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Drama at the Hague: Khan Versus Sebutinde

5 June 2007 at 17:06 | 313 views

By Teddy Foday-Musa, at the Hague.

The Charles Taylor trial at the Hague started in a dramatic fashion yesterday with Taylor himself refusing to make an appearance but sending his lawyer to say he has lost confidence in the court in a way reminiscent of the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic who also raved and ranted in similar circumstances.

But the disappointment of the media over the Taylor no-show was partly relieved by the sparring match between Mr.Karim Ahmad Asad Kahn, Taylor’s lawyer, and Special Court judge Julia Sebutinde. Here is a blow by blow account of what transpired at the Hague yesterday:

1.The trial started at 10:30 (European Paris time). However, the trial itself was initially scheduled for 9:30, but later shifted to 10:30. An opportunity for locally based Sierra Leonean journalists to be able to catch up with the trial, since the Netherlands is two hours ahead of Sierra Leone.

2. The Accused: Mr. Charles McArthur Dahkpanna Gankay Taylor was not present at the trial. He remained sulking in his cell but sent in his lawyer.

Presiding Judge: Justice Julia Sebutinde.

Prosecution team:
∑ Mr. Stephen Rapp (Lead)

∑ Mr. Mohamed Bangura.

Counsel for Charles Taylor:
∑ Mr. Karim AA Khan (Lead)

∑ Mr. Jalloh.

Mr. Karim AA Khan the lead defence for Taylor walked away from the trial at 11:20 after a heated argument with the Judge. However, his co-defender Mr. Jalloh was directed by the judge to take control of the proceedings in the absence of Mr. Khan.

Acting Court Registrar:
Mr. Herman von Hebel.

2. Arrival of Journalists:

The official arrival time for journalists was 8:00 a.m. However, the entrance gate on the side of the Dutch national telecommunication company-KPN, was already full of journalists even before 7:30 am. Journalists from prominent international broadcasting stations, including their television crews were all represented. Josephine Hazeley of the BBC was also in attendance.

Security was at its highest peak. Journalists were screened through the security check point before being admitted into the building. This was the case for all those who attended. After the screening, journalists were supposed to report at the reception desk in order to exchange their press cards for a special entrance permission card that was prepared for them.

Unfortunately, those cards were not available. Peter Andersen told the journalists that the ICJ (International Court of Justice) men did promise leaving at the reception all the cards, which they had not done. The situation at that point in time became almost unmanageable and embarrassing for Peter Andersen and Solomon Moriba the information men. They worked overtime to settle this thorny issue.

At the end of the day, it was agreed that journalists should enter with their own press cards. They did and later the other cards were distributed to them.

3. The Trial:

∑ The trial started at 10:30 am.

∑ This particular opening trial session was dedicated to the prosecutor in order for him to make his opening position statement.

∑ But before this time, Mr. Karim Khan, the lead counsel for Taylor was called upon by the judge to tell the court why Taylor was not present. This requested became quickly became a dramatic event.

∑ Khan stood up and spoke about Taylor’s loss of confidence and fears that the trial will not be fair.

∑ However, the judge urged him to come to the point and not waste time.

∑ Mr Khan accepted but continued on the same theme. He brought up points that were not connected to the question of why Taylor was not in attendance.

∑ This angered the judge and she gave Mr Khan two minutes to summarise.

∑ Then Mr. Khan mentioned a letter which he claimed was written by Taylor.

∑ He read the letter but could not link it again to the question.

∑ It was at this point that the judge informed Mr Khan that he was “verging on contempt of court” as he was not acting on the directives of the court.

∑ Then Mr. Khan finally came to the point that he no longer has the mandate to represent Taylor as this has been clearly stated in the letter by Taylor himself.

This was the beginning of the confrontation between the judge and Mr. Khan. The judge requested the following:

∑ That it was now a directive coming from the court that Mr. Khan should represent Mr Taylor at least for that session (4th June).

But Mr. Khan refused and stressed the following points:

∑ That Mr. Taylor has officially sacked him. That Mr. Taylor will be representing himself.

∑ That Mr. Taylor is not convinced that he will be given a fair trial, noting the composition of the 9-man team of prosecution against a 2-man defence team.

∑ That Taylor has not been given adequate time and resources to prepare for his trial.

∑ Paramount was that Taylor has been refused to meet with his principal defender.

Upon completion, Mr Khan walked out of court at 11:20.

However, the judge gave another directive to Mr Jalloh the second counsel for Taylor to step into the shoes of Mr. Khan.

At this time, the prosecutor Mr Rapp came in. He said the following:

∑ That Mr Taylor had long since given a plea of not guilty to this court.

∑ Therefore, as protocol demands, whether Taylor is present or not, the proceedings should continue.

Rapp’s submission was granted by the Judge and he was asked to present his case.

4. The presentation of the Prosecutors: Mr Stephen Rapp and Mr Mohamed Bangura.

The presentation was done in two phases with Mr Rapp presenting the case, and Mr Bangura presenting the specifics of the atrocities committed against the people of Sierra Leone.

Stephen Rapp:

∑ Started by thanking the Dutch government for hosting the court.

∑ Also thanked the two former prosecutors.

∑ He also registered his condolences to the 21 victims of the helicopter crash in Sierra Leone.

∑ He stated that his prosecution mandate and focus will be from the period: 30th November 1996 to 18th January 2002.

∑ He went on to give a brief historical background of Sierra Leone. He stressed the fact that it was a peaceful country until Taylor and his men came.

∑ He spoke about the witnesses and their readiness to prove what they have in store for Taylor.

∑ He called the names of people with who Taylor had worked both in Liberia and in Sierra Leone, in order to execute his “Common plan”.

Mohamed Bangura:

He came in after a break which lasted for one hour. He started at 2:00pm.

He categorised the atrocities in to the following:

∑ Amputation

∑ Sexual crimes

∑ Forced labour

∑ Conscription

∑ Child soldiers (SUB-Small Boys Unit) / (SGU-Small Girls Unit)

He also laid emphasis on the specific districts were these crimes took place: Kono, Kailahun, Kenema, Makeni were mentioned.

He also mentioned about the “FITI-FATA” operational code name adopted by the rebels. He explained that it means you can kill at random and at will.

Mr Bangura rounded up with a wise saying in Krio: “Net kam Tay-tay,doe go clean”......that is, no matter how long the night is, there will be daybreak.
He attributed that to what Sierra Leoneans were expecting.
Bangura, as a Sierra Leonean himself, was very passionate in his presentation.One can see the emotions on his face as he described the atrocities committed by RUF and Liberian rebels in Sierra Leone. The audience listened with rapt attention.

Second appearance of Stephen Rapp after the break:

Mr. Rapp came in again at 2:35

∑ He thanked Mr. Bangura for his eloquent presentation.

∑ This time he spoke about the evidences that they will be using against Taylor.

∑ He stressed on: Aiding and Abetting.

∑ He said they will be presenting a host of evidences against the accused, but prominent among them will be two written documents:

The written documents are:

∑ A report prepared by one of the RUF officials in the form of a diary. This he said, was supposed to inform Sankoh when he was back after he escaped from his house at Spur road. There were references in it linking Taylor.

∑ An RUF meeting report from 1996-99 about RUF diamond transactions. In this document, Taylor was repeatedly referred to as “Big Brother”.

The prosecutor also made the point that Taylor did receive a host of signals, which would have been enough to let him know that he was doing something wrong to a certain set of people (Sierra Leoneans). He made reference to the following:

∑ Published reports about the suffering of Sierra Leoneans.
∑ Liberian newspapers also reported about the horrible plight of Sierra Leoneans.
.The apology of the RUF to Sierra Leoneans.

According to him, Taylor was very much aware of what he was doing, and that he was calculative in doing what he did with intent and purpose.

He also rounded up with a Krio parable: “Hundred days for tiff man, wan day for master Ose”...”
He rounded up at 3:15 pm.

5. Judge Sebutinde:

∑ She thanked Mr Rapp.

∑ She registered her disappointment over Mr Khan walking away from the opening trial in the Hague.

∑ She made it clear that there are visible problems which have been left unsolved by the registrar

∑ Against this backdrop, she called on the Court Registrar to tell the court as to whether the principal defender of Mr Charles Taylor has been refused travelling documents to the Hague in order to have an audience with Mr Taylor.

Response by Acting Court Registrar: Mr Herman von Hebel:

He said that it was not necessary for the principal Defender to come to the Hague, since Mr Charles Taylor was already in touch with his defence counsel.

Final response from the Judge:

The Judge concluded that it was the right of Mr Taylor to speak to his principal defender. Therefore, Taylor should not be denied that right. Then she said. “I will call on Mr Jalloh from the Defence team to say something; after that, I am going to give directives to the registrar that should be carried out in the interest of this trial.” Mr Jalloh was then called in.

Mr. Jalloh made the following points:

∑ That time and again, Mr Taylor had expressed wanting to have an audience with his Principal defender, but it is yet to happen.

∑ That a good legal team has not been assembled for him by the registrar. It is a team of 9 prosecutors against a team of two defence counsels.

∑ That all the 12 lawyers they have approached declined due to inadequate financial resources.

∑ That there is no office space for the operational activities of the defence team.

∑ That the defence team is operating from a cafeteria.

Then the judge gave her directives to the registrar.

The directives:

∑ To immediately facilitate the travel of the principal defender to the Hague, in order to have an audience with Mr. Charles Taylor.

∑ To provide Charles Taylor with adequate time and logistics for his trial.

She concluded that these are Taylor’s rights, and that they should be given to him.

5. Adjournment:

Court was adjourned to the 25th June 2007
Time: 9: am.

Photos: Justice Julia Sebutinde, left, and Kahn in Freetown on Taylor’s first appearance.

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