Liberia’s Taylor boycotts trial again

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor failed to appear in court on Monday when his war-crimes trial resumed, saying through an official the court did not give him adequate funds to assemble a strong defence team.

Taylor, who is charged with instigating murder, rape and mutilation during Sierra Leone’s civil war in a quest for the country’s diamonds, boycotted the start of his trial in June.

He sacked his lawyer and declared the trial would not be fair.

The trial of was adjourned for one week.

The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone’s principal defender, Vincent Nmehielle, said at the opening of Monday’s session Taylor would again not be attending.

Nmehielle, who organises Taylor’s legal aid, said there were not enough funds from the court to hire the right calibre of lawyer and Taylor had rejected several candidates as unsuitable.

”Mr Taylor … shared a deep interest in resolving what he called the current impasse and he undertook to return to court if his concerns are addressed,” he told the court.

”He, too, is concerned with undue delay in his trial.”

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, related to the 1991 to 2002 civil war, which killed an estimated 50 000 people.

In his letter to the court Taylor, once one of Africa’s most feared warlords, said his defence team was outgunned by the prosecution, and had not been able to prepare his case.

He wants a top lawyer to represent him and the court to hire an international investigator for his defence, alongside those he already has working in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Earlier this month the president of the court and its prosecutor told the UN Security Council available funds would be exhausted by November and another $60-million was needed from voluntary contributions.

Horrific wars

Prosecutors hope the trial will end impunity for African strongmen as well as send a signal that international justice can operate efficiently and fairly. However, some observers fear Taylor is intent on disrupting proceedings.

Even among Africa’s horrific wars, the fighting in Sierra Leone stands out for its exceptional brutality — casual murder, mass rapes, the hacking of limbs from civilians and the press-ganging of child soldiers as young as eight.

The special court was set up jointly by the country’s government and the UN in 2002 to try those deemed most responsible for human rights violations during the later stages of the civil war.

Prosecutors promised to produce strong and compelling evidence, including letters and witness testimony, that Taylor directed Revolutionary United Front rebels as they carried out a campaign of terror against Sierra Leone’s civilians.

Last week in Freetown the court handed down its first verdicts, finding three leaders of a militia guilty of war crimes that included killing, raping and mutilating civilians.

They are due to be sentenced on July 16.

Taylor’s trial is being held in The Hague because of fears it could spur instability if held in Freetown. — Reuters

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