Judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague have rejected a request by former Liberian President Charles Taylor to reopen his defense case.
On February 9, the judges unanimously ruled that the Taylor defense “has failed to establish any justification for the re-opening of its case.”
Taylor’s defense team filed a motion on January 31, 2012 to reopen its case in order to seek the admission of a December 2011 report of a UN Panel of Experts on Liberia. The UN Experts report discusses the participation of Liberian mercenaries in the conflict in neighboring Ivory Coast and this, defense lawyers say, does not lay blame on the current Liberian government as being involved or complicit in the movement of fighters from its country to a neighboring country.
Defense lawyers argue this report supports their argument that during the Sierra Leonean conflict, it was possible for fighters to cross from Liberia into Sierra Leone “without being under the direction and control of Mr. Taylor and without the implicit approval of the Government of Liberia.” Defense lawyers further stated in their motion that one person named in the UN report as a Liberian mercenary fighter in Ivory Coast is Joseph Zig Zag Marzah, a prosecution witness who testified that his movement into Sierra Leone to provide assistance to Sierra Leonean rebels was directed by Taylor. His movement into Ivory Coast in 2010 and 2011 shows that he easily could have moved into Sierra Leone as a mercenary solely for his own benefit and this discredits his evidence against Taylor.
On February 7, prosecution lawyers responded to the defense motion arguing, among other things, that “excerpts of the Report…have no probative value or relevance to support the defense arguments,” that “admission of the proposed evidence at this advanced stage prejudices the Prosecution which will have no opportunity to address the issues before the trial judgment is delivered,” and that “proceedings are at an advanced stage and admitting the proposed evidence could delay the completion of the judicial process.”
In its decision issued yesterday, the judges said they considered the effect that reopening of the case would have on this stage of the proceedings as well as the fact that the crime base and time frame, which are subjects of the charges against Taylor, do not bear correlation to the subject of the Expert Panel Report that talks about the flow of Liberian fighters into Ivory Coast.
“The Trial Chamber considers that at this advanced stage of the proceedings, re-opening the trial would result in undue delay,” the judges noted in their decision.
Referencing the correlation between the events in Sierra Leone and those in Ivory Coast, the judges noted that “no parallels can validly be drawn between events that took place in Cote d’Ivoire during the period 2010/2011 and events that took place in Sierra Leone during the indictment period.”
“The Trial Chamber therefore finds that the Report is not relevant to the issues to be decided in this case and has no probative value,” the judges concluded.
The evidence phase of the proceedings against the former Liberian president was concluded in early 2011 when both prosecution and defense lawyers made their closing submissions. The judges then commenced deliberations on the evidence in order to deliver their trial judgment which would determine the guilt or innocence of Mr. Taylor.
Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone from November 1996 to January 2002. Taylor has denied the charges against him and has called his trial a conspiracy of Western countries, mainly the United States and the United Kingdom to get him out of Liberia. He says that his involvement in Sierra Leone was to help bring peace to the war-torn West African nation.
It is anticipated that the trial judgment in this case will be delivered in the early part of this year. Depending on the outcome of the judgment, both prosecution and defense will have the opportunity to file appeals.