Today, Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) judges in The Hague delivered the Court’s long anticipated verdict in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, finding him unanimously guilty of all charges against him on grounds that he knowingly aided and abetted rebel forces in Sierra Leone and that he planned attacks during which atrocities had occurred.
The prosecution charged Taylor with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian law that were allegedly committed from November 1996 to January 2002 during the course of Sierra Leone’s civil war. The prosecution claimed that Taylor backed the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone and had ties to a second warring faction, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Taylor denied all allegations against him and insisted that he was a peacemaker. The defense argued that the only contact with rebel groups Taylor had was in his capacity as president of Liberia helping to negotiate a settlement to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
The SCSL judges ruled that Taylor is guilty of aiding and abetting the RUF in all 11 charges, including murder, rape, and pillage. They also convicted the former Liberian president of planning, with former RUF leader Sam Bockarie, the attacks on Kono, Makeni, and Freetown, which took place in late 1998 and early 1999. The judges rejected the defense argument that Taylor was a peacemaker. They noted that while Taylor may have publicly supported the peace process in the region, he privately undermined the negotiations by continuing to support the RUF through financial, operational, and moral support. Notably, the judges did not accept the prosecution claim that Taylor had effective command and control over the rebels groups, finding him only responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning attacks.
Taylor will remain in custody while awaiting the sentencing hearing. The prosecution has been given until May 3 to submit their observations on sentencing. The defense has until May 10 to make their submissions. The hearing will take place on May 30, and also at this time, Taylor will be able to address the Court.