CORRECTED: Liberia's Taylor claims political process

9th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor's lawyer Wednesday dismissed his war crimes trial as a political conspiracy and said Libya's Moamer Kadhafi should have been in the dock.

Alleging "selective" prosecution, Courtenay Griffiths reminded the Special Court for Sierra Leone that its mandate was to try those with the greatest responsibility for the country's brutal 10-year civil war.

"Why is Colonel Moamer Kadhafi not in the dock?" Griffiths asked judges trying his client for arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for blood diamonds.

"What about (Burkina Faso's president) Blaise Compaore?" he added.

Taylor's trial for arming Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for blood diamonds entered its final phase Wednesday with the start of defence closing arguments.

The 62-year-old, the first African head of state to be tried in an international tribunal, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role as "the Godfather of the RUF".

He was in court for his lawyer's statement, listening attentively from the dock dressed in a dark grey suit with crisp white shirt, tie and gold cuff-links.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, whom prosecutors described as Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

Griffiths insisted that justice should be applied equally to all, but "whether that is the case is a matter for debate".

"It is to the shame of this prosecution that it has besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law by turning this case into a 20th-century form of neocolonialism", the lawyer said.

Repeating claims that Taylor believed some powerful countries to be "out to get him", Griffiths insisted that the trial was "politically motivated" and claimed the prosecution had paid witnesses, "some of them extravagently".

Prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian told judges in the morning that other leaders like Kadhafi and Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso had also supported the RUF, but it remained "a proxy army under one person, Charles Taylor".

"The involvement of Moamer Kadhafi and Blaise Compaore has been proven," Kumjian told the court, but "the RUF did not fight for Blaise Compaore, it did not fight ... for Moamer Kadhafi".

Taylor's trial, which started in earnest more than three years ago, is expected to conclude on Friday, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment, expected in mid-2011.

The trial has heard gruesome testimony from victims of the conflict, including a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.

Others claimed his fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from the wombs of women and practised cannibalism.

In exchange for aiding the rebels, prosecutors claim, Taylor received "mayonnaise jars" of so-called blood diamonds from the RUF.

© 2011 AFP

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