International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Background

Charles Taylor Portrait

© Michael Kooren / AFP / Getty Images

Name: Charles Ghankay Taylor
Nationality: Liberian
Arrested: March 29, 2006; Taylor was arrested in Nigeria and transferred into custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Charges: 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Trial start date: January 6, 2008
Trial end date: March 9, 2011
Judgment: April 26, 2012; convicted of all charges.
Sentencing: May 30, 2012; sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Charles Taylor was in Accra, Ghana, attending peace talks, when the news came through that he had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on June 4, 2003. He fled back to Liberia, fearing arrest. Two months later, a deal between the United Nations, the United States, the African Union, and ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) was struck to get Taylor out of Liberia. Taylor then went into exile in Nigeria.

Almost three years passed before Taylor was arrested and transferred to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. His time in Nigeria did not go unchallenged, however. Civil society and others were still pushing for him to answer the charges against him in the indictment. In Abuja, Nigeria, two Nigerian businessmen, David Anyaele and Emmanuel Egbuna—whose limbs were allegedly amputated by Taylor’s forces in Liberia—challenged Taylor’s asylum and sought to have him extradited to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to face justice. But the case wound its way through the courts slowly.

Eventually, the new Liberian president, former World Bank official Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, asked for Taylor to be returned to Liberia. Twenty days later, on March 25, 2006, Nigerian president, Olusdegun Obasanjo informed Johnson-Sirleaf that Liberia was “free to take former President Charles Taylor into its custody.” Within 48 hours, Taylor went missing from his seaside villa in Nigeria. Nigerian officials raised the alarm and ordered his arrest. Taylor was caught by Nigerian authorities on March 29, 2006, as he tried to cross the Cameroon border in a Range Rover. Taylor was placed in a Nigerian Government jet with military guard and flown to Monrovia.  Peacekeepers arrested him on the tarmac and put aboard a UN helicopter headed for Freetown, where he was handed over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Citing fears over instability in Liberia if Taylor were tried in neighboring Sierra Leone, Sirleaf-Johnson backed a bid to have Taylor’s trial moved to The Hague. The Dutch Government asked for a Security Council resolution to authorize the transfer, and said it would host Taylor’s trial on the condition that another country agreed in advance to take Taylor after his trial finished (the United Kingdom agreed). Security Council Resolution 1688 was passed unanimously on June 16, 2006, paving the way for Taylor to be tried by the Special Court on the premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Resolution 1688 also requested “all States to cooperate to this end, in particular to ensure the appearance of former President Taylor in the Netherlands for purposes of his trial by the Special Court, and encourages all States as well to ensure that any evidence or witnesses are, upon the request of the Special Court, promptly made available to the Special Court for this purpose.”  After some delays, Taylor’s trial began in earnest on January 7, 2008, in The Hague.

Other trials at the Special Court for Sierra Leone

AFRC trial

Alex Tamba Brima (a.k.a. Tamba Alex Brima, Gullit), senior member of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), Junta, and AFRC/RUF forces, member of the Junta Governing Body, the Supreme Council. Trial Judgment July 19, 2007: guilty, 50 years single term of imprisonment. Appeal Judgment February 22, 2008: guilty, 50 years single term of imprisonment.

Brima Bazzy Kamara (a.k.a. Ibrahim Bazzy Kamara, Alhaji Ibrahim Kamara), senior member of the AFRC, Junta and AFRC/RUF forces, member of the Junta Governing Body, the Supreme Council. Trial Judgment July 19, 2007: guilty, 45 years single term of imprisonment. Appeal Judgment February 22, 2008: guilty, 45 years single term of imprisonment.

Santigie Borbor Kanu (a.k.a. 55, five-five, Santigie Khanu, Santigie Kanu, S.B. Khanu, S.B. Kanu, Santigie Bobson Kanu, Borbor Santigie Kanu), senior member of the AFRC, Junta and AFRC/RUF forces, member of the Junta Governing Body, the Supreme Council. Trial Judgment July 19, 2007: guilty, 50 years single term of imprisonment. Appeal Judgment February 22, 2008: guilty, 50 years single term of imprisonment.

CDF trial

Samuel Hinga Norman, National Coordinator of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) and Commander of the Kamajors, first in command. Died February 22, 2007.

Moinina Fofana, National Director of War of the CDF, second in command. Trial Judgment October 9, 2007: guilty on several counts, 6 years total term of imprisonment. Appeal Judgment May 28, 2008, guilty on several counts, 15 years total term of imprisonment.

Allieu Kondewa (a.k.a. Allieu Musa) High Priest of the CDF, directly answerable to Samuel Hinga Norman. Trial Judgment October 9, 2007: guilty on several counts, 8 years total term of imprisonment. Appeal Judgment May 28, 2008, guilty on several counts, 20 years total term of imprisonment.

RUF trial

Issa Hassan Sesay (a.k.a. Issa Sesay), senior officer and commander in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), Junta, and AFRC/RUF forces. From 1993-1997 RUF Area Commander. From 1997-1999 RUF Battle Group Commander, subordinate only to Sam Bockarie (RUF Battle Field Commander), Foday Sankoh (Leader RUF) and Johnny Paul Koroma (Leader AFRC). During the AFRC regime, member of the Junta Governing Body. In 2000, RUF Battle Field Commander, subordinate only to Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma. Trial Judgment February 25, 2009: guilty on 16 counts, sentenced to 52 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence on October 26, 2009.

Morris Kallon (a.k.a. Bilai Karim), senior officer and commander in the RUF, Junta, and AFRC/RUF forces. From 1996-1998 RUF Deputy Area Commander. From 1998-1999 RUF Battle Field Inspector, subordinate only to Issa Sesay (RUF Battle Group Commander), Sam Bockarie (RUF Battle Field Commander), Foday Sankoh (Leader RUF) and Johnny Paul Koroma (Leader AFRC). During the Junta regime member of the Junta Governing Body. In 2000, RUF Battle Group Commander. From June 2001 Battle Field Commander, subordinate only to Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma. Trial judgment February 25, 2009: guilty on 16 counts, sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence on October 26, 2009.

Augustine Gbao (a.k.a. Augustine Bao), senior officer and commander in the RUF, Junta, and AFRC/RUF forces. From 1996-1998 senior RUF Commander in Kailahun District, subordinate only to the RUF Battle Group Commander, the RUF Battle Field Commander, Foday Sankoh (Leader RUF) and Johnny Paul Koroma (Leader AFRC). From 1998-2002 Overall Security Commander in the AFRC/RUF forces, subordinate only to Foday Sankoh and Johnny Paul Koroma. From 1999-2002 also Joint Commander of AFRC/RUF forces in the Makeni area, Bombali District, subordinate only to the RUF Battlefield Commander, Foday Sankoh (Leader RUF) and Johnny Paul Koroma (Leader AFRC). Trial judgment February 25, 2009: guilty on 14 counts, sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence on October 26, 2009.

Other indictments by the Special Court for Sierra Leone

The indictments against Foday Saybana Sankoh, Leader and founder of the RUF, and against Samuel Bockarie, Commander in Chief of the RUF, were withdrawn on December 8, 2003, due to the deaths of the two accused.

The whereabouts and fate of Johnny Paul Koroma (a.k.a. JPK), leader of the AFRC, are unknown. The indictment against him remains in force.

More about the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Legitimacy/legal competence of the Special Court for Sierra Leone

  • The Special Court has universal jurisdiction to try crimes against humanity and war crimes.
  • The Special Court tries only those accused who allegedly bear most responsibility for crimes in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996. (Article 1(1) of the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
  • Accused person’s position (Head of State) does not bar jurisdiction for crimes against humanity or war crimes. (Article 6(2) of the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone).

Personal jurisdiction of the Special Court

The personal jurisdiction of the Special Court refers to its power to prosecute only “those who bear the greatest responsibility” for the grave crimes committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996. The prosecutor of the Special Court has defined the phrase “bearing the greatest responsibility” to mean those individuals who served as major commanders in the various fighting factions. While many individuals might have been involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone, it is left with the prosecutor to determine who falls in the category of “those who bear the greatest responsibility.” The statute of the court provides that the official position of an individual, whether as head of state, will not stop the prosecutor from bringing charges against him. While many heads of states have been linked with the conflict in Sierra Leone, such as Presidents Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone, Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso, Muamarr Ghadafi of Libya, or Lansana Conteh of Guinea, it is the prosecutor’s duty to determine where the evidence leads him. In this case, the prosecutor determined that the evidence led him to Mr. Taylor.

Temporal jurisdiction of the Special Court

The temporal jurisdiction of the Special Court refers to its power to prosecute only those crimes committed from November 30, 1996. While the court can hear evidence of crimes committed prior to November 30, 1996, it cannot find an accused guilty of any such crimes committed prior to that cut-off date. During Mr. Taylor’s trial, many witnesses have testified about events which took place prior to November 30, 1996, in which they alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved. While the prosecution can argue that these issues will build the foundation for the main charges against Mr. Taylor, the judges will not find him guilty based on any activities that occurred prior to November 30, 1996.

Territorial jurisdiction of the Special Court

The territorial jurisdiction of the Special Court refers to its powers to prosecute individuals only for crimes committed in the “territory of Sierra Leone.” While the Special Court can indict and prosecute persons other than Sierra Leoneans, such prosecutions would only be for crimes committed in the territory of Sierra Leone. During the trial of Mr. Taylor, many witnesses have spoken about events which took place in Liberia. The court, however, will only consider those events that took place in Sierra Leone or those events that took place in Liberia but were directly a part of the events taking place in Sierra Leone. For example, if a witness testifies about a meeting in Liberia relating to RUF activities, where Mr. Taylor was present, then such issues will be considered as part of events in Sierra Leone. Or if a witness testifies about arms or diamond trade in Liberia, but which were meant to impact the war in Sierra Leone, those issues will be considered as part of the evidence relating to the war in Sierra Leone. Other than that, if a witness testifies about how the NPFL fought in Liberia or how NPFL commanders were killed in Liberia, they will not form the basis of conviction for the conflict in Sierra Leone