Former Liberian president Charles Taylor refused to attend the opening of his trial at The Hague for war crimes both in his own country and Sierra Leone, where he is accused of supporting a brutal guerilla movement. In a letter, read by attorney Karim Khan, Taylor said: “I am driven to conclude that I will not receive a fair trial before the Special Court at this time and I must decline to attend hearings… I cannot take part in this charade that does injustice to the people of Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone.”
The lettter protested: “I have only one counsel to appear on my behalf against nine on the prosecution team. This is neither fair nor just… I am driven to conclude that I will not receive a fair trial before the Special Court at this time and I must decline to attend hearings.”
Khan told the Special Court on Sierra Leone that Taylor also “terminated his instructions to [his] legal counsel” and asked his defense team to cease to represent him. “He will represent himself,” Khan told the court.
Taylor has denied all of the 11 charges he faces of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His hearing was moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, to The Hague for security reasons. Prosecutors say he waged “a campaign of terror against the civilian population of Sierra Leone” by arming and training Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, fueled by the illicit diamond trade, left at least 60,000 dead and thousands mutilated with limbs, ears or noses cut off. Under the deal to relocate the trial to the Netherlands, Taylor will serve his sentence in a British prison if convicted.
Khan repeatedly complained that he did not have enough time or resources to properly prepare for the trial, and also protested against the change of venue. Human Rights Watch stressed that it was important that the trial stay accessible to people in the region. “People in West Africa need to know what’s happening in Taylor’s trial,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program. (AlJazeera, June 4)
See our last post on West Africa.
See our special report on the Charles Taylor trial.