Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Justice for Charles Taylor's victims takes another step forward

Yesterday was the first day of the trial of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. He is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including mass murder, mutilations, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers, for his role in the decade-long civil war that engulfed Sierra Leone, which borders Liberia.

The trial was praised by the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon as "a significant move towards peace and reconciliation." Human rights' groups also welcomed the trial of the former head of state as a step forward in the battle against impunity.

Held in The Hague, the first day of trial at the UN-sponsored tribunal was was boycotted by the ex-warlord who whined that the Special Court would not give him a fair trial.

"I cannot take part in this charade that does injustice to the people of Liberia and the people of Sierra Leone," the one time Big Man sniffed in a letter read to the court. "I choose not to be a fig-leaf of legitimacy for this process."

The man most responsible for destabilizing West Africa in the 1990s claimed, "I stand ready to participate in such a trial and let justice be done and for those who have suffered far more than me in Liberia and Sierra Leone."

The first day was also punctuated by a sharp exchange between the tribunal's presiding judge and one of Taylor's lawyers who tried to walk out.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch explained how the Court was trying to make the trial's proceedings accessible to the people of Sierra Leone, whose former rebels Taylor is accused of backing.

"Audio and video recordings are made of all sessions and distributed throughout the region. This time, the court is inviting journalists and civil society representatives to attend the court hearings by rotation," she said.

The Liberian Analyst ran a piece explaining the difficulties in getting witnesses to testify for and against the man who held the nation hostage for so long.

A website site has been set up to follow the trial of the world's worst war criminal. It can be found at: charlestaylortrial.org

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