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Charles Taylor war crimes trial wraps up

After three years, the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has wrapped up. However, a verdict is not expected until September.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor will have to wait months to learn his fate

The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor ended on Friday with prosecutors demanding a guilty verdict.

"The evidence in this case… proves the accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt on each and every count of the indictment," prosecutor Brenda Hollis said before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor, 62, who was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, stands accused of arming Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in exchange for "blood diamonds" during Sierra Leone's civil war in the late 1990s.

Military control

Co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian told the court that it had been clearly established that Taylor controlled the RUF.

"It was one of his militias; it was his proxy force, Koumjian said. "He was the true commander and it was Charles Taylor who directed the campaign of terror against the civilian population of Sierra Leone."

But Taylor denies having had any relationship with the RUF, saying that he only communicated with rebel leaders at the request of the United Nations, in an attempt to broker peace in the West African region.

'Not guilty' plea

The former Liberian president has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, murder and using child soldiers. He has also claimed that the case against him is the product of a political plot against him by "powerful countries."

During the final hearing, Taylor's lead counsel, British lawyer Courtenay Griffiths, repeated precisely this argument. Citing US embassy cables released by Wikileaks last year, Griffiths argued that the United States and Britain - who help fund the tribunal-had orchestrated Taylor's prosecution for political reasons.

A man tends to a grave in Freetown

The decade-long war claimed the lives of 120,000 people

"The tribunals, which are but an instrument of diplomacy in the hands of powerful states, are in fact not administering law at all but instead providing spurious cover for their paymasters," Griffiths said.

Verdict later in the year

At the end of the day's proceedings, Griffiths told journalists that he was confident of an acquittal, due to “the inadequacy of the evidence put before the court by the prosecution and the strength of the defense evidence.”

The case in which more than 120 victims, former rebels and Charles Taylor himself gave evidence, has now been sent to the three international judges in the trial for deliberation. They are expected to deliver a verdict by September. If found guilty, Taylor could face a life sentence.

Author: Hermione Gee in Leidschendam, Chuck Penfold (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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