Prosecution and Defense teams in the case of convicted former president of Liberia Charles Taylor will appeal various aspects of the judgment and sentence delivered by the Trial Chamber judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). This was made clear in separate filings made by the parties this week.
The Trial Chamber judges on April 26, 2012 convicted Taylor of aiding and abetting the commission of serious crimes including rape, murder, and destruction of civilian property by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) forces in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996 to January 18, 2002. The judges further found that Taylor helped to plan attacks on three towns, including the diamond rich town of Kono and the country’s capital Freetown, in late 1998 to early 1999. On May 30, 2012, the judges sentenced Taylor to a jail term of 50 years for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict.
Prosecutors had earlier alleged that in addition to aiding and abetting, Taylor was also in command and control of rebel forces in Sierra Leone and that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with the rebels. Prosecutors further alleged that Taylor planned, ordered, and instigated the commission of serious crimes during the conflict in that West African country.
Throughout his trial, Taylor maintained his innocence. When the judges delivered their verdict on April 26, they ruled that while Taylor aided and abetted the crimes committed in Sierra Leone, there was not sufficient evidence that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with the rebels or that he exercised command and control over them. The judges further ruled that while he was guilty of planning attacks on specific towns in Sierra Leone, the evidence did not support a finding that he ordered or instigated the crimes. As prosecutors requested that Taylor be sentenced to a jail term of 80 years because of the crimes for which he was convicted, the judges on May 30 sentenced him to a jail term of 50 years instead.
On July 19, Prosecution and Defense teams filed notices of appeal, raising several grounds on which they will appeal the findings of the Trial Chamber in both the decision on Taylor’s conviction and his sentence.
Prosecutors on their part have raised four grounds on which they will appeal the findings of the judges. These include the Trial Chamber’s failure to find Taylor liable for ordering and instigating the commission of crimes, the Chamber’s failure to find him liable for crimes committed in certain locations in 5 districts on the ground that they fell outside the scope of the indictment, and then Chamber’s decision to sentence the former Liberian President to a single term of 50 years. Prosecutors argue that the judges in making these findings “erred” in fact and in law.
Defense lawyers for Taylor, on the other hand, have raised 45 grounds on which they say the Trial Chamber “erred” in fact and in law as they convicted and sentenced Taylor on April 26 and May 30 respectively. Included in the numerous grounds of appeal are findings of the judges that Taylor was involved in planning attacks on Kono, Makeni, and Freetown in late 1998 and early 1999, the Chamber’s finding that he assisted the commission of crimes by providing medical assistance to rebel forces in Sierra Leone, that he assisted the commission of crimes by providing a guesthouse for RUF rebels in Liberia, that the jail term of 50 years that Taylor has been sentenced is “manifestly unreasonable,” that the judges “erred” in their failure to consider Taylor’s expression of sympathy as grounds of mitigation, that there were irregularities in the proceedings based on the statement made by the Alternate Judge El-Hadj Malick Sow that the there had been no deliberations among the judges, and that Justice Julia Sebutinde’s participation in the proceedings after she had already become a judge of the International Court of Justice was irregular. For these and several other reasons, defense lawyers for Taylor want the Appeals Chamber to quash the finding of guilt and sentence against Taylor.
In a separate application, Taylor’s defense lawyers have requested that the Appeals Chamber judges voluntarily withdraw from deciding those grounds of appeal that stem out of Justice Sow’s statement as delivered on April 26, and that in the event the Appeals Chamber judges do not withdraw voluntarily, that the request for disqualification be determined by a separate panel of judges. This, according to defense lawyers is because a reasonable person, properly informed, might suspect bias if the same judges are to address the issue.
The defense team explains in their application that after Judge Sow made his statement on April 26 pointing out that no deliberations had taken place among the judges and that “the system is not consistent with all the values of international criminal justice,” judges of the SCSL, sitting as a plenary subjected him to a disciplinary process and found him “unfit” to continue to sit in the proceedings. Taylor’s lawyers now want Judge Sow’s comment to become subjects of the appeals process and in doing so, they argue that the same judges who had disciplined Judge Sow for the comment will not be competent to determine appeals on those grounds.