In his trial's closing arguments, former Liberian leader Charles Taylor claimed that the trial is part of a political plot against him. His lawyer asked the court why Libya's Muammar Gadhafi was not being tried instead.
Taylor has been a combative defendant throughout
Closing arguments in the war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor got underway on Wednesday, with Taylor claiming the three-year trial has been a political plot against him.
The former Liberian leader is accused of fuelling a bloody 10-year civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. 120,000 people were killed in the conflict before West African peacekeepers intervened in 1999.
Speaking from the courtroom in the Dutch town of Leidschendam, Taylor's British defense lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said the case against Taylor was being turned into "a twentieth-century form of neo-colonialism" by the prosecution.
Griffiths also wondered why Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was not in the dock standing trial for his alleged role in the civil war in Sierra Leone, with the implication that Britain had prevented Gadhafi from going to trial on similar charges to protect its economic ties with Libya.
Taylor the most responsible
Prosecutor Nicholas Kumjian conceded that other African leaders like Gadhafi had also supported rebels in Sierra Leone during the war, but asserted that Taylor was the leader of the country's rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. Gadhafi is currently under investigation by the International Criminal Court for the violent crackdown on protesters in Libya.
Prosecutor Brenda Hollis added that Taylor bore the most responsibility through his "willful, knowing choices, actions and refusals to act."
Supermodel Naomi Campbell was a high-profile witness
The former Liberian strongman, who has pleaded not guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, will be permitted to make statements in his own defense, despite submitting his closing brief three weeks late. An appeals court ruled early in March that a closing statement was a "fundamental right" of any accused, and that denying Taylor this right "could occasion a miscarriage of justice."
The trial was initially scheduled to close in February, but judges granted the defense team more time to present its arguments after diplomatic cables pertaining to the trial were published by the WikiLeaks website.
Taylor and Griffiths argued that the cables suggested the United States and Britain tried to influence the trial and secure a guilty verdict to stop Taylor from returning to Liberia.
Taylor is charged with instigating murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilation, and drafting child soldiers during the conflict, though he has referred to the prosecution's case as "a pack of lies."
The former Liberian president also walked out of the trial during the prosecution's closing arguments in February, protesting the judges' refusal to let his defense team file a 600-page document summarizing their case. Taylor had been ordered not to leave the courtroom.
Taylor was once considered Gadhafi's protege
"He has deliberately both blighted that order and absented himself voluntarily," Judge Theresa Dorothy said at the time, before ordering the trial to continue.
An appeals court subsequently ruled that the defense brief should not exceed 600 pages.
The last stages of Taylor's trial are scheduled to continue Thursday with more closing statements and conclude on Friday with final rebuttals by the prosecution and defense. Judges in the case are then to convene and consider a verdict, which is expected in the summer.
Taylor, 62, was president of Liberia between 1997 and 2003. He came to power in a coup, and is believed to have received guerilla training in Libya before that as Gadhafi's protege. He is the first African head of state to be tried in an international court.
In 2006, when Taylor was handed over to the UN and Sierra Leone's special court in The Hague after three years on the run, Gadhafi expressed concern for the future fate of other African despots.
"This means that every head of state could meet a similar fate. It sets a serious precedent," Gadhafi said.
Author: Mark Hallam, Matt Zuvela (AP, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner