Charles Taylor lawyer storms out of war crimes trial

Courtenay Griffiths: "We have decided not to participate in these closing arguments "

A lawyer for Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor has walked out of court during the closing stages of the former leader's war crimes trial in The Hague.

Courtenay Griffiths had tried to submit his final written brief to the court 20 days after the deadline. He was angered when judges refused to accept it.

Mr Taylor is accused of fuelling Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s by arming rebels.

He denies 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The trial started in June 2007 - Mr Taylor boycotting the opening, arguing he would not get a fair trial. The verdict is expected later this year.

No RSVP

The prosecutors continued with their closing statement to the court despite Mr Griffiths' absence.

Outside the courtroom, Mr Griffiths said he was refusing to "lend legitimacy to proceedings".

"How will posterity judge the credibility of this court if, at this 11th hour, they prevented Mr Taylor from presenting 90% of his closing arguments?" he said.

At the scene

Charles Taylor failed to appear in court after the first break of the morning. It was said he was feeling unwell and in need of some rest, although he had shown no sign of discomfort during the first two hours this morning.

However, he had been forced to listen to prosecutor Brenda Hollis accuse him of having been the central figure in waging the campaign of terror in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

At times, Mr Taylor sat with his eyes closed, but then turned to polish his tinted spectacles and lightly tapped his fingers on the desk. In the media room outside, his defence counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, was doing the rounds briefing reporters on why he had chosen to walk out of the court.

But prosecutor Brenda Hollis said Mr Griffiths had no right to walk out.

"The accused is not attending a social event. He may not RSVP at the last minute. He is the accused at a criminal proceeding," she said.

Later, Mr Taylor also did not return to the courtroom, an official telling the judges that he was upset and needed rest.

Judge Teresa Doherty said Mr Taylor had "deliberately blighted" the orders of the court, and ordered the hearing to continue.

Prosecutors say Mr Taylor, Liberian president 1997-2003, armed and controlled the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during a 10-year campaign of terror conducted largely against civilians.

The RUF became infamous for hacking off the limbs of their victims, and using rape and murder to terrorise the population.

"The crimes suffered by the people of Sierra Leone would not have occurred but for Taylor's supervision and support for the RUF," said prosecutors in their final trial brief.

Celebrity testimony

Mr Taylor said he had wanted to bring peace to Sierra Leone.

Taylor Timeline

  • 1989: Launches rebellion in Liberia
  • 1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
  • 1995: Peace deal signed
  • 1997: Elected president
  • 1999: Liberia's Lurd rebels start insurrection to oust Mr Taylor
  • June 2003: Arrest warrant issued
  • August 2003: Steps down, flees to Nigeria
  • March 2006: Arrested, sent to Sierra Leone
  • June 2007: Trial opens in The Hague

He is accused of selling "blood diamonds" for the rebels, in return for supplying them with weapons.

Last year supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow were summoned to give evidence.

The prosecution was trying to establish a link between Mr Taylor and a number of uncut diamonds that Miss Campbell said she had been given in South Africa in 1997.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague has heard from more than 100 witnesses in what is the first international trial of an African former head of state.

Prosecutors are giving their closing arguments on Tuesday, and defence lawyers will give their statement on Wednesday, with rebuttals scheduled for Friday.

The judges will then retire to consider their judgement, expected by mid-2011.

If convicted, Mr Taylor would serve a prison sentence in the UK.

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