Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Called to account

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been in the witness box at the Hague, defending himself against 11 charges of war crimes. Taylor, a Baptist lay preacher, is accused by the UN-backed tribunal of directing and arming rebel groups in Sierra Leone in return for diamonds, as they committed murder, rape and torture, and terrorised the civilian population.

An estimated half million people suffered in these atrocities, many of which were committed by child soldiers who had often been drugged. Taylor, the first African leader to be tried by an international court, has dismissed the charges as “lies”. He said he only wanted to bring peace to Liberia’s neighbour.

Back in 1985, Taylor made an astonishing escape from an American prison by sawing through the bars of a laundry room, climbing 12 feet to the ground on knotted sheets, and then climbing a fence. He had been detained there pending extradition to Liberia for allegedly embezzling nearly $1 million from its government and then fleeing the country.

Four others who escaped with Taylor were caught, and only he got away from the USA, leading to claims that there was some collusion from American interests who wanted to see him overthrow the existing Liberian government, which he did in 1990. In the present trial, the prosecution has called 91 witnesses, and the defence says it may call 249. (see also my blog of May 6)

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