Trial of Liberia's Taylor set to close Friday

11th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor's trial over claims he armed murderous rebels who paid him in blood diamonds adjourns Friday so the judges can consider their verdict.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is scheduled to hold its final public hearing from 0800 GMT on Friday for the prosecution and defence to make their last statements.

Then judges are expected to deliver their judgement in the European summer.

The court has already heard Taylor, the first African head of state to face an international tribunal, described as an "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" who fuelled war in West Africa out of greed and power lust.

"Charles Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for the horrific crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone through the campaign of terror inflicted on them," prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court in February.

He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror," she said, "to forcibly control the people and territory of Sierra Leone... and to pillage the resources, in particular the diamonds."

Prosecutors said Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was Taylor's "surrogate army".

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

In more than three years of hearings, gruesome testimony was led 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 practiced cannibalism.

In exchange for his support, prosecutors claim, Taylor received "mayonnaise jars" of illegally mined 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.

One witness said he was present when the Liberian leader ate human liver.

"Lies," 62-year-old Taylor told the court in July 2009 of 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging.

"This whole case is a case of deceit, deception, lies," he said. "I am not guilty of all of these charges, not even a minute part of the charges."

The trial, which started in earnest in January 2008 after Taylor boycotted its opening six months earlier, had been moved from Freetown to the Netherlands for fears that Taylor's presence there could destabilise the region.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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