The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) said Thursday it welcomes the decision by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to uphold the guilty verdict against former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court dismissed challenges from Taylor’s defense, and the prosecution’s request for the sentence to be increased to 80 years, and affirmed his 50-year sentence with immediate effect.
In April 2012, the court’s trial chamber had found Taylor guilty on 11 counts of planning, aiding and abetting crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its civil war, including terrorism, murder, rape and use of child soldiers.
Taylor is the first former head of state convicted by an international war crimes court since the Nuremberg trials following World War II.
“The Special Court’s judgment carries great importance for the Sierra Leonean victims of barbaric crimes committed by forces supported by Charles Taylor, and for them this day will hopefully bring a measure of justice and satisfaction,” said David Tolbert, president of ICTJ.
“At the same time, this is a momentous development in the struggle for accountability of political and military leaders who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity across borders.”
The rebel Revolutionary United Front and other groups in Sierra Leone supported by Taylor were known for committing brutal crimes against civilians. Tens of thousands of people were killed, raped and mutilated during the conflict in Sierra Leone, and hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes.
The SCSL was set up in the capital of Freetown, Sierra Leone, to investigate and prosecute individuals who bore the greatest responsibility for “serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law” committed in Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. Taylor’s trial was transferred to The Hague in 2006 out of concern that it could destabilize the region, which was recovering from years of violence.
“While this decision reinforces the expectation of victims that the crimes of political leaders will not go unpunished, it is important to underline that national prosecutions have an important role to play going forward,” said Tolbert. “To bring the full weight of justice against Taylor for his crimes, accountability must also be pursued for Liberia’s many victims.”
In addition to its extensive work on Sierra Leone, ICTJ has implemented a project examining the legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In July, ICTJ produced “Seeds of Justice: Sierra Leone”, a multimedia project of video portraits that capture the views of five Sierra Leoneans on how the court has impacted their lives and their country.