Charles Taylor: Banal surroundings for an extraordinary trial
So here is the Charles Taylor verdict. He’s guilty of planning, aiding and abetting of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone: namely murder, rape, abduction, conscription of child soldiers, pillage, looting, sex slavery and other inhumane acts.
This was by virtue of his support for Liberian troops and their proxy the Revolutionary United Front, fighting in Sierra Leone from 1998 to 2000. What many human rights organisations wanted was a conviction for command and control of these events and joint criminal enterprise. I am advised that the difference between the two is essentially between a 20-30 year sentence to be served at Belmarsh Prison in the UK – and a life sentence.
As ever in The Hague, the sheer banality of the setting is in inverse proportion to the terrible events recounted. So it is that the location for a former African head if state receiving judgement for alleged war crimes is in the blandest possible outlying suburb of this quiet Dutch city.
Faceless blocks of flats, tramlines and another eminently missable concrete office block housing the court. Only the long line of TV satellite trucks and live positions with tripods give any hint that anything unusual unfolds here today.
Yet inside, on steady, lightly antipodean tones, judge Richard Lussick slowly unfolds the details of one of west Africs’s more appalling wars.
One of four red-robed judges, John Lennon-style specs well down on his nose, lavish comb-over hair and translation headphones, he reads on dispassionately. He details how, from distrct to district across Sierra Leone, from 1998 to 2000, Liberian forces and their local allies wrought havoc.
How, on one occasion, a man was killed in public, then disembowelled and his intestines stretched across the road to set up a military checkpoint and reduce the population to abject terror. How, across the country, these forces beheaded civilians and displayed their heads on military checkpoints again, to terrorise the population.
How these forces routinely used murder, rape, slavery, abduction and the conscription of child soldiers to further their war aims. And then Judge Lussick slowly relates how all the above, in the view of the court, materially connects to the man in the dock, former Liberian head of state Charles Ghankay Taylor.
Also wearing John Lennons – though on the bridge of his nose, Mr Taylor is impassive in dark suit, red tie and cufflinks. He makes the occasional note.
We are five years – yes – into this trail and Charles Taylor alone gave evidence for seven months.
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