Former Liberian president Charles Taylor snubbed his war crimes trial for a second day on Wednesday, prompting judges to adjourn the case as they consider whether to allow a defence appeal over key documentation.
Taylor, the first African ruler to stand trial for war crimes, has denied 11 charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
Taylor and his defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths boycotted much of Tuesday’s hearing after the Special Court for Sierra Leone refused to accept the defence’s almost 600-page final document because they filed it 20 days after a January deadline.
Both Taylor and Griffiths, who appealed the decision denying him the right to lodge the documentation, boycotted the hearing again on Wednesday and Griffiths said he would continue the boycott until the documentation is accepted.
“What we were trying to do is ensure we get some semblance of justice out of this and it’s turned into this personalised attack on us,” Griffiths told reporters outside the court on Wednesday, shaking with anger. “I find it totally despicable.”
‘You’re not running the court’
Prosecutors accuse Taylor of directing Revolutionary United Front rebels who raped, killed and hacked off the limbs of women, men and children in a campaign of terror in Sierra Leone.
They also say Taylor tried to control Sierra Leone’s diamond mines, using “blood diamonds” — a reference to stones taken from conflict zones — for profit or to buy weapons.
Griffiths has questioned the Sierra Leone court’s impartiality, citing leaked United States diplomatic cables he says suggest Taylor’s prosecution was politically motivated.
More than three years of testimony was due to end this week. Tensions ran high on Tuesday, and Griffiths walked out of the courtroom.
Justice Richard Lussick sharply rebuked Taylor and the defence, telling them: “you’re not running the court, you know”.
The defence had been due to present its closing arguments on Wednesday but the absence of Taylor and Griffiths led the judges to adjourn the case until Friday, when the defence is due to give its rebuttal to the prosecution’s final arguments.
After some initial confusion about Taylor’s absence from the courtroom on Wednesday, presiding judge Teresa Doherty was given a letter which she said she presumed was from the court’s detention centre and which indicated that Taylor had “waived his right” to attend the hearing and was not sick.
Judges noted that Claire Carlton-Hanciels was in attendance as a court-appointed defence official, but Griffiths later stressed he was still Taylor’s lawyer and no one else.
Griffiths said it would be “illegitimate” of the defence to attend hearings until judges accept the final documentation.
“There’s a simple route out of this, which is for them to rescind the decision they made, wrongly in my view … and receive the final brief so they can peruse it over the next few months and incorporate it in their final judgement,” he said.
In seeking the appeal, the defence noted in its court filing that Justice Julia Sebutinde had opposed the majority decision denying the filing of the documentation. Sebutinde had said it would be “in the interests of justice” to accept the brief.
Under court procedures, Griffiths must first seek the right to appeal the decision not to accept his documentation, but it may take a few days before a decision is made on his request.
That decision could be handed down on Friday, but the defence lawyer said it was possible judges could opt to close the case on Friday prior to a final judgement in the trial, expected later this year. — Reuters