WAR CRIMES

After three years, Charles Taylor trial draws to close

4 min

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor concluded at The Hague’s Special Court for Sierra Leone on Friday, with the verdict expected to take months. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the highlights of the trial.

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After more than three years, the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor drew to a close at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on Friday.

The defence completed closing arguments by denying prosecution claims that Taylor was part of a criminal conspiracy with rebel leaders who seized power in neighbouring Sierra Leone, supplying them with arms and support in exchange for illegally mined diamonds.

The 63-year-old Taylor, who was head of his country from 1997 until his resignation in 2003, is the first former African ruler to stand trial for war crime charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

FRANCE 24 takes a look back at the circumstances and highlights of the trial.

The charges

Prosecutors allege that Taylor tried to monopolise neighbouring Sierra Leone’s diamond mines and to subvert the country’s government in order to strengthen his role in the region. Taylor is specifically accused of inciting and arming rebels from Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front to carry out a campaign of terror against civilians, which included murder, rape, and dismemberment of victims.

The 11 charges Taylor is facing include counts of terrorism, murder, rape, using child soldiers, and sexual slavery. The prosecution has said Taylor was motivated by "an insatiable greed for wealth and power".

The trial was transferred to The Hague in June 2006 to avoid triggering any turmoil in Sierra Leone or Liberia. If Taylor is convicted, he will serve out his sentence in Britain.

The trial

The prosecution called on 91 witnesses before closing its arguments on February 27, 2009. Many of those who took to the stand delivered harrowing testimonies about violence committed by Taylor’s fighters: claims of cannibalism, allegations of human intestines being strewn along roads and foetuses removed from women’s wombs.

Since then, Taylor’s defence has argued that there is no concrete evidence that he is behind the violence in Sierra Leone, and has called on the court to acquit him.

Taylor testified in July 2009, saying that the prosecution’s case was discredited by lies and factual errors.

One of the key witnesses of the trial was international supermodel Naomi Campbell, who was said to have accepted a “blood diamond” (a diamond mined in regions of conflict and then sold to give money to warring factions) from Taylor at a dinner in South Africa in 1997. Campbell has denied any knowledge of where the gift came from.

But the fashion icon’s testimony was contradicted by another witness, US actress Mia Farrow, who testified that she had overheard Campbell talking about a “huge diamond” she had been offered by Taylor.

In January, Taylor’s defence alleged that US embassy cables published by WikiLeaks raised questions “about the independence and impartiality” of the court’s prosecution of Taylor. But the challenge was dismissed by the court.

‘A 21st century form of neocolonialism’

One of the main arguments of the defence is indeed that the trial is politically motivated, and that the accusations are based on assumptions and hearsay. "When this indictment is approached in (an) independent, reasonable, unemotional way, there can only be one verdict on all these counts ... and those are verdicts of not guilty," a Taylor lawyer told the court on Wednesday, reminding the judges: "We are not asking this court to like Charles Taylor."

The lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, called the case “a 21st-century form of neocolonialism” and wondered aloud in front of the judges: "Why is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi not in the dock?" the lawyer asked. “What about [Burkina Faso's president] Blaise Compaore?” Both leaders have been accused of supporting the Revolutionary United Front.

Though he boycotted earlier hearings, Taylor was present in court Wednesday. After the trial ends this week, judges will retire to deliberate, with a decision expected in mid-2011.
 

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