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Bringing justice to victims of international crimes

Charles Taylor

Found guilty of aiding and abetting 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on 26 April 2012. Sentenced to 50 years in prison on 30 May 2012. Conviction upheld on appeal on 26 September 2013. Transferred to the United Kingdom in October 2013 to serve his sentence.

On 7 March 2003, Taylor was indicted by the SCSL on 17 counts. Under pressure exerted by the international community, he relinquished power and resigned as President of Liberia on 11 August 2003.

On 23 July 2003, Taylor raised opposition to his indictment and the arrest warrant issued against him stating that, as a Head of State, at the time the indictment and the arrest warrant were issued, he had the right to immunity from prosecution. On 31 May 2004, the Appeals Chamber considered that the principle of international law establishing the sovereign equality of States does not prevent Heads of States from being prosecuted for serious international crimes.

The charges upheld by the SCSL included crimes against humanity (for extermination, murder, rape, enslavement) and war crimes (for acts of terrorism, collective punishment against the civilian population, violence to life and person, outrages upon personal dignity, pillage and abductions). Among those acts were attacks on civilians, on humanitarian and medical personnel, on peacekeeping missions and enrolment of children under 15 years old in the armed forces. According to the indictment, the Revolutionary united front (RUF) and the Armed forces revolutionary council (AFRC) shared a common plan and purpose, thus forming a joint criminal enterprise which consisted in carrying out, with Taylor, the joint actions necessary to gain and exercise political power and control over the territory of Sierra Leone, and in particular over the diamond mining regions.

After a failed attempt to escape from Nigeria, Taylor was arrested on 29 March 2006 at the border with Cameroon and immediately handed over to the SCSL, located in Freetown. Taylor pleaded not guilty for all charges brought against him. On 30 June 2006, for security reasons, the UN Security Council authorized the transfer of Taylorís trial to The Hague. Some charges were dropped and only 11 of them were kept in order to reduce the length of the trial.

The trial opened on 4 June 2007, in the absence of Taylor who refused to appear on the grounds that he would not be given the right to a fair trial.

After that date, the resumption of the trial was postponed many times in order to settle many administrative issues. The trial finally resumed on 7 January 2008, with the submission of the prosecutorís evidence until 27 February 2009. The prosecutor called 91 witnesses to testify. The prosecutionís main argument was that Taylor provided military training and support to RUF and AFRC rebels and that although he knew or should have known about the various crimes committed, he failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or punish them.

The submission of the Defenseís evidence started on 13 July 2009 and ended on 12 November 2010, after the hearing of 20 witnesses, amongst which Taylor himself. The Defense claimed that Taylor was a peace-maker who tried, in his capacity of president of Liberia, to help reach a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Sierra Leone. They argue this trial is a ďwestern conspiracyĒ to remove him from power.

On 11 March 2011, the Court withdrew for deliberations.

On 31 January 2012, Taylorís lawyers asked for a re-opening of the trial in order to submit to the Court a report of experts of the United Nations on Liberia, published in December 2011. According to that report, Liberian mercenaries acted in Ivory Coast without any control. Taylorís lawyers say an analogy has to be done with what happened in Sierra Leone ten years earlier, when the mercenaries allegedly acted without Taylorís control. The judges rejected that request unanimously on 10 February 2012.

On 26 April 2012, the Trial Chamber of the SCSL unanimously found Charles Taylor guilty of aiding, abetting and planning war crimes (acts of terrorism, murders, outrages to personal dignity, cruel treatments, enrolment and conscription of children under 15 years to use them to participate actively in hostilities, pillage) and crimes against humanity (murders, rapes, sexual slavery, enslavement, other inhumane acts).

On 3 May 2012, the prosecution suggested an 80-year sentence.

On 30 May 2012, the SCSL sentenced him to a term of 50 years in prison. He will serve his sentence in Great Britain under an agreement made with the SCSL.

On 19 July 2012, the Prosecution and the Defense filed appeals against both the decision on Taylorís conviction and his sentence.

The Prosecutor appealed against the denial of the Chamber to find Taylor liable for ordering and instigating the commission of crimes, its exclusion of the crimes committed in five specific districts and the 50 years sentence, which it deemed too low.

Defense lawyers appealed some points of facts about Taylorís involvement in some attacks. Moreover, it argued that the 50 years sentence was manifestly unreasonable and raised some irregularities in the proceedings (for instance the lack of deliberation among judges and Justice Julia Sebutindeís participation in the proceedings after she had already become a judge of the International Court of Justice).

On 22 January 2013, the appeal process started. The hearings lasted two days, during which lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense presented their final arguments after which the judges withdrew to consider their verdict. The initial verdict was upheld on appeal on 26 September 2013, making Taylor the first ex Head of State to be conclusively sentenced by an International Tribunal since the end of the Second World War.

Following this verdict, Taylor was transferred in October 2013 to the Frankland prison in Durham, United Kingdom. In a three page letter dated 10 October 2013, Taylor requested that his sentence of 50 years for war crimes be served in Rwanda rather than in the United Kingdom.  Taylor explained that it would be easier and less costly for his family to visit him in Rwanda. He also feared that he would be the target of aggression in a British prison.

On 24 March 2015, the Trial Chamber of the SCSL denied the request for transfer. The Chamber asserted that Taylorís presence in Rwanda could potentially undermine the peace, security and stability of the West African sub-region. The Court also contended that Taylorís detention was in accordance with international standards and did not violate his right to a family life. Finally, the judges stressed that prisoners do not benefit from a right to choose their place of incarceration.

Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Fact sheet

Liberia 2017 2017  - 2017 2017  - 2017
War crimes
Crimes against humanity
Deprivation of life
Infringment of physical integrity
Protection of civilians
Protection of humanitarian personnel and objects

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