Sierra Leoneans unaware of Charles Taylor trial

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor began testifying at his trial on Tuesday before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.

Despite the importance of this trial for the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, Amnesty International said it is concerned that many Sierra Leoneans are unaware about it and are not following the court proceedings.

“Today the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown, where the proceedings from The Hague are being shown by video link, was mostly empty. People seem unaware of what is happening,” said Tania Bernath of Amnesty International, currently in Sierra Leone.

Amnesty International said it believes that current efforts to inform Sierra Leoneans about the trial are insufficient. The organization said that more needs to be done to ensure that the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone receive information that is both easily accessible, including to those living in rural areas, and relevant to them.

Mr Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity that he is alleged to have committed in Sierra Leone.

His trial moved to The Hague in January 2008 due to fears that it would create instability in Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia.

His trial resumed on Monday, following the completion of the prosecution case in February 2009.

The defence for Mr Taylor began on Monday and is expected to last several months. It is the first time an African head of state has been prosecuted before an international criminal court for crimes committed against Africans.

The lead defence council, Courtney Griffith opened the day by providing an overview of the defence strategy denying Charles Taylor’s involvement in the crimes alleged, including killings, mutilations, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. His defence follows evidence given from 91 prosecution witnesses that ended in February 2009.