Appeals Chamber judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone today upheld Charles Taylor’s conviction that was handed down by the Trial Chamber in April 2012 as well as his 50 year prison sentence. This brings an end to several years of judicial proceedings during which the former Liberian president called himself a peacekeeper who made efforts to end the conflict in Sierra Leone. Taylor also called his trial a conspiracy by western countries, led by the United States and Liberia, to keep him out of Liberia. Today, Appeals Chamber judges said Taylor’s categorization of himself and his trial was wrong.
In a jam-packed public gallery full of diplomats, court officials, civil society, journalists, and victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, Presiding Judge of the Appeals Chamber, Sierra Leonean Justice George Gelaga-King, told Taylor that while he served as President of Liberia, West African leaders put him in a position of trust to promote peace in Sierra Leone. However, he abused that trust by aiding and abetting the commission of crimes by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels in Sierra Leone.
Taylor himself, dressed in a dark suit with a yellow and white shirt, sat attentively as Justice King told him that his acts and conduct had substantial effect on the commission of crimes and in enhancing the RUF/AFRC’s capacity to implement its operational strategy. The Appeals Chamber said that the RUF/AFRC operational strategy involved committing crimes against the people of Sierra Leone and putting them in constant fear.
Taylor had raised more than 40 grounds of appeal, arguing before the Appeals Chamber that the Trial Chamber made several mistakes in assessing the evidence against him and that his 50 year jail sentence was “manifestly unreasonable.” He also argued that his fair trial rights were violated and that some aspects of the judicial process were irregular. The Appeals Chamber today disagreed with Taylor, calling his sentence not only fair and reasonable, but also that his allegations of the process being unfair and irregular were “unsupported, ingenious, and ludicrous.” Justice King said that the Trial Chamber had “thoroughly evaluated the evidence according to its credibility,” that they “properly applied the law according to the rules and statute of the Court,” and that Taylor was “fully held liable for his own conduct.”
Before today’s judgment, there was a lot of anxiety among observers about whether the recent decision of the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the case of Momčilo Perišić would have an impact on Taylor’s case. In the Perišić case, the ICTY Appeals Chamber reversed the Trial Chamber’s decision that convicted Perišić for aiding and abetting the commission of serious crimes. The Appeals Chamber in Perišić decided that for a person to be convicted for aiding and abetting, it is not sufficient that his conduct had “substantial impact” on the commission of crimes, but rather, that his conduct was “specifically directed” to the commission of said crimes.
The Trial Chamber in Taylor’s case had also dismissed a “specific direction” requirement and had said it was sufficient that Taylor’s conduct had a “substantial impact” on RUF/AFRC crimes in Sierra Leone. In today’s judgment, the Special Court’s Appeals Chamber judges said they were not persuaded by the ICTY’s finding that “specific direction” is an element of aiding and abetting.
Morris Anyah, who represented Taylor in the appeal process, told journalists at a press briefing after the judgment was announced that Taylor was hopeful that the judges would follow the standard set by the Appeals Chamber at the ICTY. Sadly for him, that was not the case. As said by a member of his defense team, Taylor himself accepted at this point that most of his life will now be spent in jail. As his 50 year jail term was confirmed, his defense team called it a life sentence.
The presiding judge announced that arrangements will now commence to take Taylor to the country where he will serve his 50 year jail term. Britain had originally agreed to provide a prison for him if he is convicted and sentenced. The Prosecutor later told the press that it is for the President of the Court to determine where Taylor will serve such jail sentence. In addition to Britain, the Special Court also has agreements with Sweden, Finland, and Rwanda for imprisonment of persons convicted by the Court. Other persons who have already been convicted and sentenced by the Special Court are serving jail terms in Rwanda. According to Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, the former Liberian president has a preference to serve his jail term in an African country.
The Prosecutor of the Court, Brenda J. Hollis, welcomed the appeal judgment and said she will now travel to Sierra Leone and Liberia where she will take part in outreach activities to explain the judgment to local populations. This is particularly important to the people of Sierra Leone who have been her clients.
Today’s judgment brings an end to judicial activities in the Taylor case and for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court’s indictment against former AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma remains in place. If he is arrested and brought into the custody of the Court, arrangements will be made for his trial.