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Charles Taylor’s War Crimes Sentence Hearing Set for May 16
(Apr 26, 2012) By: Moses D. Sandy. mdogbasandy@aol.com
Charles Taylor

International Judges in The Hague, Netherlands, have scheduled May 16 as the sentencing trial date for former President Charles G. Taylor. Making the pronouncement Thursday, April 26, at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, Judge Richard Lussick said the defense and the prosecution lawyers would be given one hour each to make closing statements.

Judge Lussick explained defendant Taylor would also be given 30 minutes for remarks. He said prior to the hearing the legal teams would be granted a seven-day grace period for the filing of appeals. The one week time frame for appeal starts today, April 26, and ends on May 3.

Judge Lussick’s pronouncement follows an earlier unanimous decision by the judges, which held the former Liberian President liable for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. He was accused of providing material, monetary and military assistances to rebels of the disbanded Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in ex-change for blood diamond.

Rag-tag Revolutionary United Front soldiers were reported to have killed tens of thousands of people during Sierra Leone’s war, which ran from 1991 to 2002. Mr. Taylor, 64, was convicted on 11 counts including terror, murder and rape. However, the international judges collectively agreed that he was not directly responsible for ordering the crimes. The former President’s guilty verdict comes after almost five years of trial in The Hague.

He is the first ex-head of state sent-down by an International Court since the Nuremburg military Tribunal of Nazis after World War II. In a statement issued today, the US government through its State Department hailed the outcome of the trial. “The ruling sent a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of powers that they will be held accountable.”

Human rights groups including Amnesty International described the judgment as historic. The BBC quoted Elise Keppler from the campaign group, Human Rights Watch as saying “This is an incredibly significant decision.”

Mr. Taylor came to world prominence on December 24, 1989 when he, at the head of rebel soldiers of the one- time dreaded National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), invaded Liberia from the border town of Butuo in Nimba County. The NPFL initiated civil war is reported to have claimed more than 250, 000 human lives and millions of dollars worth of properties. In 1997, he was elected President of Liberia in a UN backed special election. In 2003, he resigned the presidency and soughed refuge in Nigeria, due to military pressure from rebels of the erstwhile Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, LURD.

In March 2006, the UN arrested Mr. Taylor and took him to Sierra Leone to face prosecution for aiding and abetting the RUF in raining terror on Sierra Leoneans during the country’s civil war. He was held briefly in Sierra Leone and later transferred to the International Court in The Hague due to security threat. When sentenced, the former NPFL leader would serve his sentence in Britain, the United Kingdom.

According to the former Chief Prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor risked being sentenced to jail for 40-50 years. Mr. Crane made the prediction today when he spoke to the British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, minutes following the Special Court guilty verdict.


Charles Taylor Guilty of All 11 Charges In Sierra Leone Atrocities
(Apr 26, 2012) By: Abdullah Kiatamba
Charles Taylor at his trial

The former Liberian president Charles Taylor is found guilty on all 11 charges for “aiding and abetting” crimes against humanity, after five years of a trial that included testimonies of macabre tales of atrocities committed against the people of Sierra Leone.

After 13 months of deliberation, presiding Judge Richard Lussick, of Samoa, announcing the long-awaited verdict Thursday at The Hague, declared Taylor guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which included rape, mass murder, sexual slavery, the use of child soldiers, and chopping off of limbs, among others.

In a rather poignant moment, the Judge also exposed how the prosecution failed to prove that Taylor directly commanded or personally instructed the RUF rebels in the commission of their atrocities, in a decade-long war that began in the early 90s.

In response, Peter Andersen, the spokesman for the Special Court, who spoke to ABC news shortly after the reading of the conviction, said although the verdict represents a triumph for the people of Sierra Leone, he still felt the outcome was not a full victory for the prosecution, who had hoped that Taylor would have been found guilty of being a part of “joint criminal enterprise”, and having had a direct role in the “atrocities” as a “superior leader.

List of Charles Taylor's Crimes below

Charles Taylor is expected to be sentenced in May.

The Sierra Leonean conflict arguably cost the lives of more than 50,000 people, mostly innocent women and children. Taylor supported the Revolutionary United Front, also known as RUF, with weapons and technical support, in exchange for blood diamonds, as well as to sustain his expansionist regional ambition, even before winning the Liberian presidential election in 1997.

Established in 2003, the Special Court, a legal hybrid system, enjoys the distinction of being the first international court to indict an African head of state for war crimes and crimes against humanity. After the UN Security Council voiced concerns about regional security implication for the trials being held in Sierra Leone, a consensus emerged about the need to move the process to The Hague, where the final verdict was issued.

During the course of the trial, the prosecution called 94 witnesses who testified in person, while six other witnesses submitted evidences in the form of transcripts and experts reports. The defense team, which featured Taylor as its first witness, also brought in 21 witnesses to testify in support of the former Liberian leader.

At last, each judge, reportedly read through more than “50,000 pages” of witness testimony transcripts, including 1,520 exhibits, before contributing to the final verdict against Taylor.

Before long, reactions from Liberians across the Diaspora began to emerge.

“We are just glad to see the criminal [Taylor] off the streets. He belongs behind the bars of justice life,” Mohamed Sheriff, an unapologetic Taylor critic based in Pennsylvania, said in a note posted on the various Liberian listservs. “I predicted the tyrant will go down on all eleven (11) counts. He has.”

“God”, he added, “is great”, in an apparent expression of relief.

Wynfred Russell, a Minnesota Liberian community activist, brought a somewhat unique perspective to the verdict.

“I view this verdict with a mixed feeling, because Taylor was never alone in this whole enterprise of human rights violations”, he told The Liberian Journal (TLJ). “There are still those who still walk with impunity in our country [Liberia], especially some of those who committed heinous crimes against our people.”

He said while this verdict marks an important moment in the dispensation of justice, there is still an urgent need for the people of Liberia to “gather the courage” and political will to serve justice to other major human rights violators.

Taylor’s conviction was on accounts of “aiding and abetting” crimes committed in Sierra Leone, not Liberia.

Editor's Note: Abdullah Kiatamba is the publisher and editor of The Liberian Journal (TLJ).

Charles Taylor

I have been asked by many people about my views on the conviction, on 26 April, of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, for aiding and abetting Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF). He is the first head of state – after Admiral Doenitz, who very briefly led Germany after Hitler committed suicide, and was convicted by the Nuremburg court after WWII – to be convicted by an international court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The RUF that Taylor supported waged a nasty bush war against successive Sierra Leonean governments from 1991 to its defeat by a combination of forces, mainly foreign, in 2001. Throughout that war, Taylor mentored the RUF and provided it with weapons and fighters; in turn, the RUF gave him diamonds looted from Sierra Leone’s mines. This is the sum of the judgment against Taylor, and it narrowly reflects the argument that I have been making for over a decade now.

Sierra Leone’s war started in March 1991 when Foday Saybanah Sankoh, a self-adoring former army corporal, led a petty army from territory controlled by Taylor, then an insurgent leader in Liberia, into southern and eastern Sierra Leone. Like Taylor, Sankoh had trained in Libya and, according to the trial judgment, met Taylor there. The judges, however, rejected the prosecution’s overdrawn argument that Taylor and Sankoh “made common cause” in Libya to wage wars in West Africa. The judgment accepted the prosecution’s submission that Taylor facilitated the training of RUF recruits in Liberia and helped launched the RUF’s war, noting that Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) forces “actively participated” in the RUF’s initial invasion in March 1991. (Witness to Truth, Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation report of 2004, estimated that as many as 1,600 NPFL fighters were involved in the early phase of the Sierra Leonean war, or about 80% of the RUF forces. This grew to 2000 within a few months of the invasion.)

However, striking a balance between the prosecution’s claim that Taylor “effective controlled” and led the RUF at this point, and Taylor’s claim that only former NPFL members joined Sankoh and that he had nothing to do with the RUF after the Sierra Leone invasion, the judgment delicately noted that the prosecution did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Sankoh took orders from Taylor – or that Taylor participated in the planning of the invasion.

This point was always a difficult legal one, not least because the trial was not about the crime of aggression (which had not even been defined by the time Taylor faced the court). The indictment period did not even cover the origins of the war – the temporal jurisdiction of the court is from November 1996 to the official end of the war in 2002. Compounding this problem was the fact that the most credible person that would have definitively testified to this would have been Sankoh, but he died long before Taylor faced the court. In fact, it is a testimony to the tenacity and industry of the prosecution that it was able to sufficiently prove even the crime of aiding and abetting, since Taylor had effectively eliminated key witnesses to that crime. He had Sam Bockarie, his key link to Sankoh and the RUF during the period of the indictment, murdered in Liberia shortly after Bockarie was indicted. Johnny Paul Koroma, a notorious Sierra Leonean coup maker who also dealt intimately with Taylor, simply disappeared: he was also allegedly murdered either in Liberia or Ivory Coast on Taylor’s orders after his indictment. These events must count as the most comprehensive and effective evidence-tampering in an international war crimes trial ever.

I have always thought that the prosecution’s invocation of the notion of ‘joint criminal enterprise’ (JCE) was ill-advised, and successive judgments by the court rubbished the concept. This concept was first used by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (1991-1999). It considers each member of an organized group individually responsible for crimes committed by that group within the “common plan or purpose”. The Appeals Chamber of the ICTY decided on 21 May 2003 that “insofar as a participant shares the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise (as he or she must do) as opposed to merely knowing about it, he or she cannot be regarded as a mere aider and abettor to the crime which is contemplated.”

The concept was roundly rejected by the court in the trial of the leaders of the admirable Civil Defence Forces (CDF), since “the evidence led by the Prosecution in this case to show a joint criminal enterprise [is] insufficient to prove its existence against those named persons beyond reasonable doubt.” Conviction around the concept was entered only in the case of the leaders of the RUF, and even here the judgment involving the pathetic and roguish Augustine Gbao was problematic, looking very much like guilt by association. Though the prosecution did not establish Gbao’s direct involvement in crimes during the war, the judges concluded that because he was the RUF’s ‘ideological trainer’, Gbao “significantly contributed to the [Joint Criminal Enterprise], as the leadership of the RUF relied on the RUF ideology to ensure and to enforce the discipline and obedience of its forces to the RUF hierarchy and its orders, this being a factor which contributed to the furtherance of the Joint Criminal Enterprise.” Justice Shireen Fisher dissented, noting that Gbao’s conviction “abandons the keystone of JCE liability as it exists in customary international law.” Gbao was nevertheless given a global sentence of 20 years and flown to jail in Rwanda. Many observers feared that the same approach would be used to convict Taylor.

The prosecution had argued that Taylor had made a “common cause” with Sankoh to invade Sierra Leone and loot is diamond reserves, and that the RUF’s terror campaign was a direct result of this blood pact. Taylor’s Defence made no effort to deny Taylor’s support for the RUF, but it stated that “diamonds only financed the procurement of arms and ammunition” for the RUF between 1998 and 2001. The Defence denied that diamonds were the reasons why Taylor supported the RUF, stating in the Final Brief what no one has challenged: that the RUF diamond mining began “post the invasion” which happened in March 1991. It stated: “There is no evidence of any discussions relating to diamonds pre the Sierra Leonean invasion to suggest that the invasion might have been motivated by a desire to pillage Sierra Leone’s diamonds.” The point was that the Defence’s key argument was not that Taylor did not support the RUF, but that he did not do so either as part of JCE or with “an underlying intention to cause terror.” The Defence contends that there was a “purely political motive” for Taylor’s support of the RUF war, which may be immoral but certainly not illegal in international law (since the law of aggression was not at issue).

The judgment on 26 April broadly agrees with this, dismissing the notion of JCE as it involved Taylor’s role. But while the judgment agreed with Taylor that he and Sankoh had “a common interest in fighting common enemies” – the Liberian anti-Taylor insurgent group ULIMO and the Sierra Leonean government supporting ULIMO – this is actually tangential to the case, since the period (1991-1992) falls outside the temporal jurisdiction of the court.

Of profound importance to many people in Sierra Leone and elsewhere is the finding involving Taylor’s role in the events surrounding the Johnny Paul Koroma coup in 1997, and in particular the resurgence of rebel forces leading to the devastating attacks on Freetown in January 1999. Close to 6,000 people were killed, including hundreds of Nigerian peace-enforcement troops, and the hands of dozens of people were crudely amputated by the rebel forces during those attacks. The judges established Taylor’s direct role in instigating the attacks on diamond areas of Kono as well as the subsequent attack on Freetown. Here the judgment uses the word “instructed” to describe Taylor’s orders to Johnny Paul Koroma and Sam Bockarie. 'With his eyes ever on diamonds, Taylor “emphasised” to Bockarie that taking over Kono in late December 2008 was more important than attacking Freetown at that point.' I meant to write "late 2008". As a result, the demented Bockarie, who called himself Maskita, announced ‘Operation No Living Thing’, with predictable results. More crucially, the judgment establishes that Taylor arranged “a large shipment of arms and ammunition from Burkina Faso” to the rebels in Makeni; these arms were instrumental in the attacks on Kono and later Freetown. It is important to note that the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia had established in 2000 that the arms were supplied by Victor Bout, recently convicted on unrelated charges in the US, and that they were presumably paid for by diamonds from the RUF in Sierra Leone.

It is of interest that a number of names appearing in the judgment as playing a facilitating role in this sordid and murderous business were neither indicted by the court nor even invited as witnesses: Gaddafi, Ibrahim Bah, and, of course, Blaise Campaore (who as president Burkina Faso surely knew and supported it all).

Also of interest has been the unenthusiastic – sometimes even hostile – reaction of a good number of Liberians to the conviction of their former president. This is partly because Taylor was not charged with his many crimes in Liberia but for his role in supporting a foreign war. But there are quite a few Liberians who actually do not think that Taylor should have been held accountable for his crimes at all, local or international. This reflects a deep-rooted culture of impunity in the country. I lived in Liberia for nearly two years during its truth and reconciliation process, and attended dozens of testimonies there. Many of these, by former commanders in Taylor’s NPFL, proudly narrated how they participated in attacks inside Sierra Leone, and how they were fully supported by Taylor to do so. None of them to my knowledge expressed remorse about what they did – but then none of them, with the quirky exception of General Butt Naked, apologised to Liberians for the atrocities they committed in Liberia itself.

Was it all necessary, this expensive and long trial? I think that the proceedings were unnecessarily prolonged by overpaid judges and lawyers, and I think that the court erred very badly in indicting and convicting the leaders of the CDF. The Taylor trial alone reportedly cost $250 million, nearly six times more than the total revenue officially generated by Liberia in 2003 ($44.2 million), the year that Taylor was forced to relinquish power. Still, I think that the conviction of Taylor – as nasty a gangster as ever become president in Africa – is a signal event, something we should all celebrate in our region. As I write this, I remember the day that Taylor was helicoptered into the Special Court compound in Freetown. I stood among the small crowd of people there that evening. A woman in the crowd turned to me after Taylor was sent to his cell and said, apropos of a statement made by Taylor in 1990, “Well, he told us that we in Sierra Leone will taste the bitterness of war. We did. But now he will taste the sourness of justice.” The sourness of justice: that indeed is a lovely phrase there.

Editor’s Note: The writer is author of A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone (London, 2005)













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