From the Editor’s Keyboard

The Taylor Trial and Confidence Level of Sierra Leoneans

5 July 2007 at 19:57 | 451 views

"These comments and many others point to the fact that besides Charles Taylor (the most notorious indictee of the SCSL to date), most key players have eluded indictment. In fact some will never appear before the SCSL due to the fact that they have either died or are fugitives, whose whereabouts are unknown."

By Teddy Foday-Musa,Vanguard Netherlands Correspondent and Political Analyst.

Will the Taylor trial in The Hague restore the lost confidence in the Special Court for Sierra Leone? That’s the question I am going to try to answer in this piece.

The death of late Chief Sam Hinga Norman brought not only shock to Sierra Leoneans, but also a feeling of lost confidence in the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL). The Special Court of Sierra Leone was established by an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone as an independent criminal tribunal. It is mandated to bring to justice those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the 10-year civil war.

Late Chief Hinga Norman, the former SLPP deputy Minister of Defence and Co-ordinator of the Civil Defence Forces, which included the “Kamajors”, was indicted and arrested by the SCSL. Norman, while standing trial, died in Senegal before the final verdict of his trial. His death came with a wave of shock and discontent among Sierra Leoneans both at home and abroad. Their comments and views divided them into various schools of thought, but all geared towards addressing the relationship between the indictment of Norman, and the expected role of the SCSL.

There were those who expressed their support and loyalty to Norman as a National Hero. According to them, the SCSL has not done its assignment very well by indicting a hero in the person of Norman. They belong to the school of thought with the view that citizens, who dedicate themselves to the general protection and welfare of their country, should be honoured as heroes and not treated as criminals. To them, Late Chief Hinga Norman is no exception. He was and is still their hero regardless his indictment by the SCSL.

Another school of thought has expressed their disappointment with the selective indictment and arrest that has been carried out so far by the SCSL. The corner stone of their argument is that, the SCSL has failed in its responsibility to indict and arrest the principal players in the war. Some believe that the indictment and arrest procedures of the SCSL are based on a foundation of “International Hypocrisy”. Below I present the following comments made by two prominent Sierra Leoneans on Leonenet, a Sierra Leonean e-mail discussion forum.

“Charles Taylor’s arrest for the war in Sierra Leone is a travesty of justice and the worst bullying by the International Community. Do you know whom they should have arrested if they aren’t hypocrites? Muamarr Qadaffi of Libya who bankrolled these guys. He even gave Sankoh $800,000 in March 1996. Is that why he supplied us a ferry and a few buses etc? To buy our silence? How cheap Qadaffi takes Sierra Leoneans” (1).....(Leonenet-June 2007)

Another commentator on Leonenet maintains that:

“If Charles Taylor can be held accounted for what Foday Sankoh and Misqita(sic) did in Salone, why should the defence Minister (Tejan Kabba) not be held accountable for what his deputy minister (Hinga Norman) did? I presume that his day in special court as an ordinary citizen would come beyond the arrogance and defiance attitude he put up in his last invitation. They may probably be buying time to ensure peaceful democratic transition (in light of the Concluded civil war) before Kabbah learn his fate” (2).....(Leonenet-June 2007).

These comments and many others point to the fact that besides Charles Taylor (the most notorious indictee of the SCSL to date), most key players have eluded indictment. In fact some will never appear before the SCSL due to the fact that they have either died or are fugitives, whose whereabouts are unknown. A Sierra Leonean lady, who called me for an update on the first Taylor trial in The Hague, had this to say:

“The Special Court has lost it essence. What more will they tell me as a Sierra Leonean, when Johnny Paul Koroma is on the run, while Foday Sankoh and Maskita are dead? Taylor is also not taking them seriously. This, I am sure could be the reason for his not showing up at his first trial hearing in The Hague (3)...(Tel. Conversation.-June 5th 2007)

Recently, the United Nations launched an appeal through its Deputy Secretary-General: Asha-Rose Migiro for $60 million in order to enable the SCSL to complete its work by the end of 2009. This is another contentious issue that Sierra Leoneans are struggling with. Migiro who was speaking at the Security Council at a session on the Special Court activities said:

“It is imperative that the international community continues to generously support the Special Court, ensuring that it has both the human and financial resources to conclude its mandate.” (4)...(Migiro-June-2007)

Sierra Leoneans who think a $60 million should be directed to the welfare of the victims of the war, and the reconstruction of their country, reacted with dismay at Migiro’s financial appeal. This is what another Netter (participant) on Leonenet discussion forum said:

“I am sure that if you ask the man in the street, they will say to these folks, close down the court and give us the money. Why spend all that money on the useless court when the whole nation is without electricity and water?...(5).......(Leonenet-June 2007)

However, the Taylor trial in the Hague has rekindled once again the spirit of Sierra Leoneans in the SCSL.There are all indications that the Taylor trial in the Hague, would restore the battered image of the SCSL to most Sierra Leoneans.

“On 29 March 2006, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was transferred into the custody of the SCSL. On 3 April 2006, Taylor made his initial appearance where he was formally arraigned on an 11-count indictment and pleaded “not guilty” to all counts. On 20 June 2006, Charles Taylor was transferred from Sierra Leone to The Netherlands, following the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1688 (2006), which noted “that at present the trial of former President Taylor cannot be conducted within the sub-region due to the security implications if he is held in Freetown at the Special Court”.

The trial of Charles Taylor will be held at the premises of the International Criminal Court but remains under the exclusive jurisdiction of the SCSL. All operations in The Hague are supported from Freetown and all costs associated with the Taylor trial will be borne exclusively by the SCSL. The start date of the trial is 4 June 2007. The trial is expected to last until December 2008, with a judgement by mid 2009 and an appeal judgement by the end of 2009.” (6).....(SCSL-Fact sheet-April 2007)

The Taylor trial in The Hague has given birth to another school of though. Subscribers to this school of thought have chosen to ignore all the odds of the SCSL, and hold on to the fact that “Justice is taking it toll on one of the biggest players: Charles Taylor. They are very pleased that Taylor is standing trial for crimes committed against their native country and fellow compatriots.

They have also registered their support for relocating the trial in The Hague. It is their belief that Taylor could still be very powerful even in captivity. Therefore, they count on his relocation to The Hague by the SCSL as a blessing in the name of peace not only for Sierra Leone, but also for the sub-region as a whole. However, most have expressed concern that Sierra Leoneans back home be given the opportunity to have a clear insight of this Taylor trial in The Hague.

Against this backdrop, they are very much impressed with the SCSL information officials. The Chief of Press and Public Affairs; Mr. Peter Andersen, together with the Press and Outreach Officer; Mr. Solomon Moriba, and the Outreach Co-ordinator; Mrs. Binta Mansaray are all on the complimentary list of Sierra Leoneans. They have created sub-regional outreach centres in the Mano-river union countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. These centres are utilised for the purpose of updating the public in all three countries about the Taylor trial in The Hague. They also distribute audio and visual materials about the Taylor trial to various television and radio stations in these countries.

The SCSL currently employs over 300 staff, of which over 50% are Sierra Leonean nationals. The Press and Outreach Officer; Mr Solomon Moriba, a Sierra Leonean himself, recently led a team of over 30 SCSL employees including, Translators and Court Management Officers- all Sierra Leoneans to The Hague in respect of the Taylor trial.

In 2006, an independent survey group in Sierra Leone conducted a nation wide survey on public perception about the SCSL. Below I bring you the results of the survey:

· 91% of Sierra Leoneans were in favour of the SCSL. They see the court as a contributing factor to peace building.

· 88% of Sierra Leoneans regarded the SCSL as relevant to Sierra Leone.

· 68% indicated that the verdict would not raise tension in Sierra Leone.

· 85% of Sierra Leoneans supported the fact that perpetuator of war crimes should be punished.

· 99% indicated that Sierra Leoneans were aware of the SCSL.

· 40% of Sierra Leoneans were in favour of the death penalty as an instrument of addressing impunity.

To crown it all, it is my humble submission that majority of Sierra Leoneans are in favour and support of the SCSL. However, they are asking that the activities of the court be well connected to their expectations in line with the official mandate of the court.

Photo: Stephen Rapp, the Special Court’s Chief Prosecutor.