Crimes tribunal under threat as donations dry up
The former Liberian president Charles Taylor could be set free because of the effect of the global economic crisis on funding for the court trying him for war crimes, according to its chief prosecutor.
Stephen Rapp said the special court for Sierra Leone, which is prosecuting those responsible for the worst atrocities during the country’s 1991 to 2002 civil war, faced a shortfall of more than $5-million from May due to cuts in donations from individual states. The UN-backed court is entirely reliant on voluntary contributions—the first international tribunal to be funded this way.
“With the economic crisis continuing, to get funds is not easy ...
If we run out, it is now possible the judges will have to release him [Taylor]. That’s our real anxiety,” Rapp told Reuters.
Taylor is accused of closely backing Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front rebels, arming and training them in return for diamonds. The rebels were notorious for hacking off the limbs of civilians and recruiting child soldiers.
Although the court is based in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, Taylor is being tried in The Hague due to fears that his trial could affect regional stability. He was arrested on the Nigeria-Cameroon border in 2006 after escaping from his seaside villa in Nigeria, where he had been living in exile for three years.
Charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Taylor went on trial in 2007. His links with the RUF rebels were alleged to be so close that prosecutors have charged him as a “co-perpetrator” of acts including murder and rape. A verdict is expected next year.
Rapp said that even if Taylor was released, the indictments against him would remain. While it seems unlikely that leading donor governments will allow this to happen, the dire financial situation of the court does indicate how the worldwide financial difficulties have spread to unlikely areas.
The court’s bill for 2008 to 2010 is $68,4-million and it has now turned to the US and countries in the Middle East for the $30-million not yet secured. “A few important donors have so far not been able to provide financial support to the court or have provided less than in previous years,” said Herman von Hebel, the court registrar.
“These countries include Ireland, France and Germany, as these have always been important donors to us, but there are other donors as well.”
The UK saw its annual £3-million contribution drop in value because of the pound’s slide against the US dollar. The Freetown session of the court is due to finish today with verdicts against three senior rebels, leaving Taylor as the only remaining defendant. The court has already convicted five people of war crimes.