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Africa
Hague court hears Taylor defence
Defence lawyers say ex-Liberian president innocent of charges levelled against him.
Last Modified: 13 Jul 2009 17:08 GMT

Taylor faces 11 charges relating to his role in
Sierra Leone's civil war  [GALLO/GETTY]

Lawyers for Charles Taylor have begun their defence of the former president of Liberia against charges including murder, rape, and the conscription of child soldiers during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Taylor, who will take the witness stand on Tuesday, is on trial at The Hague in the Netherlands.

"We are here to defend a man who we say is innocent of all these charges," Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor's lawyer, told the court, adding that the prosecution case "is lacking in proof".

The former leader denies all 11 charges against him arising from the 1991-2001 civil war, in which about 120,000 people were killed.

In depth
Profile: Charles Taylor

His defence lawyers argued that Taylor tried to broker peace in Sierra Leone rather than fuel civil war.

"Taylor was not an African Napoleon bent on taking over the sub-region. He had a front-line role in the conflict as a broker of peace," Griffiths told the court.

He added that the former president will say:"'How could I have been micromanaging a conflict in Sierra Leone as alleged when I, as newly elected president of Liberia,
had so much on my plate?'"

Stephen Rapp, a chief prosecutor at the UN-backed court for Sierra Leone, has insisted that Taylor was "an exceptional violator of human rights".

Rapp told Al Jazeera: "It's alleged that he is responsible. When you charge leaders with crimes, you are not saying that they were down there chopping off hands themselves ...  you are saying that they put the forces out there and that they intended, or could foresee, what was going to occur."

'Arming rebels'

Prosecutors, who closed their case in February, said Taylor armed and supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel movement that sought to destabilise the government, and attempted to gain control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines.

"We were very pleased by the testimony that was presented and the breadth and strength of it," Rapp said.

Taylor has been on trial at The Hague since June 2007 at facilities provided by the International Criminal Court.

The court is headquartered in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, but the trial is taking place in the Netherlands due to concerns it may trigger violence in Sierra Leone.

In May, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled against a defence request to acquit Taylor of war crimes charges, saying the prosecution had produced enough evidence supporting a conviction.

However, Judge Richard Lussick has stressed that the ruling does not mean Taylor would be convicted.

Taylor is the first African head of state to be tried by an international court.

Source:
Agencies
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