Taylor hits out at 'lies and misinformation' at trial

The former Liberian president Charles Taylor dismissed charges of murder and crimes against humanity on Wednesday as he launched his own defence at a war crimes trial by professing his “love for humanity”.

Taylor told the special Hague court that the 11 charges against him, including murder, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers, were based on lies and misinformation. Prosecutors have accused the former warlord of arming and instructing rebels during 1991 to 2002 civil war in Sierra Leone in order to gain control of its rich diamond fields.

In court, Taylor, a lay preacher who once compared himself to Jesus in a BBC interview, introduced himself to the three judges as the 21st president of Liberia. His defence lawyer, the British QC Courtenay Griffiths, asked Taylor what he thought of an indictment that accused him of being “everything from a terrorist to a rapist”.

“It is incredible that such descriptions of me would come about,” Taylor said.
“It is very, very, very unfortunate that the prosecution—because of disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumours—would associate me with such ... descriptions.”

On Monday, Griffiths told the court that Taylor (61) had been a “broker of peace” in the region rather than a war criminal and would testify about his efforts to restore calm in Sierra Leone.

The description was at odds with evidence offered by the prosecution since January 2008. The 91 witnesses included a man whose hands were hacked off by rebels and a former aide of Taylor, who said he saw him eat a human liver.

Taylor insisted he had done no wrong. “I am a father of 14 children, grandchildren, with love for humanity, have fought all my life to do what I thought was right in the interests of justice and fair play. I resent that characterisation of me. It is false, it is malicious.” He is the first African leader to be tried by an international court.

Though the war crimes charges relate only to Sierra Leone and the period from 1996 to 2002, Taylor’s influence extended wider to include not only his own country but also Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, where he is also accused of fomenting rebellions.

Taylor rose to prominence as a civil servant in Samuel Doe’s military regime in Liberia in the 1980s. Accused of stealing nearly $1-million in state funds, he fled to the US, where he was arrested on a Liberian warrant. But he escaped from prison and, according to his indictment, ended up in Libya, where he received military training and befriended Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone, with the two men agreeing to assist each other to take power in their countries.

In 1989, Taylor launched an uprising in Liberia, enlisting children. By 1997, when the war-weary population elected Taylor president, Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels had begun phase two of their war against the government of Sierra Leone. The prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, said Taylor provided important assistance, encouragement and direction to the RUF rebels from the start of the civil war, sending in his own fighters as backup and offering financial support and weapons.

In return, Taylor received payments of “blood diamonds”. Though Taylor had not physically committed the crimes, his involvement made him a “co-perpetrator”, the prosecution said.

Taylor denied having assisted the RUF in the invasion of Sierra Leone, and said the allegation that he had been paid in diamonds was a “diabolical lie”.

After his indictment in 2003 Taylor fled to Nigeria, where he believed he had been given immunity in return for leaving power. In March 2006, when Nigeria accepted that he should face international justice, he was arrested trying to cross into Cameroon. Taylor was transferred to The Hague, rather than the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, where the court is based, because of fears the trial might affect regional stability. A verdict is expected next year. - guardian.co.uk

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