Former Liberian President Taylor Boycotts Hague
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We're reporting today on the war crimes trials of several notorious figures. One is the Iraqi known as Chemical Ali. And we'll have more on his death sentence in a moment. We begin with a former Liberian president who is skipping his trial. Charles Taylor refused to show up in court today at the Hague, prompting judges to delay his trial until next week. He's accused of masterminding the actions of rebels fighting a civil war across Liberia's border in neighboring Sierra Leone. In a separate trial last week, three leaders of a Sierra Leone militia were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. They're accused of having worked in concert with Charles Taylor.
Here's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Bakary Stephens fled to Britain from Sierra Leone after a litany of atrocities during the civil war in the 1990s. He spoke to reporters after last week's guilty verdicts, reminding people of the horrors of the conflict.
Mr. BAKARY STEPHENS (Refugee): My stepmother was brutally murdered when the rebels attacked the village. My niece was killed right in front of her mom. She was raped in front of her mom. Hundreds of my relatives suffered. These are just the few that comes to mind.
QUIST-ARCTON: Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is alleged to have trained and financed the main rebel group in Sierra Leone in exchange for so-called blood diamonds from across Liberia's border. For his alleged role in the Sierra Leone conflict, Taylor is facing a string of war crimes charges that include mass murder, sexual slavery, mutilating civilians, and conscripting child soldiers. Taylor has pleaded not guilty.
Unidentified Woman (War Crimes Court Officer): The special court of Sierra Leone sitting in an open session in the case of the prosecutor versus Charles Dahkpannah Ghankay Taylor.
QUIST-ARCTON: The voice of a Sierra Leone war crimes court officer announcing the opening of the Charles Taylor trial in the Hague on June 4. There was high drama in the opening minutes with Taylor boycotting the proceedings. His letter to the court was read out by his defense counsel at the time, Karim Khan. It outlined why his client refused to attend.
Mr. KARIM KHAN (Defense Counsel): I cannot participate in a charade that does injustice the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia and the people of Africa and to the international community in whose name this court tends to speak. I cannot, I choose not to be a fig leaf of legitimacy for this process.
QUIST-ARCTON: Taylor's defense team listed a catalogue of complaints, saying it had been given neither the time nor the resources to prepare its case properly. Charles Taylor concluded that he would not receive a fair trial. After delivering the statement, the defense lawyer prepared to leave the chamber. That prompted an angry exchange between Karim Khan and the presiding judge, Julia Sebutinde.
Ms. JULIA SEBUTINDE (Presiding Judge): Mr. Khan, you have not been given leave to withdraw. You don't just get up and waltz out of here.
Mr. KHAN: Your Honor, I had asked for time.
Ms. SEBUTINDE: If you do, you will verge on contempt.
Mr. KHAN: But Your Honor, I formally asked for a counsel to advise me on the law of contempt.
Ms. SEBUTINDE: Contempt proceedings have not arisen, Mr. Khan. There is a directive of this court asking you to sit down and to represent your client, which you apparently have defied, and now you are walking out?
QUIST-ARCTON: And with that, Charles Taylor's defense attorney gathered his files and left the courtroom. The judge ordered that the trial should go ahead, but that Taylor's grievances should be addressed. In his opening statement, the chief prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, said it was difficult to grasp the scale and nature of the crimes against humanity committed by the Sierra Leonean rebels. Charles Taylor, argued the prosecution, backed them all the way.
Mr. STEPHEN RAPP (Chief Prosecutor): Human beings, young and old, mutilated. Rebels chopping off arms and legs, gouging out eyes, chopping at ears. Girls and women enslaved and sexually violated. Children committing some of the most awful crimes. The exploitation of the resources of Sierra Leone used not for the benefit of its citizens, but to maim and kill its citizens. The very worst that human beings are capable of doing to one another.
QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar.
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