After hearing nearly four years of argument and witness testimony, the Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague has handed down a guilty verdict in the Charles Ghankay Taylor trial. Taylor, former President of Liberia, was charged with eleven counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law that included rape, murder, terrorizing civilians, looting, sexual slavery, mutilating and beating, enslavement, and recruiting and using child soldiers. The judges found Taylor unanimously guilty on all charges on the grounds that that he knowingly aided and abetted activities with the Revolutionary United Front and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, both of which contributed to the rebel forces in Sierra Leone form November 30, 1996 to January 18, 2002.
Taylor was indicted for his crimes on June 4, 2003, after hiding in exile for nearly three years in Nigeria to avoid his arrest. While in exile, Taylor faced pressure from the newly elected Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to return to Liberia and confront the charges. On March 29, 2006, Nigerian officials caught Taylor when he attempted to flee into Cameroon. Once Taylor arrived in Monrovia, Liberia, he was immediately arrested and subsequently transported to Freetown, Sierra Leone to face the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Due to security concerns, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed Resolution 1688 ordering the transfer of Taylor’s trial to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on the condition that if Taylor were found guilty, his sentence would be served elsewhere.
Though located on International Criminal Court premises, the Special Court for Sierra Leone presided over Taylor’s trial, which began at The Hague on January 6, 2008. Both the UN Secretary General and the Government of Sierra Leone appointed the judges and attorneys. The judges presiding over the trial were Teresa Doherty from Northern Ireland, Richard Lussick from Samoa, and Julia Sebutinde from Uganda. Brenda Hollis served as the Chief Prosecutor, leading a team of ten prosecuting attorneys. Courtenay Griffiths served as Lead Defense Counsel, presiding over just five defense attorneys.
While the guilty verdict undoubtedly represented justice for the victims of War in Sierra Leone, the Prosecution and Defense have both found solace in the verdict. From the Prosecution’s perspective, a verdict that found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting rebel forces and recognizing his role in planned attacks will certainly mean prison time for Taylor. On the other hand, as the Defense has noted, the Special Court failed to find that Taylor exercised direct command and control over the rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Another foundational argument the Prosecution made throughout trial, but was not upheld by the Court, was that Taylor took part in a Joint Criminal Enterprise, a doctrine also known as “common purpose” in the post-World War II Nuremburg Trials. The doctrine has also been utilized in the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia, and it recognizes the culpability of all individuals who contribute to the carrying out of crimes for a common purpose. Joint Criminal Enterprise recognizes a greater role in the execution of crimes than simple accomplice liability.
This verdict handed down from the Special Court of Sierra Leone has been much anticipated from the international criminal law community. Since international criminal law is still a young, developing field, the Court’s verdict carried a significant amount of weight in the eyes of critics. International courts continue to struggle with the issue of legitimacy, since they are seen as an expensive, lengthy process with no means of enforcement. Though the Taylor trial may have corroborated some popular criticisms of the trial process, the Court’s verdict, refusing to recognize all of the Prosecutor’s arguments as valid, may have earned international courts a small victory in the battle for legitimacy.
Here is a link to the official website for the trial: www.charlestaylortrial.org
Junior Blog Editor, Criminal Law Brief
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