The Prosecution’s Case: What Happened?

Charles Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to January 18, 2002. The Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor is responsible for crimes which include murdering and mutilating civilians, including cutting off their limbs; using women and girls as sex slaves; and abducting adults and children, and forcing them to perform forced labor or become fighters during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor is charged on the basis that he allegedly backed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels fighting in Sierra Leone; that he had links with senior leaders in the RUF—such as Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie (a.k.a. Mosquito), Issa Sesay, and others—and a second warring faction, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC); and that he was responsible for Liberian forces fighting in support of the Sierra Leonean rebels.

The specific counts against Mr. Taylor are:

Five counts of war crimes: terrorizing civilians, murder, outrages on personal dignity, cruel treatment, and looting;

Five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, sexual slavery, mutilating and beating, and enslavement; and

One count of other serious violations of international humanitarian law: recruiting and using child soldiers.

The Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor bears individual criminal responsibility for the crimes on the basis that he allegedly participated in the commission of the crimes by planning, instigating, and ordering them; aiding and abetting them by providing military training and support to the RUF and AFRC; and participating in the execution of a plan to take control of Sierra Leone during which the crimes were committed. The Prosecutor further alleges that Mr. Taylor was a superior to perpetrators of the crimes and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or punish the crimes while knowing or having reason to know about them.

On April 3, 2006, Charles Taylor made his initial appearance before the Judges of Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and on June 4, 2007, the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court Mr. Stephen Rapp gave the Prosecution’s opening statement before the Trial Judges in which he explained the nature of the case against Charles Taylor, that factual matters to be proven, the evidence to be presented  that summarized the arguments to be made.

The first prosecution witness against Charles Taylor commenced his testimony on January 7, 2008, and during the presentation of the prosecution’s case that lasted until February 27, 2009; 91 witnesses testified against Charles Taylor. The following is a categorical breakdown of the 91 prosecution witnesses:

  • Crime Base Witnesses: 56: Mainly victims of crimes committed in Sierra Leone and whose testimonies are meant to show the atrocities committed by RUF and AFRC rebels in Sierra Leone.
  • Insider/Linkage Witnesses: 31: Mainly members or insiders of the rebels groups in Sierra Leone and Liberia whose testimonies are meant to link Taylor with the crimes committed by the RUF and AFRC in Sierra Leone.
  • Expert Witnesses: 4: Witnesses whose education, training, and experience can provide the court with an assessment, opinion, or judgment within the area of their competence, which is not considered known or available to the general public.

Sixty-four of these witnesses testified in open session, while 23 testified in open session with protective measures and the remaining four testified entirely in closed session.

Prosecution’s Strategies and Evidence

During the presentation of its case against Charles Taylor, the prosecution sought to highlight the horrors/atrocities that were committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone and then tried to establish a relationship between Charles Taylor and the forces responsible for the commission of those crimes. In doing this, the prosecution presented more witnesses who testified about the commission of crimes than it did for those witnesses whose testimony sought to establish a link between Charles Taylor and the groups responsible for the commission of the crimes, namely the RUF and the AFRC. This came as a surprise and disappointment to many who expected the prosecution to put more emphasis on establishing a link between Charles Taylor and the RUF and AFRC. This portion of the case, ie, Charles Taylor’s link with the RUF and AFRC, is the more difficult part of the case and needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt if Taylor is to be convicted.

In establishing the link between Taylor and the RUF, however, the prosecution sought to elicit through witnesses, evidence that fell outside the temporal jurisdiction of the court, i.e., prior to November 30, 1996, to prove that Taylor has had a long-standing relationship with the RUF. Through insider witnesses, the prosecution alleged that Taylor and Sankoh established a relationship in Libya in the late 1980s, during which they both promised to assist each other the purposes of their movements in their respective countries (Liberia and Sierra Leone). The prosecution argued that this relationship continued throughout the 1990s and when Taylor eventually became president of Liberia, he continued to provide support for the RUF. The prosecution argued that when the AFRC seized power in Sierra Leone in 1997 and formed a merger with the RUF, Taylor provided immense support to this merger through the supply of arms and ammunition and other materials in return for diamonds. To support its war efforts with diamonds, which the prosecution alleges were transferred to Taylor, the prosecution claims that civilians were used as forced labour in mining camps during which some of them died, that children were forcefully abducted and used as child soldiers, that women were raped and used as sex slaves, that civilians were terrorized by burning their houses, amputating their arms and limbs and that some were killed in the process.  The prosecution further tried to prove that Taylor had a direct involvement in the actions of the rebels by assisting them with strategies and ordering them to attack particular parts of the country. Throughout the presentation of its case, the prosecution has focused specifically on proving the following:

  1. Joint Criminal Enterprise: The prosecution elicited evidence to prove that there was a common plan or conspiracy between Taylor, the AFRC and the RUF. The prosecution also tried to prove that this common plan existed before November 30, 1996, which is the date for the temporal jurisdiction of the court. Several prosecution witnesses testified about the relationship that existed between Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh from their respective trainings in Libya and that said relationship continued during the entire war years in Liberia and Sierra Leone. For example, 83rd prosecution witness Dauda A Fornie (DAF) testified that from the early days of the war in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, Sankoh used to pay regular visits to Taylor, during which they discussed how to be of assistance to each other. While part of this evidence falls outside the court’s temporal jurisdiction, the prosecution elicited such evidence to establish a long-standing relationship between the two and to prove that they both had a common plan to support each other in their efforts to capture political power in their respective countries. Witnesses also testified to the regular communications that took place between Taylor and other RUF commanders such as Sam Bockarie and Issa Sesay. The prosecution has also sought to establish the presence of Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone, claiming that those Liberians were sent to Sierra Leone by Taylor.
  2. Individual Criminal Responsibility: The prosecution elicited evidence to prove that Taylor personally participated in the commission of crimes by planning, instigation, ordering, aiding and abetting them through military support and provision of personnel and that he participated in the common plan to take over Sierra Leone, during which atrocities against civilians were committed. Witnesses testified of regular communications between Taylor and senior RUF commanders like Sam Bockarie and Issa Sesay, and that there was an exchange of regular visits between Sierra Leone and Liberia by senior RUF and NPFL officials, during which diamonds were exchanged for arms and ammunition. For example, several witnesses testified about the presence of NPFL fighters subordinate to Taylor such as Zigzag Marzah and Jungle in Buedu, the RUF headquarters in Sierra Leone where they obtained diamonds from Sam Bockarie for onward transfer to Taylor, and during which also they handed over several materials for use by the RUF, allegedly from Taylor.
  3. Superior Responsibility: The prosecution elicited evidence to prove that Taylor occupied a superior position over RUF and AFRC commanders and that he knew or had reason to know that crimes were committed in Sierra Leone and he failed to prevent or punish the commission of the said crimes. For example, 26th prosecution witness Karmoh Kanneh testified that Taylor was in regular communication with RUF Commanders Sam Bockarie and Issa Sesay and while they handed over diamonds to him (Taylor), he knew that civilians, including children were used as forced labour for mining these diamonds. Prosecution argued that as an incentive for their atrocities in Sierra Leone, Taylor gave rewards to RUF commanders through promotions, arms and ammunition and money. For example,  28th prosecution witness Samuel Kargbo testified that the AFRC and RUF referred to Taylor as their God Father and that based on Taylor’s advice, the AFRC and RUF attacked Kono in 1998 because the town was strategic for mining diamonds and purchasing much need materials for fighters.

While the prosecution has made efforts to prove that crimes were committed in Sierra Leone and that Taylor bears responsibility for these crimes, no evidence was led to suggest that Taylor himself was ever present in Sierra Leone. The prosecution’s case has therefore focused mainly on proving communications that took place between Taylor and senior RUF commanders, the relationship that existed between Taylor’s senior commanders and the RUF/AFRC, the regular exchange of visits between Sierra Leone and Liberia by these commanders, trade of diamonds by the RUF and transfer of materials by Taylor for use by the RUF, and the existence of a superior/subordinate relationship between Taylor and members of the fighting forces in Sierra Leone, i.e., RUF and AFRC, which warranted all these happenings. As the case moves to the defense phase of the trial, the defense will seek to rebut prosecution evidence through its own witnesses.


  1. How many people were amputated during the Liberian Civil War? Who saw rebels eating human beings during Taylor’s revolution? It is the Sierra Leoneans who were fighting along side ULIMO that introduced these inhumane acts in our country. So if sierra Leoneans were silly enough to inhumanely treat their own brothers and sisters like animals, why blame Mr. Taylor. There is no case angainst Ghankay, let him rest in peace.

  2. The prosecution case is pure insentive to justice and disrepectful to victims of the war. For example, the ” Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor bears individual criminal responsibility for the crimes on the basis that he allegedly participated in the commission of the crimes by planning, instigating, and ordering them.” How can someone who participated in an alleged criminal enterprise be single handedly responsible for all of the crimes? How can you hold one man responsible for a crime that he allegedly participated in with others? So where are the other participants? Why are they not being brought to this court? Oh, I see , Taylor was brought here because of insecurity in West Africa. What kind of low way of thinking about other humans that they are just robots who will cause choas because of Charles Taylor presence in SL.

    The international community has made Taylor into this great and powerful person without consideration of why Taylor has followers. If Taylor was so great and powerful than why was he not able to stop ULIMO Forces from capturing Western Liberian, why was Taylor not able to stop LPC Forces from capturing Eastern Liberia, and why was Taylor not able to stop LURD and MODEL Forces from entering Monrovia?

    If Taylor had so much weapons that he was giving them to RUF then why he did not have enough to fight for himself? Taylor was force to resign from office because he did not have weapons to keep fighting. The UN had place sanctions on Taylor at the same time they allow LURD and MODEL Forces to attack the Government and people of Liberia. Taylor could not fight because he did not have weapons therefore he was forced to resign to aviod more widespeard BLOODSHED because if those human eating LURD and MODEL Forces had capture Monrovia they would surely had kill more than half of the population.

  3. The American Prosecution has under estimated both the defence team and expected CT to put his ‘foot in his mouth’. Now they will probably resort to phone calls behind closed doors to but pressure on the government of SL to put pressure on the judges to justify putting CT behind bars based on the theory that all evidence was provided during the closed door sessions.

  4. I see more complications in this case because the case is based on hearsay and not facts. It will be difficult to prove this man guilty. I wish the pesecutors all the best.

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