On Friday, Charles Taylor’s defence officially closed its case in the case of Prosecutor v. Taylor (Taylor, far right) at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In his final submissions, Taylor’s lead counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, told the judges 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. On that note, this is the case for Mr. Taylor."
Taylor is charged with responsibility for 11 counts, including the crimes against humanity of rape and sexual slavery, and the war crimes of recruitment and/or use of child soldiers and committing acts of terror. The defence formally opened on July 13, 2009, and Taylor took the stand in his own defence the next day. He remained on the stand until February 18, 2010. The defence called 21 witnesses on its behalf, ending with the testimony of Sam Flomo Kolleh, a Liberian national and former member of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone. The defence used Mr. Kolleh’s evidence to try to rebut the prosecution’s evidence that Taylor was responsible for providing support to the Revolutionary United Front.
Written final trial briefs will be filed in January 2011, with oral closing arguments for both parties scheduled for February 8-11, 2011. The trial judgment is expected in mid 2011. The trial began in 2008 at the premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and then moved in May to the premises of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in nearby Leidschendam, Netherlands.
The Registrar of the Special Court, Binta Mansaray (right), noted that the closure of the defence case “is not only a major milestone in the Charles Taylor trial, but in the work of the court as a whole.” The end of the Taylor trial and any subsequent appeals will mark the end of the current work of the Special Court. The Special Court will then close and be succeeded by a residual mechanism in order to carry out legal and practical obligations that naturally continue after closure, such as victim protection and sentence enforcement monitoring. The Prosecutor, Brenda Hollis (left), also welcomed the closure of the defence case, expressing thanks to all of the witnesses who testified during both the prosecution and defence phases of the trial: “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.”
The Taylor trial has been lauded for its efficiency, which was directly related to the cooperation of Taylor. As well, Taylor’s lead defence counsel, Griffiths, has garnered attention for his effective – and dramatic - advocacy on his client’s behalf.
As I noted in an earlier post on the Taylor trial, the most difficult aspect of this case for the prosecution is adequately proving the linkages between Charles Taylor, who was in Liberia during the time period of the indictment, and the crimes committed in Sierra Leone. The prosecution brought linkage witnesses, and Taylor’s defence worked to raise doubts about that evidence.
In February, keep an eye on the incredibly helpful blog The Trial of Charles Taylor for updates on the closing arguments in the Taylor case. You can also watch the closing submissions through live streaming on the Special Court’s website.