By Lansana Gberie
As Charles Taylor awaits the outcome of his appeal after being sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, Lansana Gberie responds to Taylor’s attempt to defend his actions in Sierra Leone.
On 16 May, convicted war criminal, Charles Taylor, delivered a 30-minute speech – part plea for clemency, part lubricious defence of his actions, and part grandstanding – before his trial judges at The Hague as he awaits sentencing on 30 May. Because the address has been seized upon by crypto pro-Revolutionary United Front’s (RUF) activists and supporters to discredit the carefully-deliberated ruling against Taylor, it is important to respond to the key claims made therein. I will be quoting in this article from the summary judgment: the final judgment will be far more detailed, and for that reason far more devastating.
So I’ll begin by reminding readers of the main legal finding against Taylor. The Trial Chamber in its judgment on 26 April found Taylor ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to be ‘criminally responsible’ for aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The judges wrote that they were satisfied that ‘as of August 1997′ Taylor ‘knew of the atrocities being committed against civilians in Sierra Leone by the RUF/AFRC forces and of their propensity to commit crimes’. Notwithstanding this knowledge, Taylor ‘continued to provide support to the RUF and RUF/AFRC forces during the period that crimes were being committed in Sierra Leone. The Trial Chamber therefore finds beyond reasonable doubt that [Taylor] knew that his support to the RUF/AFRC would provide practical assistance, encouragement or moral support to them in the commission of crimes during the course of their military operations in Sierra Leone’.
The judges found that ‘in addition to planning and advising’ the RUF and rogue soldiers of the so-called Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) ‘on the Kono-Freetown operation’ including with respect to the gruesome invasion of Freetown in January 1999, Taylor ‘provided military and other support’ to make the attacks and subsequent atrocities possible. Taylor ‘facilitated the purchase and transport of a large shipment of arms and ammunition from Burkina Faso in around November 1998 which was used in the attacks on Kono and Kenema in December 1998, where further arms and ammunition were captured. These arms and ammunition were in turn sent to the troops in Freetown in January 1999 and also used by the RUF and AFRC in joint attacks on the outskirts of Freetown’. In addition to this crucial support, Taylor ‘also sent personnel in the form of at least four former Sierra Leone Army (SLA) fighters who participated in the attack on Kono, as well as 20 former NPFL fighters who were part of the forces under the command of Gullit that entered Freetown, and a group of 150 fighters with Abu Keita (a former ULIMO member), known as the Scorpion Unit, who participated in the attack on Kenema’. During the mass atrocities in Freetown in January 1999, Taylor’s ‘subordinates in Liberia also transmitted ’448 messages’ to RUF forces to warn them of impending ECOMOG jet attacks. These messages originated in both Sierra Leone and Liberia’. Taylor, the judges wrote, ‘held a position of authority amongst the RUF and RUF/AFRC’.
There are other devastating findings by the judges, but these alone from any reasonable point justify the severest of punishments. Those who affect to contrive a hierarchy of guilt wherein ‘aiding and abetting’ is somewhat venial should note that the attacks on Freetown in January 1999 alone led to the murder of about 6,000 people, the crude amputation of hundreds of people (including babies), and the burning down of a large part of the city by the rebels. The verdict in this case concludes that Taylor made that attack happen.