Trial of Charles Taylor ends

War crimes trial of former Liberian president has ended, but judges may take months to deliver verdict.

    Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried by an international court, faces a maximum life sentence if convicted [EPA]

    The war crimes trial of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, has ended with judges expected to take months to reach a verdict on whether he can be linked to murders and amputations during Sierra Leone's civil war.

    In their final remarks on Friday, prosecutors cautioned the judges against being taken in by Taylor, who portrayed himself during the three-year trial as a statesman and peacemaker rather than a warlord who used a surrogate army to pillage a nation.

    Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis said the defence had 'misstated the evidence to fit their argument. The evidence proves - incredible evidence in this case - proves the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt on all counts of the indictment."

    Nicholas Koumjian, another prosecutor, told the court, "Charles Taylor always tried to portray himself as something he wasn't. ... He's an intelligent and charismatic man."

    The defence concluded by denying prosecution claims that Taylor was part of a criminal conspiracy with rebel leaders seizing power in neighbouring Sierra Leone, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for diamonds illegally mined by slave labour.

    A verdict was expected in five or six months, Taylor's attorney said. Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried by an international court, faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

    "Like us, Taylor feels a great sense of relief that the trial is over," Courtenay Griffiths, defence lawyer, said. Taylor "has been more tetchy than usual" in the last few days, Griffiths said.

    After 44 months of often tense courtroom action, the trial's finale came with an apology by Griffiths to the judges for walking out of the court last month when they refused to accept his written summation because it was submitted after the deadline. An appeals court overturned that ruling.

    High-profile case

    Human rights groups say the Taylor case is a high-profile signal to authoritarian leaders that there is no impunity for people in high positions.

    Its conclusion is especially timely as another tribunal based in The Hague, the International Criminal Court, begins an investigation of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for actions to quell a rebellion in his country.

    The three judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone must weigh tens of thousands of pages of evidence, more than 1,000 documents and exhibits, and the testimony from more than 120 victims, former rebels - and from Taylor himself, who was on the stand for seven months.

    Taylor, 61, has denied all 11 charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers during the intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone from 1991-2002 in which more than 250,000 people were killed.

    The former Liberian president has said the British and United States governments were involved in the supply of weapons to the region as both countries wanted him ousted from power.

    Taylor was indicted in March 2003 while he was still president, a position he won in an election in 1997 after that country's own civil war ended.

    His trial began in June 2007, but Taylor initially boycotted the proceedings and fired his first lawyer, claiming he did not have enough time or money to prepare his defense.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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