Ex-Liberian leader begins defence on war-crime charges
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor began his defence on Monday against charges he led a brutal terror campaign in Sierra Leone during that country's civil war.
Taylor, who has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges including murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers, will take the stand in his own defence on Tuesday.
His defence lawyers have not denied that atrocities were committed in Sierra Leone, but said there was not enough evidence linking Taylor to those crimes.
"No one who has seen the procession through this courtroom of hurt human beings reliving the most grotesque trauma would have been unmoved," Taylor's lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told the three-judge panel.
"We are human too, even while we declare this accused man to be not guilty of the charges he faces."
UN prosecutors, who finished presenting their case in January, say Taylor masterminded crimes in Sierra Leone from his power base in neighbouring Liberia, where he was a warlord who rose to become president from 1997-2003.
He is accused of trying to increase his sway in the region by fanning the flames of the conflict in the West African country. Prosecutors say he recruited and supplied soldiers — including children — to the Revolutionary United Front rebel army, notorious for using machetes to maim thousands of victims, chopping off their hands, legs, lips, ears and breasts.
The prosecution called dozens of of villagers, some of them missing their hands, to testifty,
Griffiths said Taylor will counter with his own detailed account of his version of the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone and his role in them.
"Now he takes the opportunity to put forward his defence, not because in law he has to, but because he feels it is important to set the historical record straight," Griffiths said
Taylor's defence team has a list of more than 200 witnesses, though not all are expected to testify. Among them are former African heads of state and high-ranking UN officials who will testify on his behalf.
With files from The Associated Press