Thursday, June 16, 2011

'Blood diamond' trial: the case against Charles Taylor

He was the first ever African head of state to face an international tribunal. Aside from distracting details about his flirtation with supermodel Naomi Campbell, uncut jewels and dining with Nelson Mandela, the aim of the Special Court for Sierra Leone could not be more serious: to seek justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of a vicious civil war.

Taylor stands accused of accepting "mayonnaise jars" stuffed with diamonds dug by anti-government rebels – and the civilians they forced to work at gunpoint – from Sierra Leone's rust-coloured earth which were then smuggled across the jungle border to Monrovia.

In return, US-educated and Libya-trained Taylor sent back weapons largely purchased on the black market because of a UN arms embargo placed on Liberia. Among those he is alleged to have traded with was Russian Viktor Bout, on whom the Nicholas Cage film Lord of War is partly based.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with Revolutionary United Front rebels mutilating thousands of civilians who had their hands and arms severed.

According to Brenda Hollis, the chief prosecutor, Taylor was directly responsible for the terrorising of civilians, recruitment of child soldiers and even cannibalism – the court heard from a former aide who said he saw him eat a human liver.

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