May 31, 2007
The war crimes tribunal trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor for allegedly orchestrating atrocities in West Africa's upheavals needs more money to complete its cases, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, urging donor countries to volunteer more funding. The New York-based group made the appeal after Stephen Rapp, the chief prosecutor in the Taylor case, warned that the former African leader will go free if the Special Court for Sierra Leone exhausts its funding.
The tribunal has made clear "if they run out of resources and can't continue the trial, the judges will simply have to release the accused persons," Rapp told foreign correspondents in The Hague on Wednesday. No matter how good his case, he said, "if we run out of money, I lose."
Taylor, 59, is facing 11 charges of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilation and recruiting child soldiers. He has pleaded innocent to all counts. The trial starts Monday in The Hague, where it was moved for fear that trying the former president in Sierra Leone could re-ignite militia conflicts and lead to a possible attempt to break him out of prison. It is expected to last 18 months.
Human Rights Watch, which closely monitored the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone, said the Taylor trial sends "a strong signal that no one is above the law." He is the first former African head of state to stand before an international criminal court. "The trial of a former president associated with human rights abuses across West Africa represents a break from the past," said Elise Keppler, counsel with the independent group's International Justice Program. "Taylor's trial puts would-be perpetrators on notice."
The Special Court has the backing of the U.N. Security Council, but unlike the war crimes tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda it is not financed by the United Nations and must raise operating funds from U.N. member countries. The United States is the biggest donor, followed by the Netherlands, Britain and Canada, Rapp said.
He said the court needs US$36 million (â‚¬27 million) this year for the Taylor trial and for three other cases involving eight defendants being conducted in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Special Court, which is renting courtroom space and other facilities from the International Criminal Court, pays the ICC $750 (â‚¬559) a day for the two prison cells Taylor occupies in the ICC prison in a Hague suburb, Rapp said. Witnesses must be flown from Sierra Leone, and some former insiders testifying against Taylor will be put in a witness protection program and relocated.
"The Special Court has faced constant financial shortfalls and still needs funding to cover anticipated costs associated with Taylor's trial," Human Rights Watch said. Despite the cash crunch, independence from the U.N. gives the Sierra Leone court more flexibility in hiring staff and making decisions without going through the cumbersome U.N. bureaucracy, Rapp said. "We can do things much faster."
Taylor, a former warlord who became Liberia's president in 1997, was indicted in 2003, accused of sponsoring Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front in exchange for illegally mined diamonds. Taylor agreed to give up power and go into exile, but was arrested in Nigeria in March 2006 and moved to the Netherlands three months later to await trial.
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