UK & World News
Charles Taylor War Crimes Trial Verdict Due
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor will learn whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison later after an historic five year-long war crimes trial in The Hague.
The warlord-turned-politician is charged with 11 counts of crimes allegedly committed from November 1991 to January 2002, during the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The 64-year-old is said to have played an indirect role in war crimes such as murder and terrorising civilians, rape and recruiting child soldiers.
Taylor, the first African former head of state to be tried in an international court, is accused of arming Sierra Leone's rebels in return for so-called blood or conflict diamonds.
According to prosecutors, the "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" trained the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The rebels, often high on drugs, murdered, raped and maimed their victims, notably amputating hands and arms with machetes.
It is believed more than 120,000 people died in the conflict.
The trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from Taylor at a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, finished in March 2011.
"He (Taylor) was really key in people's minds as to who was accountable for what happened," Elise Keppler, who monitored the trial for Human Rights Watch, said.
She added: "He is a former head of state, the first to hear a judgment against himself: it is unprecedented, it is a historic moment."
Taylor launched a rebellion in Liberia in 1989 in a bid to overthrow the decade-long dictatorship of Samuel Doe, a move which descended into bloody civil war.
He was elected president in 1997 but two years later war broke out anew and fighting only ended when he fled to Nigeria in 2003.
He remained there until March 2006 when Nigeria bowed to international calls to extradite him.
Taylor has pleaded not guilty and testifying at the court in 2009 called the charges against him "lies".
"This whole case is a case of deceit, deception, lies," Taylor said. "I am not guilty of all of these charges, not even a minute part of the charges."
The court, set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, has already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years after trials in the west African country's capital Freetown.
If Taylor is found guilty he will be sentenced in the coming weeks and Britain has offered to hold him in a secure prison.
The Dutch government said it would host the trial only if another country agreed to imprison him and in 2006 Britain's then-foreign secretary Margaret Beckett offered, saying it was proof of the "UK's commitment to international justice".
No west African prisons are believed to be secure enough to hold him.
Liberia was originally formed from the resettlement of freed US slaves in 1822.
According to the CIA, fragile Liberian governance structures continue to allow rampant sex trafficking, forced labour, money laundering and arms dealing within its borders.
It is also a key trans-shipment point for Afghan heroin and South American cocaine being sent to the illicit European and US drug markets.