Trial of Liberia's Taylor politically motivated: lawyer

9th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

A lawyer for Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor on Wednesday said the war crimes trial of his client was politially motivated and asked judges to find him not guilty.

"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," Courtenay Griffiths told the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

With the trial in its final phase more than three years after it started, Griffiths dismissed as "garbage" much of the prosecution evidence against Taylor who is accused of arming Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for illegally mined so-called "blood diamonds".

"A criminal trial is not a beauty contest," the lawyer said. "We are not asking this court to like Charles Taylor."

But whatever they thought of his client, reasonable judges must conclude that prosecutors were "trying to establish the unestablishable", said Griffiths.

Claiming "this prosecution is political", the lawyer said it was based on hearsay, circumstantial evidence and assumptions.

"It is the shame of this prosecution that it has besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law by turning this case into a 21st-century form of neocolonialism".

Taylor, 62, 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 Brenda Hollis has said Taylor was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror" against the people of Sierra Leone, driven by "an insatiable greed for wealth and power."

Alleging "selective" prosecution, Griffiths Wednesday reminded the judges of their mandate to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war.

"Why is Colonel Moamer Kadhafi not in the dock?" the lawyer asked. "What about (Burkina Faso's president) Blaise Compaore?", for their alleged support for the RUF.

Repeating Taylor's claims that powerful countries were "out to get him", Griffiths claimed Kadhafi was not indicted "because the then-government led by (Britain's) Tony Blair was anxious to preserve economic interests" in Libya.

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

Taylor's trial is expected to conclude this week, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment, expected in mid-2011.

Defence closing arguments are scheduled to conclude on Thursday, followed by an opportunity for final statements by both parties on Friday.

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 described how 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 he allegedly presented to supermodel Naomi Campbell after a charity dinner hosted by South African former president Nelson Mandela in 1997.

Taylor has dismissed all the claims as "lies".

© 2011 AFP

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