War crimes tribunal set to deliver verdicts in Taylor trial26/04/2012 - 11:30:52
Judges at an international war crimes tribunal have begun delivering landmark judgments in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
He is charged with sponsoring brutal rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone’s civil war.
Prosecutors alleged at Taylor’s trial in the Hague that the charismatic war lord-turned elected president funnelled arms, ammunition and even mining equipment to rebels in return for blood diamonds and power in the volatile West African region.
Taylor insists he is an innocent victim of neo-colonialism and a political process aimed at preventing him from returning to power in Liberia. In seven months testifying in his own defence, he cast himself as a peacemaker and statesman in West Africa.
But prosecutors dispute that and called two vicious rebel groups Taylor’s “proxy army”.
They were notorious for hacking off limbs of their enemies in what became the signature atrocity of Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war.
Taylor pleaded not guilty at the Special Court for Sierra Leone to 11 charges including murder, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers. He faces a maximum life sentence, to be served in Britain, if convicted.
His trial ended a year ago and judges have been considering their verdicts ever since.
If he is found guilty, Taylor would be the first African head of state convicted by an international court.
He may not be the last. Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo is also jailed in The Hague awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed as he attempted to cling to power last year after losing a presidential election.
The same court also has indicted Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir on charges including genocide for his regime’s brutal crackdown on rebels in Darfur. Al-Bashir remains at large in his country, which does not recognise the ICC.
The verdicts will be a watershed moment for international justice. The only other head of state convicted by an international tribunal was Karl Doenitz, a naval officer who briefly led Germany after Adolf Hitler’s suicide, and who faced justice at Nuremberg.
Ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was tried at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal for fomenting the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but he suffered a fatal heart attack in his cell before the case reached a conclusion.
Prosecutors at the same court are close to wrapping up their case against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of masterminding atrocities including genocide during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
The ICC last year indicted Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi with crimes against humanity as he resorted to murdering and persecuting civilians to put down protests against his regime, but he was captured and killed by rebel fighters before he could face a court of law.
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