March 9, 2011 / 1:21 PM / 6 years ago

Taylor war crimes trial politically biased: defense

<p>Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is seen at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam, the Netherlands, August 5, 2010.Vincent Jannink/Pool</p>

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The defense lawyer for Charles Taylor Wednesday accused the court trying the former Liberian president for war crimes of pursuing a politically motivated case.

Accused of crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1991-2002, Taylor went on trial in June 2007 and the case is coming to a close this week with the defense's closing arguments and rebuttals from the prosecution.

Taylor is charged with murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in which more than 250,000 people were killed.

The court has heard gruesome testimony of killings and mutilations, cannibalism, drug-crazed child soldiers and "blood diamonds" -- a reference to stones taken from conflict zones.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow were called as witnesses by the prosecution in an attempt to show that Taylor was knowingly trading weapons in exchange for diamonds.

Taylor, the first African leader to stand trial for war crimes, is accused of directing Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in a campaign of terror to plunder Sierra Leone's diamond mines for profit and weapons trading.

Taylor, 63, has denied the charges, insisting he tried to bring peace to the region and arguing his trial is a politically motivated conspiracy by Western nations.

Defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths said the prosecutor had "besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law" by turning the case "into a 21st century form of neo-colonialism."

Griffiths pointed to comments by David Crane, the former prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone which is hearing the case, who has said Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was responsible for conflicts in West Africa in his efforts to destabilize the region.

Muammar Gaddafi

"Have you not heard that the court would have been refused funding by the British government had they attempted to indict Gaddafi because the British government led by Tony Blair were anxious to pursue their economic interests in that country (Libya)," Griffiths said, citing comments made by Crane.

Gaddafi is now under investigation by the International Criminal Court for Libya's violent crackdown on protesters after the U.N. Security Council referred the situation to the ICC, the world's first permanent war crimes court.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis has said there is "overwhelming evidence" proving that Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for the "campaign of terror and massive crimes" in Sierra Leone.

She said Taylor is responsible through his "willful, knowing choices, actions and refusals to act."

Taylor's trial is being closely watched for its potential security implications, with a U.S. diplomat warning in leaked WikiLeaks cables that if Taylor is acquitted or given a light sentence, his return to Liberia may threaten "a fragile peace."

Taylor's trial had been scheduled to end last month, but Griffiths left the court in protest after judges refused to accept an overdue filing of his final case summary.

Both he and Taylor continued to boycott proceedings, raising the possibility that the trial would end the way it started, with Taylor refusing to participate.

It prompted the Open Society Justice Initiative, which monitors the trial, to urge in its weblog for "a satisfactory end" to the trial in the interests of both justice and victims.

Appeals judges later allowed Griffiths to file the case summary to prevent a "miscarriage of justice" and present his closing arguments, followed by rebuttals Friday when the defense and prosecution will challenge each other's case.

Judges will then retire to consider their final judgment, which is expected mid-year.

Additional reporting by Svebor Kranjc in The Hague and Ivana Sekularac in Amsterdam

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