World Awaits Landmark African War Crimes Verdict

Posted April 26th, 2012 at 5:55 am (UTC-5)
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A special tribunal in The Hague is delivering its verdict in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, accused of masterminding some of the worst human rights abuses in recent memory.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is meeting Thursday, almost five years after the trial opened.

Mr. Taylor faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the deaths of an estimated half-million people during an 11-year-long civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone. The list of charges against the former Liberian leader includes murder, rape, terrorism, recruitment of child soldiers and enslavement.

Prosecutors say Mr. Taylor masterminded Sierra Leone's civil war from Liberia, arming and assisting Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels in exchange for “blood diamonds,” mined in eastern Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor denies all wrong-doing and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

If he is found guilty Thursday, his defense team is expected to appeal within two weeks. If he is acquitted, the prosecution is likely to do the same.

Mr. Taylor was arrested and handed over to the court in 2006, three years after his indictment and subsequent resignation as president. The trial, which opened in 2007, was transferred from Freetown to The Hague amid regional security concerns.

During the trial, the court heard testimony from 94 prosecution witnesses and 21 defense witnesses, including Mr. Taylor.

The tribunal was established to try the most serious cases of war crimes rising from the Sierra Leone conflict. The Taylor case is expected to be the court's last major trial.