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Taylor pleads not guilty to war crimes in Sierra Leone

[JURIST] Former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty to war crimes charges in his first appearance before the Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website] Monday. Taylor initially refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the court but then entered a not guilty plea to all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity outlined in his amended indictment [PDF text; summary]. Taylor appeared before the tribunal amid heightened security after several court officials received death threats.

Taylor has not yet assembled his defense team and was represented [press release] Monday by Special Court Principal Defender Vincent Nmehielle [official website]. Tribunal Chief Prosecutor Desmond de Silva [official website] welcomed Monday's session, saying:

The people of Sierra Leone have been waiting patiently for three years to see the Accused finally face the Trial Chamber here at the Special Court. Today this has happened. Many voices have come together to uphold the Rule of Law and Justice. The voice of the people of Sierra Leone was the loudest and I commend them for their courage, conviction and persistence. With their resolve I have been able to move forward over the last four years and finally see Charles Taylor in the Special Court.

Today also marks an important step in the administration of international criminal justice. Those who commit atrocities and violate international humanitarian law will be held accountable. No matter how rich, powerful or feared people may be – no one is above the law.
Read de Silva's full press release [PDF]. Taylor, who had been living in exile in Nigeria since 2003, was taken into custody [JURIST report] last week while attempting to go through immigration at Gamboru-Ngala near Nigeria's border with Cameroon. BBC News has more.

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