[JURIST] Closing arguments began Tuesday in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, despite Taylor’s absence from the courtroom. UN prosecutors said the trial will proceed [Telegraph report] despite Taylor and his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, leaving the courtroom at the beginning of the prosecution’s closing arguments. Griffiths called the tribunal a “farce” [BBC report] after it refused to accept the defense’s written brief because it was 20 days past the deadline. He addressed the court saying, “[o]ur very presence in court is incompatible with our duty to protect Mr. Taylor’s interest. And it is our intention … to leave court at this point.” Griffiths argues that the court will not have the foundational information from his brief, but asserts that they are not withdrawing entirely from the court. They only want to wait for an appeals court to decide whether the court should accept the brief before reaching a verdict.
Taylor’s charges [indictment, PDF], including murder, rape, sexual slavery and acts of terrorism, stem from from a “campaign to terrorize the civilian population” of Sierra Leone. Taylor’s defense lawyers opened their case [JURIST report] in July 2009 and have claimed that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia. His trial continued after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May 2009. Prosecutors previously expressed concern that the defense’s list of 256 witnesses could make the trial last up to four additional years [JURIST report].