MOSCOW, September 26 (RAPSI, Ingrid Burke) – A Hague-based appeals chamber for the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) upheld on Thursday the conviction and 50-year sentence imposed in 2012 against former Liberian president Charles Taylor.
Lauding the outcome, Special Court Prosecutor Brenda Hollis said in a statement Thursday: “This final decision affirms Mr. Taylor’s criminal responsibility for grave crimes which caused untold suffering to many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of victims in Sierra Leone. Today’s judgment brings some measure of justice to those victims who suffered so horribly because of Charles Taylor.” The statement notes that the conviction was upheld on all grounds of the indictment with one minor modification, and the 50-year prison term was left intact.
On April 26, 2012, a trial chamber for the SCSL held Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of 11 acts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian law.
In a summary of the judgment, the SCSL explained that the conflict in Sierra Leone began in March 1991 when a group of armed fighters called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) moved in from Liberia and attacked Sierra Leone. The violence continued unabated by a 2006 peace accord.
A May 1997 coup served to oust the democratically elected government, the ranks of which were then filled by a mix of individuals from RUF and the Sierra Leonean Army that came to be referred to as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), according to the document.
Taylor, who took up the Liberian presidency in August 2007, was indicted by the SCSL in June 2003, accused of having acted in concert with RUF and AFRC fighters, and others. According to the judgment, “[s]pecifically, in that capacity, the Accused is alleged to have assisted, encouraged, directed and/or controlled the above mentioned warring factions in conducting armed attacks in the territory of Sierra Leone from 30 November 1996 to 18 January 2002 (the Indictment period). The attacks included terrorizing the civilian population including burning of civilian homes, murder, sexual violence, physical violence, illegal recruitment of child soldiers, abduction and forced labour, and looting.”
Taylor relinquished his presidency in August 2003 and fled to Nigeria. He initially sought to quash the indictment and set aside his arrest warrant, asserting immunity on the basis of his status at the time of issuance of the indictment and warrant as a sitting Head of State. His efforts proved unsuccessful as the court held that “the sovereign equality of states does not prevent a Head of State from being prosecuted before an international criminal tribunal or court,” according to the judgment summary.
On March 29, 2006 he was arrested by Nigerian authorities and surrendered to the SCSL. He was arraigned shortly thereafter in the SCSL’s Freetown facility, at which point he pleaded not guilty to all counts pending against him. However, the following June he was transferred to The Hague due to security concerns.
The prosecution at that point moved for a sentence of at least 80 years. The defense, for its part, did not submit its own sentencing proposal – but urged the court that the prosecution’s 80-year sentencing requirement was “manifestly disproportionate and excessive.”
On May 30, 2012, the SCSL sentenced Taylor to 50 years in prison, counting the time he had spent in custody since his 2006 arrest as time served.
In her statement Thursday, Hollis praised the court’s decision to uphold the 50-year sentence: ““We welcome the Appeals Chamber’s decision to uphold Mr. Taylor’s sentence to 50 years, which reflects the seriousness of his crimes. This sentence makes it clear that those responsible for criminal conduct on a massive scale will be severely punished. No sentence less than 50 years would be enough to achieve retribution and deterrence, the primary goals of sentencing for international crimes.”