Liberian Ex-Leader Boycotts War
Crimes Trial as It Opens
June 5, 2007
By MARLISE SIMONS
THE HAGUE, June 4 — On the first day of his trial,
former President Charles G. Taylor of Liberia, one
of Africa’s most tyrannical warlords, refused to
appear in court on Monday and sent word that he was
firing his lawyer, apparently wanting to deflect
attention from proceedings that aim to cover a
decade of warfare and extraordinary cruelties.
Even from a high-security cell, the former dictator
succeeded in briefly dominating the opening session
by having his lawyer read a letter saying Mr. Taylor
would not “be a fig leaf of legitimacy for this
But as his lawyer walked out, the judges ordered the
trial, before the United Nations-backed Special
Court for Sierra Leone, to go on.
A panel of four international judges is trying Mr.
Taylor, 59, on charges of backing rebels who plunged
Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia, into civil war.
Prosecutors said “they terrorized, killed and
mutilated civilians” on rampages in which weapons
were often paid for with locally mined diamonds.
Tens of thousands of people were killed in the
fighting, and as many as 500,000 were affected by
the rebels’ campaign, which became notorious for
rape and the cutting off of arms, legs, ears or
noses of civilians to silence dissent.
The war strategies of Mr. Taylor are said to have
also caused the deaths of several hundred thousand
people in his home country, where he became
president in 1997 after leading a guerrilla army,
but any crimes in Liberia are not within the mandate
of this court. His forces often consisted of child
soldiers, who the prosecution said had been
indoctrinated and incited through the use of drugs.
Mr. Taylor, the first African head of state to be
brought to trial before an international court,
faces 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war
crimes, committed during the Sierra Leone civil war,
which lasted from 1991 to 2002.
The long-awaited start of the trial was briefly
taken up by procedural wrangling in which the
defense lawyer, Karim Khan, and the presiding judge,
Julia Subutinde of Uganda, sparred over Mr. Taylor’s
absence. Mr. Khan walked out, saying Mr. Taylor had
“terminated” his relations with him, even though the
judge repeatedly ordered him to stay.
As the formal session began in a courtroom of the
International Criminal Court, the prosecution read a
nearly three-hour opening statement before the
red-robed judges and two public galleries, packed
with diplomats, lawyers, human rights advocates and
Outlining his case, Stephen Rapp, the chief
prosecutor, said he planned to show how Mr. Taylor
controlled his men, even killing members of his
inner circle when he feared they might expose him,
and how he obtained arms and ammunition by illegally
selling timber and trading in diamonds, which became
known as “blood diamonds.” Mr. Rapp said the
prosecution would show “how the diamond trade
He said he would dwell on the fate of children who
were taught to amputate limbs and gouge out eyes and
were even ordered to kill their parents and to see
the army as their new family.
“The crimes are nothing short of enormous,” Mr. Rapp
said. While the suffering could never be erased, he
said, he hoped that the trial would give the people
of Sierra Leone “some small measure of closure.”
Some observers in the gallery said that by
boycotting the court session, Mr. Taylor was
evidently trying to draw attention to himself rather
than to the prosecution’s graphic accounts. During a
break, Abdul Rahim Kamara, a human rights advocate
from Sierra Leone, said Mr. Taylor’s absence and
other actions were “just stalling tactics.”
“But in the end he can’t gain anything, Mr. Kamara
said. “He is locked up.”
Mr. Taylor did attend three earlier hearings. During
those, he and his lawyer demanded delays to gain
more preparation time, better offices and more
financing for the defense. Mr. Taylor has declared
himself partly indigent, which means that the court
pays all of his legal fees, which thus far add up to
$680,000, a court official said.
“Here’s a man who has sucked the life blood out of a
whole region, emotionally, physically and
financially, and he is playing a smoke and mirrors
game over money,” said David Crane, former
prosecutor of the Special Sierra Leone Court, who
signed the Taylor indictment in 2003 and was in the
gallery on Monday.
Mr. Crane said court investigations had estimated
Mr. Taylor’s personal fortune at $450 million. Mr.
Taylor, he added, may not have ready access to his
wealth. The Swiss government has frozen several
million dollars of it.
The trial is to resume June 25, when the prosecution
will call its first witnesses.