Charles Taylor war crimes trial enters final phase

6th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Charles Taylor's war crimes trial enters its final phase on Tuesday after three years of gripping, often gruesome, testimony on the Liberian ex-president's alleged warmongering in Sierra Leone.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis will present her closing arguments to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, insisting that Taylor armed rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times, in exchange for illegally mined diamonds.

"Charles Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in a ten-year campaign of terror" that claimed some 120,000 lives until 2001, states the prosecution's final trial brief.

Thousands of civilians had limbs severed in one of history's bloodiest civil wars, which Taylor started "by sending ammunition, weapons and manpower to the RUF and its allies", according to the prosecution.

"The crimes suffered by the people of Sierra Leone would not have occurred but for Taylor's supervision and support for the RUF."

Taylor, 62, 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 in South Africa in 1997, according to testimony before the court.

"Many millions of dollars worth of ... diamonds, most mined by civilians under conditions amounting to slavery, were delivered to Taylor," states the prosecution brief.

Lawyers for Taylor, who has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, will present their closing arguments on Wednesday, followed by two hours of rebuttal for each side on Friday.

The judges will then retire to consider their judgment but the court's verdict is not expected before the middle of the year.

The trial started in earnest in January 2008 in The Hague for fear that Taylor's presence in Sierra Leone, where the tribunal is based, could destabilise the region.

The judges have 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 womb and practised cannibalism.

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 told the court.

Former chief prosecutor Stephen Rapp has said he was confident of a conviction and was anticipating "close to a life sentence" for Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried before an international court.

The court has heard evidence from 94 prosecution witnesses and 21 for the defence, and has admitted 1,093 exhibits. The trial transcript is more than 49,000 pages long.

© 2011 AFP

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