Charles Taylor's Sierra Leone war crimes trial attacked

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor in court on 8 February 2011
Image caption Charles Taylor is accused of selling "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone

The lawyer for Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor has said the prosecution has turned his war crimes trial into a "21st Century form of neo-colonialism".

Courtenay Griffiths made the comments in his closing arguments at the special UN Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.

Mr Taylor is the first former African leader to face such an international tribunal.

He denies 11 counts, including murder, rape and using child soldiers during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

He is accused of arming and controlling the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels during a 10-year campaign of terror conducted largely against civilians.

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

'Why not Gaddafi?'

During his closing argument, Mr Griffiths told judges the trial was important for Africa and for "the evolving concept of international justice".

"It is to the shame of this prosecution that it has besmirched the lofty ideals of international criminal law by turning this case into a 21st Century form of neo-colonialism," he said.

He also said the release of US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks last December had shown that "this was not a trial at all" and that the prosecution was political.

The BBC's Peter Biles in The Hague says Mr Taylor has long claimed that he was tried because powerful countries such as the US and the UK wanted him out of office in Liberia.

Mr Griffiths said justice should be applied equally to all and asked why Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was not in the dock.

He said that it was because the British government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair had wanted to pursue their economic interests in Libya.

The defence lawyer also said no-one had taken any notice of the case until supermodel Naomi Campbell and a Hollywood actress had turned up, and since then it had returned to obscurity.

Ms Campbell and actress Mia Farrow were summoned to give evidence at the trial last August.

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

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

The defence has argued that Mr Taylor tried to broker peace in Sierra Leone at the request of regional powers.

The trial, which is entering its final phase, was delayed for several weeks over a legal wrangle, but last week the defence team won its appeal to file its final brief.

It had missed its January deadline because it said new evidence had come to light.

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.

The trial has already lasted more than three years and the judges are expected to deliver a verdict later in the year.

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

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