25 January 2013

Liberia: Taylor Thanks Court

Imprisoned former Liberian president Charles Taylor Wednesday thanked judges of the UN-backed Special Court at The Hague, saying he was appreciative of the way they handled his appeal case against his conviction.

His remarks came after prosecutors told the court at the end of the hearings into his appeal that Sierra Leone rebels depended on Taylor's logistics to kill, rape and mutilate thousands during the West African nation's savage civil war.

The Revolutionary United Front "relied on Taylor's logistical assistance", Nicholas Koumjian told the west African nation's UN-backed special court, where the former warlord is appealing a 50-year prison sentence.

"Without this support, thousands would not have been killed, would not have been amputated, would not have been taken as sex slaves," he told the second and final day of the appeals hearing at the court's headquarters in Leidschendam just outside The Hague.

Dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and dark tie, with rimless round glasses perched on his nose, Taylor frowned often as he listened intently to the prosecution's arguments.

The former strongman who was given an opportunity to address judges at the end of the hearing and told the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) that he was "very appreciative of the handling of the proceedings so far".

"I have the belief that the right thing will be done with the grace of Almighty God," said Taylor, who once famously compared himself to Jesus.

The SCSL in April last year convicted Taylor, 64, of aiding and abetting the RUF and its allies who waged a terror campaign during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.

His sentence in May for "some of the most heinous crimes in human history" was widely welcomed around the world and was the first handed down by an international court against a former head of state since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946.

As neighboring Liberia's president from 1997 to 2003, Taylor gave rebels guns and ammunition in their fight against Freetown during the conflict, know for its mutilations, drugged child soldiers and sex slaves, trial judges found.

In return, Taylor was paid in "blood diamonds" mined by slave labor in areas kept under the control of ruthless Sierra Leonean rebels.

Taylor's defense again argued on Wednesday that there was no evidence linking him to crimes committed by Sierra Leone's brutal rebel forces, nor did he provide logistics, guns and ammunition.

"There was no support from Charles Taylor," said one of his lawyers, Christopher Gosnell.

The defense has argued that trial judges made legal mistakes in their findings against Taylor and are asking appeals judges to reverse the conviction and quash the sentence.

Prosecutors argued Taylor's sentence was too light and asked, on appeal, for 80 years, with Koumjian telling judges: "Charles Taylor knew about these crimes."

"He knew what was happening and how the RUF operated."

Taylor's trial, which ended in March 2011, saw a number of high-profile witnesses testify including British supermodel Naomi Campbell, who told the court she received a gift of "dirty diamonds", said to be from the flamboyant Taylor.

Appeals judges are expected to have a decision by September at the earliest, with the Liberian ex-president remaining behind bars at the UN's detention unit in The Hague until appeals proceedings are finalized.

If his appeal fails, Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail.

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