Sunday, 29 July 2007

Like father, like son

A journalist has been in touch with me to ask advice about an article he is writing on Chuckie Taylor, a US national who is currently facing trial in Florida on torture charges committed while he was living in Liberia. Obviously he's concerned to travel to Liberia to make enquiries about someone who has such bad press. And that's the problem. How do you maintain some kind of objectivity when the first thing you hear about Chuckie is that he shot his driver for hitting a dog with his car? I mean, that's just the beginning... then there's the story of when Chuckie ran someone over on the pavement because the guy didn't stop as he drove past. In the eyes of most people, Taylor..both Taylors are already guilty...even though most people can't even point out where Liberia is on a map.


Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Assets ?

It seems the Liberian government is trying to push through an assets freeze bill. Although the Inquirer article (see link below) doesn't explicitly state it, the bill may have serious implications for the Taylor trial.

The UN Security Council has put an assets freeze on CT and other proscribed individuals as part of a sanctions regime on Liberia. So far Ellen's government has failed to implement this particular sanction. It's hard to say if they simply can't or won't implement it, seeing that there are some highly placed individuals in the Legislature (among them CT's ex-wife, Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor) listed. However, after nearly four years of sanctions, this bill is the Liberian government's sudden effort to comply with the UN Security Council resolution. If they can pass it, then perhaps they can finally look into the murky world of Liberian finance and see who is really behind the ownership of companies like Lonestar (ie., PLC Holdings), the mobile phone company set up during CT's reign.

Back in the Hague, CT is claiming to be indigent. He says that because he doesn't have enough money to mount a defence with his own funds, he has to rely on what the Special Court is providing. This, he claims, has been inadequate so far, and hence part of the reason for him not appearing in court. In essence, he's playing to the court of public opinion, suggesting that the Special Court has it in for him and won't ensure him a fair trial. He may have a point, but it doesn't help matters that no-one can accurately establish whether he has a hidden fortune or not.

So, uncovering whether CT actually has assets or not is a key point at this stage, and movement in Liberia on this issue is an important part of solving that mystery. Having said that, this is west Africa, so all roads inevitably lead to Nigeria.

Most countries have a UN bill as part of their legal framework. This allows for UN Security Council resolutions to be over-rule existing laws, should the need arise. Liberia hasn't passed such a bill, even though it has enjoyed the presence and funding of a UN peacekeeping force. Other countries like the USA, beloved by Liberians and home to a significant number (some say around 500,000), have enforced this UN resolution as part of their legal obligation to the UN.

At the end of the day, it's funny to see Dempster Brown, noted in the article as a 'human rights lawyer' getting all worked up. Surely passing this bill would see Liberia become a responsible functioning member of the UN, might help CT prove he doesn't have cash stashed away in Liberia companies, and ultimately help strengthen the chances of the justice moving forwards at the Hague.


Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Taylor 1 - SCSL 0

My friend Pieter van den Blink from the Dutch newspaper "Vrij Nederland" called me this morning and asked me if I was keeping a journal about the Charles Taylor trial. I wasn't, but he made me think it would be a good idea.

This blog is an attempt at that, and a way to keep together my thoughts and communications related to the trial as it unfurls. There are other places on the web where the trial is being followed, but many of these are very technical, as you'd expect. (re:, Please feel free to post comments and links.

I'm a photographer and film maker, and have spent the last eight years living and working in West Africa. Of that, I've spent the last four years working on a book project about Liberia. I never met Charles Taylor, but in a small way he has cast his shadow over me, as he has to a much larger degree over Liberia and other parts of West Africa.

I was present at the Hague on 4th June 2007. I went to witness the opening of the trial and to finally see Taylor. He never turned up, but instead I sat there watching a piece of court room theatre as his senior council, Karim Khan, baited the presiding judge Julia Sebutinde with the reasons for his absence. She was clearly not in command of the situation and Khan took full advantage, stating that Taylor was not receiving adequate support from the Special Court to mount a defence. The whole thing turned into a bit of a farce, and at one stage Khan dramatically turned round to leave the courtroom, only to find the door he'd gone for was locked. He came back as if this was all planned, made a few more statements, and then headed for the real exit.

What a palaver.

As Khan left the stage, half of the attendant journalists watching scrambled out to try and catch him. This meant that Stephen Rapp, the prosecutor, ended up giving his opening speech to a half-emptied galllery. It was no suprise that Taylor's 'no show' and accusations of being inadequately represented was the news headline. The 11 charges of war-crimes and crimes against humanity were relegated to third paragraphs.

Taylor 1, Special Court 0.

The poor registrar, Herman Von Hebel got a real kicking from the judge and was treated like a naughty school boy. Apparently it was all his fault that the taylor camp was not happy. It all seemed a bit unfair to lump him with the blame. It's a bit like saying Taylor was wholely responsible for what happened in Liberia.

The long and short of it, is that I never got to see Taylor. He made a quick appearance on the 3rd July to hear the court's reasons for postponing the proceedings and to address scheduling and procedural issues.
Next up is 20th August when the case is resceduled to start.