More than a year after closing evidence was heard in the trial of Charles Taylor, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is expected to deliver its verdict today.
The former Liberian president is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes committed in Sierra Leone between November 30, 1996 and January 18, 2002.
According to the prosecution side, Taylor financed, trained and armed rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with the intention of looting diamonds from Sierra Leone.
The trial was opened in June 2007. The prosecution side called 94 witnesses to the bar, including 32 “insiders”, former allies of Taylor, who ultimately testified against him.
Several victims of the RUF, a former Sierra Leonean rebel movement, also testified against Taylor. Among them was Joseph Marzah (aka Zig Zag), a killer, who claimed taking orders from Taylor on “how to cook a blue helmet” or how “to kill babies”.
Civil war in Sierra Leone left 150,000 civilians dead and thousands of people with parts of their arms amputated after rebels gave them a choice between “short sleeves” or “long sleeves”.
Other witnesses testified that Taylor concluded deals with the RUF to trade diamonds for ammunition. Ibrahim Bah and Benjamin Yeaten, who allegedly organised this traffic with Taylor, have never been indicted by the ICC.
The prosecution side also gave evidence that the accused had received within three years US$14 million on a private Liberian banking account.
Taylor later told the Court that this secret account was set up to bypass the arms embargo imposed by the international community on Liberia.
The defence counsel brought 21 witnesses, including Taylor, whose testimony lasted five months. He tried to convince the judges that he was not a “warlord” but a “peaceful man”, a “revolutionary” rather than a “terrorist”.
He claimed that the whole case was based on a “plot” orchestrated by the Pentagon after he had opposed regional plans of Halliburton, a US oil company.
Taylor was indicted in June 2003 but the arrest warrant remained secret until he agreed to leave power in August 2003, after being granted political asylum by Nigeria. In March 2006, he was nevertheless arrested in Nigeria and transferred to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The Dutch government agreed to host the trial following a request from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who feared instability in Liberia if Taylor were tried in Sierra Leone.
The SCSL verdict will be the first delivered by an international court on a former head of state. If Taylor is found guilty, he will serve his sentence in the UK.