Charles Taylor trial enters final phase
Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor's trial for arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for blood diamonds enters its final phase Wednesday with closing arguments by his lawyers.
After more than three years of prosecution evidence and defence denials, the first-ever trial of an African head of state before an international tribunal is set to close in The Hague this week.
Taylor's lawyers will make their closing, oral arguments before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by a last chance Friday for both the defence and prosecution to make final statements.
The judges are then expected to close the case and retire to consider their judgment, which the court has said is expected in mid-2011.
Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly arming Revolutionary United Front rebels who killed and maimed with impunity.
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.
The trial, which started in earnest in January 2008, 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 said Taylor's fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from the wombs of women and practised cannibalism.
In exchange, the prosecution claims, Taylor received "mayonnaise jars" of so-called blood diamonds from the RUF, a handful of which he presented to supermodel Naomi Campbell at a charity dinner hosted by South Africa's then-president Nelson Mandela in 1997.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis has described Taylor as an "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" driven by greed and power lust.
Taylor dismisses the charges as "lies", denies having received any diamonds, and rejects testimony that he had eaten human flesh.
But he saw nothing wrong with human skulls displayed at military checkpoints, the former president has told the court.
Judges have heard testimony from 94 prosecution witnesses and 21 for the defence, and have admitted 1,093 exhibits. The trial transcript is more than 49,000 pages long.
The trial had been moved from Freetown, where the court is based, for fears that Taylor's presence in the African country could destabilise the region.
It was to have started in June 2007, but was delayed when Taylor boycotted its opening.
© 2011 AFP