Defense lawyers for Charles Taylor today formally closed their case after calling 21 witnesses to testify on behalf of the former Liberian president in response to an 11 count indictment in which Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor provided support to and was in control of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who waged an 11 year civil conflict in the West African nation. Mr. Taylor has denied all allegations against him.
Between January 2008 and February 2009, Prosecutors led 91 witness in evidence against Mr. Taylor, some of whom were victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, while others were insider witnesses comprising of former members of the RUF, former members of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), and former members of Mr. Taylor’s Liberian government, including his former vice president Moses Blah. The victim witnesses testified mainly about the atrocities that were committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, while the insider witnesses attempted to link Mr. Taylor to the RUF and their activities in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor’s lawyers formally opened the defense case on July 13, 2009, and the following day, the former Liberian president himself took the witness stand as a witness in his own defense. Mr. Taylor concluded his testimony on February 18, 2010. Mr. Taylor’s final witness, a Liberian member of the RUF, Sam Flomo Kolleh, concluded his evidence on Tuesday, November 9, 2010.
In bringing Mr. Taylor’s defense to a formal closure today, lead defense counsel for the accused, Courtenay Griffiths, told the judges, “I’m grateful first of all to your honors for dealing with such alacrity with the outstanding motions, and I am pleased to announce that is the case for Mr. Taylor.”
Mr. Griffiths thanked all the parties involved in the trial for their “contributions in ensuring that the proceedings in the courtroom have run as efficiently and smoothly as they have done.”
“In thirty years of practice, this is the first trial I have been involved in of this magnitude involving so much evidence in which so little time has been lost either through illness or any other matter, and I think everyone ought to be commended for their efforts in ensuring that that was the case,” Mr. Griffiths said.
Mr. Griffiths also said that the differences in positions inside the courtroom should not be interpreted that the defense does not share the concerns of the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone.
“I would also, in light of the comments I make, like to make clear that it has been accepted by us right from the outset that terrible crimes were committed in Sierra Leone. We share the concerns for the victims of these crimes, and we want to make clear that differences between the parties in the courtroom should not be exploited as evidence that either party naturally assumes a morally superior position,” he said.
“On that note, this is the case for Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Griffiths concluded.
Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, thanked all parties who have worked to get the trial to this stage. She announced that after today’s formal closure of the defense case, the court will resume again to hear closing arguments from the parties from February 8 to 11, 2011 before the judges retire for judgment.
In a press release issued by the Office of the Prosecutor, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Brenda J. Hollis, said that today’s closure of the defense case “is an important step towards the completion of the Charles Taylor trial.”
Ms. Hollis thanked witnesses who have testified for both the prosecution and the defense, saying that “their courage and willingness to take the stand and bear witness has been an inspiration. We in the prosecution have always said that we fight for justice in the name of the victims, but they are the ones who have truly made justice possible”.
In another press release issued by the Outreach and Public Affairs section of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Registrar of the court, Binta Mansaray, said that the closure of the defense case “is not only a major milestone in the Charles Taylor trial, but in the work of the court as a whole.”
Mr. Taylor’s trial will resume on February 8, 2011 to hear closing arguments from the parties.