Taylor storms out of war crimes trial

9th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor boycotted his war crimes trial Wednesday, forcing judges to adjourn the case after his lawyer accused the court of "injustice".

The snub by Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried by an international court, came as his three-year-old trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone lurched towards a rancorous conclusion.

Lawyer Courtenay Griffiths accused the judges of "a personalised attack" after they refused to admit a document summarising the defence's response to the allegations that Taylor received blood diamonds for arming rebels who killed and maimed thousands in Sierra Leone.

"This is about ego, not justice," Griffiths told journalists outside the courtroom, claiming the judges were merely trying to teach his client a lesson.

The judges later issued an order for Griffiths to appear before them, threatening "sanctions" if he did not apologise for having stormed out on them on Tuesday.

The court in a public document "directs" Griffiths to attend a hearing scheduled for 11:30 am (1030 GMT) on Friday, and "warns lead counsel that unless he apologises for his behaviour on February 8, 2011, the trial chamber may impose sanctions."

Taylor, 62, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, claiming his trial was based on "lies" and an intelligence conspiracy.

But the prosecution argued that Taylor bore "the greatest responsibility for the horrific crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone through the campaign of terror inflicted on them."

While conceding that his final brief was filed 20 days late, Griffiths said Wednesday that neither he nor his client would return to court until there is a decision on his application for leave to appeal the document's exclusion.

The lawyer was scheduled to present oral, closing arguments on Wednesday but stormed out of the courtroom the day before, prompting Taylor's refusal shortly thereafter to return to the courtroom from a morning coffee break.

Both remained defiantly absent on Wednesday, with Taylor sending a message that he "waived his right to be present".

With nobody in court to present closing arguments, judge Teresa Doherty adjourned the proceedings to Friday -- originally set aside for both parties to rebut contentions in each other's closing statements.

The rebuttal, no longer on the agenda, should have been the final step before the judges retire to consider their judgment -- expected mid-2011. It was unclear how Griffiths' appeal bid would affect the timing.

"As far as we are concerned it would be totally illegitimate for us to get involved in this stage," Griffiths said Wednesday, citing the "injustice that has happened over the last couple of days".

"We made a decision ... that unless and until these judges are prepared to accept the defence final brief and so be in a position to consider our arguments, we are not going to cooperate with this trial."

On Tuesday, prosecutors told the court that Taylor had armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times, in exchange for illegally mined diamonds.

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

He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror," against the people of Sierra Leone, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told judges, describing Taylor as "a man with an insatiable greed for wealth and power."

© 2011 AFP

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