Taylor sanctions impair defence, says lawyer

Sanctions against former Liberian president Charles Taylor and his entourage are impairing his ability to defend himself against war-crimes charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The sanctions imposed by the United Nations are having a ”chilling effect” as witnesses sympathetic to Taylor are afraid to come forward, said Courtenay Griffiths, who was appointed last month as the head of a new defence team.

”There is a climate of fear where those who are sympathetic to Mr Taylor are afraid to speak out in case they are targeted for the sanctions,” he told journalists.

Taylor’s lawyers asked the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in June to lift the sanctions against Taylor.

Taylor (59), the first African head of state to stand trial before an international court for war crimes, boycotted the opening session in The Hague in June and sacked his lawyer on the ground that he had no chance of receiving a fair hearing.

Once one of Africa’s most feared warlords, Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, rape and using child soldiers during the brutal 1991-2001 civil war in Sierra Leone.

Up to 200 000 people were killed in the Sierra Leone conflict, with rebels mutilating thousands more, cutting off arms, legs, ears or noses.

Taylor was also a key player in his country’s back-to-back civil wars that spanned 14 years.

He is accused of arming, training and controlling the Revolutionary United Front group of Sierra Leone, responsible for many of the mutilations, in exchange for still-unknown amounts of diamonds used to fund war. — Sapa-AFP

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