Preparations are in high gear in Freetown ahead of the much anticipated Charles Taylor verdict on April 26.
Between 800 and 900 people are expected to watch live streaming of the final ruling on the trial of the former Liberian president under the auspices of the Freetown based UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, the court spokesman told the Africa Review on Tuesday.
That number will more than triple when account is taken of live radio broadcasts planned by major radio stations and the national television.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up to try those bearing the greatest responsibility for the country`s 11-year civil war which ended in 2002.
Charles Taylor, who first surfaced as a war-lord and then President of his country, has been on trial for the past six years facing 11 counts charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, among others, for his involvement in the Sierra Leone unrest.
A 1990 file photo of Taylor in the field. AFP
He is blamed for fuelling the war which spilled over from his side by supplying arms to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for diamonds.
But he denies all of the charges.
“…but Thursday`s ruling will reveal the truth,” said Mr Peter Anderson, spokesman for the court.
Judgement is set to be delivered at 900 GMT on Thursday, and Sierra Leoneans, who bear the brunt of the atrocities allegedly committed by the Sierra Leone rebel group Taylor purportedly helped fund, are eager to witness the climax of the proceeding seeking lasting justice.
Taylor is the first ever African leader to be tried by an international tribunal, and he will be the first head of state to face judgement following a six-month long protracted trial.
According to Mr Anderson, this will be the first international tribunal to finish its trials and close it doors.
The American spokesman said the court has put all plans in place and has invited a cross section of stakeholders, including victims, Paramount Chiefs, judicial officials, diplomats and civil society groups to witness the delivery of verdict.
Delegations from Sierra Leone and Liberia, including civil society representatives and Mr Taylor`s family, will be present at The Hague to hear the ruling.
The Special Court spokesman said Taylor's request for 19 members of his family to be present at the hearing could not be met as they could not handle the financials.
While in Sierra Leone most of the victims who spoke to the Africa Review anticipate a guilty verdict, family members and friends of the former Liberian leader have expressed optimism that Taylor will be freed.
"The family and all of our supporters are confident that if it is about transparent justice and due process of law, if those processes/procedures are followed then Mr Taylor will be a free man,” a Taylor family spokesman, Liberian Senator Sando Johnson, was quoted as saying by the West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR) on Monday.
He said they were confident of a favourable verdict based on the manner in which the defence team “demonstrated their talents.”
If found guilty, the former Liberian leader would not be sentenced until after a maximum of 68 weeks, according to Mr Anderson, and he is expected to serve his jail term in the UK which was the only country to have offered to incarcerate him.
Sierra Leone child soldiers. AFP
In the event that he is acquitted, there has been concern as to the possibility of his return to Liberia.
A total of eight convicts formerly fighters of the RUF and other warring factions are already serving between 15 and 52 years jail terms in Rwanda after been tried in Freetown.
Two key figures, Foday Sankoh and Chief Sam Hinga Norman, the founders of the RUF and Karmajo, a civil defence force that took part in the war, died while awaiting commencement of their trial.
No evidence yet
But Taylor`s verdict will not be the last as two more fugitive former combatants are at large. One of them, the feared rebel commander, General Sam Bockary, alias Mosquito, has been confirmed dead, but the whereabouts of the head of the notorious AFRC Junta, which presided over mass killings towards the end of the war, Major Johnny Paul Koroma, remains unknown.
Some say he is dead. But the court is yet to see “any substantial evidence” to that effect.
Mr Anderson said the court had heard testimonies that Koroma was dead, but that they had not seen his body. There have also been various reports of him been sighted in northern Sierra Leone, Ukraine, South Africa, UK, Netherlands, among other countries.
This and a number of other issues such as witness protection remain major concern for the administration of the Special Court as it contemplates closing its doors.
A Residual Court to be set up will address this and the pending cases of serving convicts, some of whom Mr Anderson said may soon qualify for parole consideration.