Taylor trial: Date set for verdict
The Hague - Judges trying former Liberian president Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone will hand down their verdict on April 26, court officials said on Thursday.
Taylor, 64, the first African head of state to face an international tribunal, will learn his fate more than a year after his so-called "blood diamonds" trial in the Netherlands wrapped up.
"The judgment in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor will take place on 26 April 2012," said a statement from the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
"The judgment will be delivered at 11:00... in The Hague, where the Taylor trial has been taking place."
Taylor is accused of creating and implementing a plan to get physical and political control over Sierra Leone in order to exploit the west African country's rich diamond resources.
Prosecutors claim he armed Sierre Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in exchange for illegally mined so-called "blood diamonds".
President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The court said that both the prosecution and defence would have the right to appeal the verdict.
Victim of political plot
"If Mr Taylor is acquitted on all charges, the appeals process will begin immediately. If he is found guilty on any of the 11 counts, the Trial Chamber will schedule sentencing proceedings," the statement said.
Sierra Leone's civil war claimed about 120 000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, described as Taylor's "surrogate army, mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.
Arrested in Nigeria in 2006 and sent to Freetown, his trial was relocated to The Hague over security concerns.
Taylor has consistently dismissed the allegations him as "lies", saying he was the victim of a political plot by "powerful countries".
A former preacher and warlord, the charismatic Taylor is accused of implementing his plan through behind-the-scenes aid in the form of Liberian troops to fight with the RUF and providing guns and ammunition.
Fueled by drugs, the men under Taylor's command committed atrocities including murder, cannibalism and mutilations, often hacking civilians to death or cutting off their hands and arms with machetes, the prosecution said.
Women were raped and reduced to sex slaves, sometimes for years.
Child soldiers under 15 were enlisted and served in units such as the so-called "Small Boy Unit" (SBU) specially created for them.
During the trial, the prosecution presented 94 witnesses and the defence 21.
British supermodel Naomi Campbell, called as a prosecution witness, told the trial how she was given a pouch containing two or three "dirty-looking stones" after a charity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela in Pretoria in 1997.
She told judges she "assumed" the stones, uncut diamonds, were from Taylor but donated it to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund the following day.
During his own testimony for several weeks in July 2009, Taylor called the trial a "sham" against him and denied allegations he ever ate human flesh.
He did however say he saw no problem with the fact that human skulls were being displayed at military checkpoints in Sierra Leone.
The hearings in the case ended on March 11 last year with prosecutors urging a guilty verdict for his "horrific crimes".
In the statement, court registrar Binta Mansaray was quoted as saying that the length of time needed to prepare the judgment "was due largely to the complexity of the case".
Judges had had to read through more than 50 000 pages of witness testimony, and examine 1 520 exhibits which had been submitted in evidence, he added.