Monday, January 7, 2008

Happy New Year: Charles Taylor back in court

The war crimes trial against Charles Taylor will reconvene today in Courtroom II at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. In the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Taylor pleaded not guilty six months ago to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, murder and recruitment of child soldiers.

Ian Smillie, an expert on conflict diamonds, will be the first witness to take the stand against the prosecution. “He will focus on the prosecution's claim that Taylor hatched a plan to control Sierra Leone and establish a subordinate government there in order to have access to the country's abundant natural resources like diamonds and timber,” Agence France Presse said.

The prosecution has said it will call more than 140 witnesses in a trial that is scheduled to last through 2009. More than half of those witnesses will be victims of crimes during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war that ended in 2002 in which an estimated 250,000 people were killed in fighting that also crossed over to neighboring Liberia, where Taylor spent time as head of state. The rest of the witnesses, prosecutors say, will expose the connection between Charles Taylor and the militias – mostly Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front – fighting in Sierra Leone.

Back to Agence France Presse:

His trial opened here last June but was postponed quickly after Taylor sacked his first lawyer and boycotted the opening of the trial demanding more money for his defence.

In August Taylor accepted a new lawyer and a 100,000-dollar (68,000-euro) a month defence budget and the case was adjourned to allow the new team time to prepare. Taylor is expected to be in court Monday.

Update: Some have moved on; others haven't: While Taylor's supporters held a church service outside of Monrovia, Liberia, most Liberians are not too emotionally involved in the case, says Boakai M. Fofana in the AllAfrica blog.

Liberia has a huge population of young people, from whom Taylor boasted that he drew his support. When he was at the peak of his power, many believed in him so much that they thought there was nothing so complicated that the "Papay" (Liberian slang for "Father") could not solve.

But walking the streets of Monrovia today, and gauging people's opinion, it is clear that his sympathizers have either lost hope in the possibility of his acquittal, or that they too have fallen prey to the "quick-to-forget syndrome."

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