THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Liberian president Charles Taylor snubbed his war crimes trial for a second day on Wednesday, prompting judges to adjourn the case as they consider whether to allow a defense appeal over key documentation.
Taylor, the first African ruler to stand trial for war crimes, has denied 11 charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers during a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
Taylor and his defense lawyer Courtenay Griffiths boycotted much of Tuesday’s hearing after the Special Court for Sierra Leone refused to accept the defense’s almost 600-page final case summary because they filed it 20 days after a January deadline.
Both Taylor and Griffiths, who has appealed the decision denying him the right to lodge the documentation, boycotted the hearing again on Wednesday and Griffiths said he would continue the boycott until the documentation was accepted.
“What we were trying to do is ensure we get some semblance of justice out of this and it’s turned into this personalized attack on us,” Griffiths told reporters outside the court on Wednesday. “I find it totally despicable.”
Griffiths had requested an extension of the filing time limit before the deadline. He said he was still waiting for the judges to rule on eight legal matters and therefore had not been ready to file his summary last month.
But in a majority ruling late on Wednesday, the trial judges directed Griffiths to attend the next hearing on Friday, warning that unless he apologizes for his boycott this week, the court “may impose sanctions.”
Any sanctions are stipulated by court regulations around misconduct of counsel and include the possibility of Griffiths being ruled ineligible to represent Taylor or being fined.
Prosecutors accuse Taylor of directing Revolutionary United Front rebels who raped, killed and hacked off the limbs of women, men and children in a campaign of terror in Sierra Leone.
They also say Taylor tried to control Sierra Leone’s diamond mines, using “blood diamonds” -- a reference to stones taken from conflict zones -- for profit or to buy weapons.
Griffiths has questioned the Sierra Leone court’s impartiality, citing leaked U.S. diplomatic cables he says suggest Taylor’s prosecution was politically motivated.
More than three years of testimony was due to end this week. Tensions ran high on Tuesday, and Griffiths stormed out of the court, an act that put him at risk of being ruled in contempt.
Justice Richard Lussick sharply rebuked Taylor and the defense, telling them: “you’re not running the court you know.”
The defense was due to present its closing arguments on Wednesday, but judges adjourned the case until Friday, when the defense is due to rebut the prosecution’s final arguments.
Presiding judge Teresa Doherty was given a letter which she said she presumed was from the court’s detention center and which indicated that Taylor had “waived his right” to attend Wednesday’s hearing and was not sick.
Griffiths said it would be “illegitimate” of the defense to attend hearings until judges accept the final documentation.
In seeking the appeal, the defense noted in its court filing that Justice Julia Sebutinde had opposed the majority decision denying the filing of the documentation. Sebutinde had said it would be “in the interests of justice” to accept the brief.
Under court procedures, Griffiths must first seek the right to appeal the decision not to accept his documentation, but it may take a few days before a decision is made on his request.
That decision could be handed down on Friday, but the defense lawyer said it was possible judges could opt to close the case on Friday prior to a final judgment in the trial, expected later this year.
Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block; editing by Giles Elgood