people” Rapp disclosed, adding “so it is nonsense to suggest that we were the ones that required their presence in court. It was his demand that he be able to cross examine the witnesses.”
Mr Griffiths also alleged during his press conference that the international community influenced the decision of the court, to this Prosecutor Rapp again disagreed saying “We as prosecutors have sworn to exercise independent judgment and expressly prosecutors are not supposed to take instructions from any government and we have not.”
Citing the case of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) he maintained “this case is an interesting one but we should not forget that former British High Commissioner appeared as a witness for the defence in favour of Chief Norman, it was a courageous decision by my predecessors certainly something which was not approved of by the former Ambassador of the United Kingdom to indict the leaders of the CDF not for rightly upholding democracy but for intentionally killing civilians during the course of that combat and carnage and the use of child soldiers. Those were allegations made based upon the law” he said “and if the prosecution had been following the direction of the government of the United Kingdom that prosecution would never have been brought.”
Most people including the Taylor Counsel believed that Former President Kabbah should have been indicted rather than Chief Norman as he [Kabbah] is believed to bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed by the CDF.
Prosecutor Rapp however argued that “the Special Court is not prosecuting people because they are arming rebels or CDF or engaged in civil war or combat. The Special Court is involved in prosecuting people who engage in attacks on civilians and atrocities against civilians. Our jurisdictions are war crimes and crimes against humanity and other violations of humanitarian law and there is no question that former President Kabbah was responsible for the establishment of the CDF and for assisting in the arming of the CDF for the purpose of (driving out) the AFRC/RUF junta that was in control of Sierra Leone from May 1997 to February 1998.” He stressed “what was wrong was for instance the evidence which was presented in the CDF case which Chief Norman accompanied by Kondewa and Fofanah gave a speech to CDF troops saying go into Koribondu and kill every single person every man woman and child leaving no building standing that was the crime it was not the CDF fighting the war.”
Warming up to his clarification Prosecutor Rapp went on “Now if Kabbah had been responsible for giving that order, if he had known about that order and had approved of it by continuing to aid and assist the CDF in carrying out those crimes and outrages then he would have been responsible under our law but we did not have (the evidence) to prove that he was responsible.”
In contrast with Taylor, Mr Rapp explained “he was holding power in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, for his allies in the RUF (have) been waging a campaign of terror against the civilian population and invariably it was a campaign to scare, frighten and terrorize the civilians into submission. That is what we are alleging him (being) responsible for.
“Here he assisted the RUF from the beginning right to the end and was encouraging them to fight a campaign of terror against the civilians. In 1998 after the junta was overthrown he provided key assistance, key arms in training when he knew they were conducting operations with names. Like spare no soul.
That is why his case is prosecutable and the case against Kabbah is not prosecutable.”
Stephen Rapp disclosed that “this case is all about the victims in Sierra Leone, it’s about those thousands of people who were killed, the hundreds of women who were raped and sexually enslaved and the millions of people displaced in this conflict.
What we are doing is trying to prevent that from happening again here and also prevent that from happening elsewhere by sending a clear message that those who are responsible no matter how big they are will be held to account and obviously people who are being held to account don’t want that to happen they want to divert the attention to others and say that they have been victimized.”