UNITED NATIONS (FinalCall.com) – The war crimes trial against the deposed former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, will begin on June 4 with opening arguments, according to a UN News Service, dated May 8. The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone announced the starting date during a recent pre-trial conference in The Hague.
“That Charles Taylor will now face justice is the very embodiment of the maxim that no one is above the law,” stated Special Court prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, according to a press release from the court. “Taylor’s indictment, apprehension and arrest are a credit to the persistence of the world community, the governments of the region and, above all, the courageous people of Sierra Leone,” Mr. Rapp added.
Mr. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other violations of international law, including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers. If convicted, the former president faces life in a British jail.
The trial was moved from Sierra Leone under a UN Security Council resolution (1688), which provided the legal basis for the government of the Netherlands to provide accommodations for the trial. The resolution called Mr. Taylor’s presence in the region “an impediment to stability and a threat to the peace.” The International Criminal Court (ICC) will not conduct the trial, and because of the absence of a criminal court tribunal for Liberia, Mr. Taylor has not been indicted for any alleged crimes in his home nation.
The long-anticipated trial was due to begin on Apr. 2, but was changed to June 4 after his defense team, led by Karim Khan, said they would not be prepared for the April date due to the 30,000 pages of evidence presented by the prosecution. The defense team has also stated that they are concerned that defense witnesses would have a difficult time traveling to The Hague.
The prosecution has noted that the trial could last from 12 to 18 months and also stated that it would call up to 139 witnesses. All the charges are related to the civil war in Sierra Leone and for Mr. Taylor’s alleged support for the rebels representing the Revolutionary United Front.
BBC News reported that the former president listened to the reading of the charges while portraying “little emotion.” However, the BBC said he became animated when asked how he pleaded to the charges.
“There is an issue with this court regarding its right to exercise jurisdiction over me as president of Liberia,” he said, according to the BBC story. “There are issues of how I got here. It is not a matter of me entering a plea as I do not recognize the jurisdiction of this court,” Mr. Taylor insisted. Finally, he stated that he was innocent of all charges.
“Most definitely, your honor, I could not have committed these acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone, so most definitely I am not guilty,” he said.
The Special Court was established on January 16, 2002 by an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the UN, and is mandated to “try those who bear the greatest responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the nation after November 30, 1996. So far, according to the UN News Service, 11 people have been indicted.