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 part of a political plot and asked why Libya's Moamer Kadhafi was not 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's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for illegally mined so-called "blood diamonds".

"What about (Burkina Faso's president) Blaise Compaore?" he added, claiming that his client's prosecution was "politically motivated".

Repeating Taylor's claims that powerful countries were "out to get him", Griffiths claimed to have information that the court would have been denied British funding had it tried to indict Kadhafi, "because the then-government led by Tony Blair was anxious to preserve economic interests" in Libya.

Taylor's trial entered its final phase Wednesday with the start of defence closing arguments.

The 62-year-old, the first African head of state to face 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".

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.

Prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian told judges that other leaders like Kadhafi and Compaore 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".

Having boycotted earlier hearings, Taylor was in the court Wednesday, listening attentively from the dock dressed in a dark grey suit with crisp white shirt, tie and gold cuff-links.

The prosecution has described him as an "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" driven by greed and power lust.

Griffiths alleged that prosecutors had paid witnesses, "some of them extravagently".

"It is 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.

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

The trial for murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging, has heard gruesome testimony from victims of the Sierra Leone conflict.

One of the prosecution's 94 witnesses had said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.

Others claimed that Taylor's 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, some of which allegedly presented to supermodel Naomi Campbell after a charity dinner hosted by South African former president Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Taylor has dismissed all claims as "lies", denied receiving any diamonds, and rejected testimony that he had eaten human flesh.

© 2011 AFP

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