The war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor gets underway at a UN-backed court in the Hague today. He denies charges of instigating murder, rape and mutilation during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Prosecutors and human rights campaigners hope the case will send a message that no leaders, including heads of state, should expect to escape trial for alleged atrocities.
Taylor was brought to The Hague because of fears that a trial in Freetown could spark new regional instability.
The Special Court aims to complete Taylor’s trial quickly. Prosecutor Stephen Rapp said: “We are prepared to present the most compact evidence possible. We are hoping to get a lot of evidence in writing so that only the really key witnesses that talk about the linkage between Taylor and the events, and a few of the crime victims, testify. And we think we can conclude this trial both on the prosecution side and on the defence side in 18 months.”
The fighting in Sierra Leone stood out for its exceptional brutality. The prosecution will argue that Taylor sought to gain control of Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth to boost his own regional influence.