African leader denies murder, rape, torture – and cannibalism

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor opens his war crimes defence with a trademark swagger

Charles Taylor, the first African leader to stand trial for war crimes, opened his defence in theatrical fashion yesterday, arguing that the case against him was nothing but a concoction of "disinformation, misinformation, lies and rumours".

The former Liberian president is on trial in The Hague, not for atrocities committed during the 14 years of bloody carnage in his own country, but for stoking civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. He has been charged on 11 counts, including for rape, murder, torture, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers.

"People have me eating human beings. How could they sink so low as to think that of me?" the 61-year-old said on the first day of his testimony. "I am a father of 14 children, grandchildren, with love for humanity and have fought all my life to do what I thought was right in the interests of justice and fair play. I resent that characterisation of me. It is false, it is malicious."

Two years after the trial opened, and after sitting through harrowing testimony from the prosecution's 91 witnesses, Mr Taylor seemed pleased to finally have the stand. "This whole case has been about 'Let's get Taylor'. Haven't they had their pound of flesh yet? I am not guilty of all these charges," he said, "not even a minute part of these charges".

Mr Taylor denied arming the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), when he was president in return for vast quantities of diamonds.

"Never, ever did I receive – whether [in a] mayonnaise or coffee or whatever jar – any diamonds from the RUF," he said. "It is a lie, a diabolical lie."

The defence does not contest the signature amputations, the beheadings and the sexual violence to which the people of Sierra Leone were subjected during the 1991-2002 war. Indeed Mr Taylor's own lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, this week described the parade of prosecution witnesses as a "procession of hurt human beings reliving the most grotesque trauma".

But the British lawyer will argue that it had nothing to do with Mr Taylor and that far from being an "African Napoleon" as the prosecution contends, the Liberian president was too busy trying to protect democracy and make peace in his own country to have time to micro-manage the conflict next door.

It was a point that Mr Taylor, who introduced himself to the court as the 21st president of Liberia and the reigning chief of all the country's tribes, was keen to hammer home yesterday. "Charles Taylor is supposed to be out there like some little common street thug involving himself in the acquiescence of rape and murder," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm as he adjusted his gold-rimmed tinted spectacles.

Aside from his opening remarks, which directly addressed the charges against him, Mr Taylor's first day on the stand offered up a bizarre mix of childhood reminiscences and African history lessons.

He stressed his humble origins, the child of a sugar cane farmer who grew up in a mud house without running water, waking up with the crow of the rooster and running barefoot to school. Educating himself was his main goal, he said. He won scholarships to schools in Liberia and then decided to go to university in the US.

"I was dating a girl and this old friend of mine came back from the US, and took my girl from me. And I said 'Oh my God'... That really pushed me," he recounted.

There were rants against Washington for not doing enough for Liberia in the 150 years since the country was founded by freed slaves shipped back to west Africa from the US.

But he contradicted that later when he passionately argued that Africans should solve their own problems and not be subjected to Westerners telling people what to do.

With the defendant having to spell out many of the Liberian names, the courtroom felt like a spelling bee at times – "I'm not sure I got that one right," Mr Taylor said. Keeping a handle on the cast of characters included in his lengthy narrative also proved difficult on occasion: he drew a blank on the name of his paternal grandmother.

Only for one brief moment did he appear overcome – when he testified about how the US had forced him out of office and how former Liberian allies turned against him. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president who offered him exile in 2003 before allowing his arrest in 2006, was singled out with venom. Asked what he would do, if he found himself in a closed room with him now, Mr Taylor said: "You would see two presidents in a little tussle... I'm damned angry."

A verdict in the case is not expected until next year. But campaigners hope the trial will send a powerful message to other leaders around the world that they cannot act with impunity.

Suggested Topics
people And here is why...
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties