7 January 2008

Liberia: Charles Taylor Trial Gets Under Way

The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor finally got under way at The Hague in the Netherlands on Monday.

Taylor is appearing before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a tribunal set up jointly by the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone.

He is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes arising out of his involvement in the civil war in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2001. The charges relate to killings, mutilations, rape, other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, recruiting and using child soldiers, abduction and using forced labour.

The trial first opened last June but was delayed by Taylor's initial refusal to appear in court, and wrangles over his legal representation.

At a news conference held by the Special Court on Friday, chief prosecutor Stephen Rapp said he envisaged that eight witnesses would testify in the first two or three weeks of the trial.

The website set up by non-governmental organisations to monitor the trial, www.charlestaylortrial.org, reported that Rapp said:

• 59 witnesses will testify about the linkage between the crimes and Taylor and his associates;

• 77 crime-based witnesses would give evidence, 10 in person and 67 in writing; and

• Evidence from eight expert witnesses, including one with knowledge of the diamond industry, would be presented.

The human rights group Amnesty International has noted the trial is the first in which a former head of state or government has been prosecuted in an international criminal court for crimes committed in Africa against Africans.


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