18 June 2009The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone today announced that lawyers for the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, will begin their defence against charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity on 13 July. Mr. Taylor’s lawyers will make their opening arguments on that day in The Hague, where the Court is based, and the preparatory hearing is slated for 6 July. In 2006, the Security Council authorized the trial to be held in the Netherlands, instead of its usual venue in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, citing security reasons.The Prosecution rested its case against Mr. Taylor in February after presenting 91 witnesses to provide testimony.The former President has pleaded not guilty to the 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include pillage, slavery for forced marriage purposes, collective punishment, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The charges relate to his alleged support for two rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and the Revolutionary United Front, during that country’s civil war from 1996 to 2002. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established in January 2002 through an agreement between Sierra Leone’s Government and the UN. It cannot impose a life sentence, but it has already sentenced two defendants in another case to 50 years in jail. Britain has said it would be willing to imprison Mr. Taylor if he is found guilty.