Taylor boycotts trial 04 Jun 2007
Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, has refused to attend the opening of his war crimes trial in The Hague stating that he could not expect a fair trial.

On Monday, 4 June 2007, former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, refused to attend the opening of his war crimes trial in The Hague stating that he could not expect a fair trial from the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In a letter read out to the court by his defence counsel, Karim Khan, Taylor articulated that “I will not receive a fair trial before the Special Court at this time and I must decline to attend hearings”. Having read out his client's statement, Khan then walked out of the courtroom despite the Presiding Judge, Julia Sebutinde, instructing him to continue representing his client and insisting that the trial would continue.

Charles Taylor, President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, is charged with five counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery and violence, and enslavement; five counts of war crimes, including acts of terrorism and torture; and one count of other serious violation of international humanitarian law. On the opening day of the trial, the Prosecution laid out a case which placed Taylor at the centre of a systematic campaign of terror waged against civilians in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996. This campaign allegedly included murder; rape; sexual slavery; amputation of limbs; looting; setting fire to property and conscripting child soldiers.

In the letter to the court, Taylor stated that he could not take part in what he described as "this charade that does injustice to the people of Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone".

“I have only one counsel to appear on my behalf against nine on the prosecution team. This is neither fair nor just”, Taylor complained. When pressed about the composition of Taylor's legal team, Khan admitted to having two legal assistants, one part-time pro bono assistant in Monrovia, and one international and one Liberian investigator.

According to Khan, Taylor has “terminated his instructions to [his] legal counsel” and asked his defence team to cease to represent him. “He will represent himself”, Khan told the court. Presiding Judge Sebutinde, in response to Khan's decision to leave the courtroom, stated that “If that's the decision you have taken, so be it” and directed another member of the defence team, Charles Jalloh, to represent Taylor during the prosecution's opening statement.

Taylor is the first African head of state to go on trial for war crimes before an international tribunal. He has denied all of the 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but has recognised the jurisdiction of the UN-backed Special Court. Taylor's trial was moved from Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, to The Hague for security reasons.

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