Charles Taylor trial expected to close on Friday

7th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The war crimes trial of Charles Taylor is expected to close after more than three years on Friday, after judges set a date for his closing statement and final, rebuttal arguments.

"The defence will begin its closing arguments on Wednesday, March 9, from 11.30 am (1030 GMT)," judge Richard Lussick said at a procedural, status conference of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on Monday.

This would continue Thursday until 11:00 am, followed on Friday by two hours each for the prosecution and defence to make their final, rebuttal arguments.

This is the final step, according to the court's rules of procedure, before the judges retire to consider their judgment.

Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly arming Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who killed and maimed Sierra Leone citizens.

Last Thursday, appeals judges said that Taylor must be given a chance to make a statement at the conclusion of his trial, which was supposed to have closed on February 11 but was suspended following an exchange of words between the judges and his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths.

Griffiths had stormed out of the court in protest against the judges' refusal to accept his closing brief, which was filed late.

This in turn prompted Taylor to boycott the proceedings on the day originally set aside for his closing statement.

The appeals chamber found that their colleagues in the trial chamber had erred in failing to ascertain whether Taylor fully understood the gravity of his boycott, and said an accused's closing statement was a "fundamental right".

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.

Taylor's trial, the first ever for an African head of state in an international tribunal, started in earnest in January 2008.

The court previously said that judgment was expected mid-2011.

© 2011 AFP

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