Monday, June 25, 2007

Liberia's Taylor boycotts trial

Charles Taylor (archive)

Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor has boycotted the resumption of his war crimes trial in The Hague.

Defence lawyer Vincent Nmehielle said Mr Taylor had called him to say he would not attend the court, but did not appear to provide an official reason.

Mr Taylor is accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone in an 11-year campaign that killed thousand of civilians. He denies all the charges.

It is the first case of its kind against an African former leader.

Mr Taylor previously boycotted the trial's opening on 4 June, saying it would not be fair because he had a single defence lawyer.

'No official reason'

"He said the chamber knows why he will not be in court," Mr Nmehielle said referring to the call he had received from Mr Taylor.

But presiding judge Julia Sebutinde said: "For the record, the chamber does not know. We have not been officially been informed why Mr Taylor is not in court."

Taylor - the trial begins

At the trial opening in June, Mr Taylor explained the reasons for his boycott in a letter read to the judges by his lawyer, Karim Khan.

The letter said Mr Taylor would "not receive a fair trial" at the court that was not "fit for purpose", adding that he would not appear until "adequate time and facilities are provided".

Mr Khan then left the court, saying he was not in a position to represent his client without further instruction from him.

Judge Julia Sebutinde ordered the trial to continue without Mr Taylor, and the prosecution delivered its opening statements.

'Not guilty'

Mr Taylor has been indicted on 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law over his alleged role in the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone.

1989: Launches rebellion
1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
1995: Peace deal signed
1997: Elected president
1999: Liberia's Lurd rebels start insurrection to oust Taylor
June 2003: Arrest warrant issued
August 2003: Steps down, goes into exile in Nigeria


The charges include terrorising the civilian population, murder, sexual violence, physical violence, using child soldiers, enslavement and looting.

Mr Taylor pleaded not guilty to all the charges at his first appearance at the court in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in March 2006.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has been approved by both the UN and the government of Sierra Leone.

It is sitting in the facilities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague because of the risks that the trial might lead to tensions within Sierra Leone itself.

The BBC's David Bamford says the trial hinges on determining the degree to which Mr Taylor helped start, prolong and deepen the war in Sierra Leone.

'Blood diamonds'

Mr Taylor started Liberia's civil war in 1989 and became one of a number of warlords competing for control in the West African country.

He later emerged as Liberia's most powerful politician and won the 1997 presidential election that ended the war there.

Meanwhile in 1991, one of Mr Taylor's comrades-in-arms, Foday Sankoh, also started his own rebellion in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The prosecution claims Mr Taylor provided the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader with training, money, arms and ammunition to start the rebellion and even lent him fighters to take part in the initial attack.

The RUF became notorious for hacking off the hands and legs of civilians during their decade-long war.

It is alleged that Mr Taylor shared a common plan with the RUF's commanders to gain power and control over Sierra Leone, so he could gain access to its diamonds and have a government in Freetown that would support his aims.

However, the rebellion in Sierra Leone collapsed. Its war crimes court indicted the rebel leaders and Mr Taylor as well. Mr Sankoh died in 2003.

That year, Mr Taylor himself lost power in Liberia after rival militias rose up and forced him into exile in Nigeria.

He was deported by Nigeria last year in controversial circumstances and flown to The Hague to await his trial.

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