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Hague court hears Taylor defence

From Al Jazeera

Lawyers for Charles Taylor have begun their defence of the former president of Liberia against charges including murder, rape, and the conscription of child soldiers during Sierra Leone’s civil war.

Taylor, who will take the witness stand on Tuesday, is on trial at The Hague in the Netherlands.

“We are here to defend a man who we say is innocent of all these charges,” Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor’s lawyer, told the court, adding that the prosecution case “is lacking in proof”.

The former leader denies all 11 charges against him arising from the 1991-2001 civil war, in which about 120,000 people were killed.

He is expected to argue that he was trying to broker peace rather than foment violence.

Stephen Rapp, a prosecutor at the UN-backed court for Sierra Leone, has insisted that Taylor was “an exceptional violator of human rights”.

‘Arming rebels’

Prosecutors, who closed their case in February,  said Taylor armed and supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel movement that sought to destabilise the government, and attempted to gain control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines.

“We were very pleased by the testimony that was presented and the breadth and strength of it,” Rapp said.

Taylor has been on trial at The Hague since June 2007 at facilities provided by the International Criminal Court.

The court is headquartered in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, but the trial is taking place in the Netherlands due to concerns it may trigger violence in Sierra Leone.

In May, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled against a defence request to acquit Taylor of war crimes charges, saying the prosecution had produced enough evidence supporting a conviction.

However, Judge Richard Lussick has stressed that the ruling does not mean Taylor would be convicted.

Taylor is the first African head of state to be tried by an international court.

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