[JURIST] Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [JURIST news archive] began his defense [case materials] Monday against war crimes charges [indictment, PDF] that include 11 counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and other violations of international humanitarian law. Taylor's trial continues in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May. Prosecutors told the court last week that the trial could take up to four additional years [JURIST report] due to the number of defense witnesses. Taylor's counsel defended the list of 256 witnesses by pointing out that the prosecution originally named more than 200 witnesses without intending to call all of them. The prosecution rested their case in February 2009 after presenting testimony from 91 witnesses.
The Taylor prosecution has been led by Stephen Rapp [official profile], who was nominated [JURIST report] last week as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues by US President Barack Obama [official profile]. Rapp told the media in February that the court was considering releasing Taylor [JURIST report] due to a lack of funds, echoing his previous concerns about the case that prompted Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] to urge donors to contribute to the court [JURIST report] for the purposes of finishing the trial. Following complaints of prejudice in 2007, the SCSL increased [JURIST reports] Taylor's defense funding to $100,000 a month. Although Taylor claims to be indigent, a five-member UN investigatory panel found in June 2007 that he retains control over millions of dollars [JURIST report] hidden in African banks. The trial is being held in The Hague, Netherlands, due to security concerns in Sierra Leone.