Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, left, waits for the start of his appeal judgement at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday Sept. 26, 2013. Judges at a U.N.-backed tribunual are delivering their judgment in Taylor’s appeal against his convictions and 50-year sentence for planning and aiding atrocities by rebels in Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war. Taylor, 65, became the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II when the SCSL found him guilty on April 26, 2012, of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including terrorism, murder, rape and using child soldiers. (AP Photo/Koen van Weel, Pool) )
Court upholds 50 years for Liberia’s Taylor on war crimes
First Published Sep 26 2013 12:29 pm • Last Updated Sep 26 2013 12:53 pm

Leidschendam, Netherlands • More than a decade after fuelling a murderous campaign of terror in Sierra Leone by supplying rebels with arms, Charles Taylor was definitively convicted and imprisoned Thursday for 50 years, in a ruling that finally delivered justice for victims.

The appeals chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone upheld the 65-year-old former Liberian president’s conviction on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including terrorism, murder, rape and using child soldiers.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Taylor is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since World War II and Thursday’s confirmation was welcomed as underscoring a new era of accountability for heads of state.

"This is a historic and momentous day for the people of Sierra Leone and the region," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

"The judgment is a significant milestone in international criminal justice, as it confirms the conviction of a former head of state for aiding, abetting and planning war crimes and crimes against humanity."

Stephen Rapp, the ambassador for war crimes issues at the U.S. Department of State and former prosecutor at the Sierra Leone court, said the ruling "sends a clear message to all the world, that when you commit crimes like this, it may not happen overnight, but there will be a day of reckoning."

However, it also appeared to establish dueling sets of jurisprudence at two international courts on opposite sides of The Hague on the question of when senior officials can support one side in another country’s civil war — an issue world leaders must consider if they mull over arming rebels in Syria.

The Sierra Leone appeals panel rejected a controversial February ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which said that to prove a leader has aided and abetted a crime, the assistance has to be specifically directed at committing a crime. In that case, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav national army was acquitted of aiding and abetting atrocities by Bosnian Serb forces even though he had sent them arms and other supplies.

Taylor’s case appeared to swing the pendulum back toward a lower burden of proof for prosecutors.

His lawyer complained that the two rulings have created "entirely chaotic jurisprudence" at international tribunals.

story continues below
story continues below

If Taylor had been prosecuted by the Yugoslav tribunal, "I dare say the outcome would have been different, and that courthouse is less than 10 kilometers (six miles) away from this courthouse," Morris Anyah said.

But international law expert Michael Scharf of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, said the ruling Thursday "righted the ship" after the Yugoslav court had made prosecuting leaders who support rebels much more difficult.

Anyah also complained that Taylor had been prosecuted because of a lack of friends in high places, again referring to Syria.

"But for two powerful nations, two members of the Security Council — Russia and China — Bashar Assad would have been charged and indicted by the International Criminal Court. That is not happening simply because of political reasons," he said. "Had Charles Taylor had as friends any of the five permanent members of the Security Council ... this case I dare say would probably not have had the sort of traction it had."

Because Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court, only the Security Council asking the court to investigate could trigger jurisdiction there.

Wearing a black suit and a gold-colored tie, Taylor showed little emotion while Presiding Judge George Gelaga King read the unanimous verdict of the six-judge panel.

Anyah said Taylor was bitterly disappointed by the ruling that will likely see him spend the rest of his life behind bars, but "he has remained stoic and calm."

It remains unclear where he will serve his sentence. Great Britain has offered cell space, but the court also has agreements with Finland, Sweden and Rwanda to house prisoners.

The court found Taylor provided crucial aid to rebels in Sierra Leone during that country’s 11-year civil war, which left an estimated 50,000 people dead before its conclusion in 2002.

Thousands more were left mutilated in a conflict that became known for its extreme cruelty, as rival rebel groups hacked off the limbs of their victims and carved their groups’ initials into opponents. The rebels developed gruesome terms for the mutilations, offering victims the choice of "long sleeves" or "short sleeves" — having their hands hacked off or their arms sliced off above the elbow.

Back in Sierra Leone, Edward Conteh, who lost his lower left arm when rebels chopped it off with an ax, said he was elated with Taylor’s conviction.

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.