Sierra Leone & Liberia: Charles Taylor May Get Verdict This Year

By Olusegun Ogundeji – In line with a leaked WikiLeaks cables which detailed senior US officials’ lack of confidence in the proceedings against former Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) sitting in The Hague citing deliberate slowing down of proceedings, reports say judges believe final judgment will be delivered this year.

According to sources, the expected judgment will determine who was responsible for the January 6, 1999 onslaught on Freetown in which several lives were lost and others maimed.

Taylor had been on trial for alleged crimes relating to the conflict in Sierra Leone and had since been in custody in The Hague where the trial continues in the premises of the International Criminal Court.

The trial of the former warlord has been considered a disappointment in several quarters with regards to the delay it experienced in the discharge of its judgment.

The Taylor trial has been dogged by controversy from the outset. It had originally been anticipated that proceedings at The Hague would have concluded by the end of 2010.

The Wikileaks cable alleges that Justice Julia Sebutinde, from Uganda, had slowed proceedings while she waited for her turn at the court’s rotating presidency, which finally came up in January. Experts say such moves are common in international criminal proceedings.

For more than five years, Mr. Taylor’s defence team has been fighting allegations of his involvement in the terrible crimes committed by rebels in January 1999 at the Un-backed court.

Several witnesses including British model, Naomi Campbell, the former RUF Signal Commander Mohamed B. Kabbah and former Interim leader of RUF, Issa Sesay have already testified in the ongoing trial.

Also, two set of judges in the previous AFRC and RUF trial in 2007 and 2008 ruled that the January 1999 attack on Freetown was done by the AFRC and that the RUF had nothing to do with that attack.

But if the verdict is not delivered this year, as mentioned by the cables, there are possibilities for eventually putting Taylor on trial in the US. “The best we can do for Liberia is to see Taylor is put away for a long time and we cannot delay for the results of the present trial to consider next steps,” a high-ranking US official was quoted to have stated in one of the cables.