Six weeks into the trial of former president of Liberia Charles Taylor, his defence team has commended the progress of the proceedings made so far.
As the prosecution calls its fourteenth witness, the defence will continue its cross-examination of witnesses, challenging them effectively on the basis of bias, relevance, credibility, and the receipt of benefits from the prosecution in exchange for information.
Mr Taylor is being currently facing trial in The Hague, The Netherlands, despite being charged for offenses that took place in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.
In a recent interview by Charles Taylor’s lead counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, QC to the United Nations’ radios in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he stressed that despite the fact that the trial was moved from West Africa, he considered the people of West Africa to be Mr Taylor’s “jury”.
“The public may have convicted Mr Taylor long ago, but the evidence currently being put forth in the courtroom is not sufficient to secure a conviction.”
Mr Griffiths further stated that, “we want the public in West Africa to follow this trial so that at the end of it, if he is convicted, and they have had the opportunity of following the evidence they can say hands up high that the former president received a fair trial. But equally, if the public in West Africa followed the proceedings and are in the position to follow these proceedings, they will say at the end of the day that there is no way that this man can be convicted with this kind of evidence”.
The defence is deeply concerned that key evidence in the case may be given in “closed session”, meaning Mr Taylor could be convicted on evidence which no one outside the courtroom has heard.
Closed sessions make the case difficult for the defence to investigate, and difficult for West Africans to evaluate.
Disclosed also by the defence team is that it is disturbed that a number of crime-based witnesses have been shipped half-way across the world to give traumatic testimony about events that the defence does not dispute; their evidence is not contested on cross-examination because it does not relate to the nature of the allegations against Mr Taylor.
Mr Griffiths believes that calling such individuals “demonstrates the paucity of the prosecution’s case – the fact that they have to appeal to emotion by parading limbless individuals and rape victims before a global audience”.
Keeping the people of West Africa involved in and informed about the facts and evidence that come to light during the trial is consequently an important issue for the defence – not only because the conflict itself impacted West Africans, but because West Africans are in the best position to evaluate what did and did not happen during the conflict. Thus, open, transparent, and accessible proceedings, with witnesses who can actually comment on any alleged link between Mr Taylor and atrocities in Sierra Leone, will ensure that Mr Taylor’s statutory rights to a “fair and public” hearing are protected.