Charles Taylor

On Thursday 26 April, Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) delivered its verdict in the case against Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia. Taylor was found criminally responsible of aiding and abetting rebel forces in the commission of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in neighboring Sierra Leone during its civil war.

The Judges will deliver their sentencing judgment on 30 May after a hearing on 16 May. Subsequently both Taylor and the Prosecutor have 14 days to appeal the decision of the Trial Chamber.

Charles Taylor was charged with a total of 11 counts, i.e., five counts of war crimes: terrorizing civilians, murder, outrages on personal dignity, cruel treatment, and looting; five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilating and beating, and enslavement; and one count of other serious violations of international humanitarian law: recruiting and using child soldiers. These crimes were alleged to have been committed between 1996 and 2002 during the course of the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Taylor, the first African head of state to be brought before an international court, had pleaded not guilty to all 11 charges.

The civil war began in 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from the forces of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the government. Tens of thousands of people died during this war which lasted until 2002, and which was infamous for the brutal hacking off of limbs.

Charles Taylor was indicted in March 2003. After resigning as president of Liberia in June of the same year, he moved to Nigeria where he lived in exile until his arrest in early 2006. He was then moved to the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, the seat of the SCSL. Taylor was subsequently transferred to The Hague in the Netherlands in June 2006. Due to fears of instability in the region if Taylor were tried in Sierra Leone, Security Council Resolution 1688 authorized the transfer of the Taylor trial to The Hague. He has been in the custody of the SCSL for almost six years.

The Prosecution alleged that Charles Taylor was bearing individual criminal responsibility for the crimes on the basis that he allegedly took part in the crimes by planning, instigating, and ordering them; aiding and abetting them by providing military training and support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels fighting in Sierra Leone and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); and taking part in the execution of a plan to take control of Sierra Leone during which the crimes were committed. The Prosecution further alleged that Charles Taylor was a superior to perpetrators of the crimes and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or punish the crimes while knowing or having reason to know about them.

The Trial Chamber found that Taylor's guilt on the basis of command responsibility and joint criminal enterprise could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. However, the Judges ruled that his financial and military support substantially contributed to the crimes. He was also said to have participated in the planning of a number of attacks, including the assault on Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and to have received so-called blood diamonds from the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for weapons and ammunition.

The Charles Taylor trial has been the last of the nine trials conducted by the SCSL since the Court was established through a bilateral treaty between the UN and the government of Sierra Leone in 2002. The trial has probably been the largest and longest running of all the cases tried by the SCSL. About 115 witnesses were heard and the transcripts of testimony amounted to 49,622 pages. The trial also ran over approximately four years which amounted to 420 trial days.

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