DAKAR, (Reuters) – Former Liberian President Charles Taylor may walk free because the global financial crisis has cut donations to the court trying him for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, its chief prosecutor said.
The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is pursuing those held most responsible for atrocities during the country’s 1991-2002 civil war, faces a budget shortfall of more than $5 million from May, officials said.
“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. That’s our real anxiety,” Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp told Reuters in a phone interview late on Monday.
Taylor, a warlord in a civil war in Liberia and later president, is being tried in The Hague due to fears a local trial may threaten regional stability. He denies all 11 counts of crimes against humanity and other charges including rape, enslavement and conscripting child soldiers younger than 15.
The main section of the court sits in Sierra Leone’s seaside capital Freetown and, together with the proceedings regarding Taylor in The Hague, is funded centrally.
Taylor’s trial, which began in June 2007, involves the same Special Court judges and prosecutors and he would stay indicted even if freed for lack of funds for his detention. Rapp had said earlier this month a verdict could be expected early next year.
The Freetown session of the court is due to hand down its last verdict today, in the trial of the three most senior surviving members of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The defendants may become the first people in the world convicted for attacks against peacekeepers and forced marriage.
The Special Court has already scored several legal firsts, ensuring the recruitment of child soldiers is now recognised as a crime under international humanitarian law, alongside forced marriage and acts of terrorism against civilians, Rapp said.
“In terms of writing the law, this is one of the most active courts there’s ever been,” he said from Freetown.
Of nine surviving indictees, five have already been convicted of war crimes. Four of the most senior indictees bar Taylor died or disappeared before they could be tried or judged.
“The really big one, we allege, is there in The Hague — that’s Charles Taylor,” Rapp said.