|Mr. Charles Taylor|
Lawyers for former Liberian President Charles Taylor are presenting their closing arguments at his war crimes trial in the Hague on Wednesday and Thursday. Taylor is accused of arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for blood diamonds.
The closing arguments will be followed by a last chance on Friday for the defence and prosecution to make final statements.
A verdict is expected in the middle of this year, after the judges have deliberated. The trial has lasted more than three years.
Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly arming Revolutionary United Front rebels who killed and maimed with impunity.
Some 120,000 died Sierra Leone’s civil war with RUF rebels between 1991 and 2001. Thousands had their limbs cut off.
Prosecutors have described the RUF as Taylor’s “surrogate army”.
One witness said he pleaded with RUF fighters 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 practised cannibalism.
“He must account for what he did to the people of Sierra Leone,” says Lamin Jusu Jarka, a Sierra Leonean whose hands were cut off by the RUF. “We’re anxious to see that the law take its course to wipe out impunity.”
But US diplomatic cables will be cited in Taylor’s defence, according to John Richardson, the head of the Association for the Legal Defence of Charles Taylor.
Cables from the embassy in Liberia make reference to Taylor’s popularity and express concern that he could be found innocent, says Richardson.
The cables say they “must begin to create alternative excuses to re-arrest Mr Taylor and possibly take him to America and charge him with terrorism and mail fraud”.
“They basically talk about a conspiracy to remove Mr Taylor from power and create false charges against him,” he says. “This was basically a manoeuvring by certain Western countries rather than anything to do with human rights or justice.”
Taylor dismisses the charges as “lies”, denies having received any diamonds, and rejects testimony that he had eaten human flesh.
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.
The trial had been moved from Freetown, where the court is based, for fears that Taylor’s presence in the African country could destabilise the region.
It was scheduled to start in June 2007, but was delayed when Taylor boycotted its opening.