13 July 2009

Sierra Leone: Charles Taylor Defends Himself

Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor is scheduled to take the witness stand this week to testify in his own defence at his trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity arising from the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has announced that Taylor's defence lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths QC, is expected to deliver his opening statement on Monday. Taylor is not expected to give evidence before Tuesday.

Taylor is being tried in The Hague, in the Netherlands, as a result of concerns about regional security if he is tried in Sierra Leone.

He faces 11 charges including murder, rape, sexual violence, using child soldiers, enslavement, looting and terrorizing and imposing collective punishments on civilians.

Human Rights Watch reports that the charges relate primarily to Taylor's alleged role as a major backer of the Sierra Leone rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and his alleged association with a second warring faction, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).

The civil war in Sierra Leone lasted 11 years, ending in 2002. Taylor was Liberian president from 1997 until 2003.

His evidence is expected to last for some weeks, says Human Rights Watch. He initially boycotted his trial.

Prosecutors presented evidence from 91 witnesses in January and February this year. In May the trial chamber handling the case dismissed an application from the defence to dismiss the charges, forcing Taylor to answer them.

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