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Charles Taylor Conviction Upheld on Appeal

Judges confirm 50-year prison sentence for Liberian ex-president.
By Matthew Rhodes

Appeals judges at the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone have upheld the conviction of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, and confirmed the 50-year jail term handed to him in May 2012.

Taylor, 65, was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity between 1996 and 2002 in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war.

He was convicted on 11 counts including terrorism, murder, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery, pillage, enslavement and the use of child soldiers.

Dressed in a dark blue suit and wearing a yellow tie, Taylor stood while Judge George Gelaga King read the verdict in The Hague on September 26.

Taylor was found to have given support to the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in exchange for so-called blood diamonds mined in Sierra Leone.

Appeals judges agreed with the trial judgement which found that Taylor had supplied the rebels with weapons and ammunition, military personnel, and sustained operational support.

Taylor’s lawyers had appealed against the guilty verdict on the grounds that judges had incorrectly applied the measure of criminal intent required for a conviction.

But issuing the appeals chamber’s decision, Judge King said Taylor’s lawyers had “failed to demonstrate any errors in the trial chamber’s reasoning” and that the sentence imposed by the trial chamber had been fair.

Judges also dismissed the challenge by the defence on the factual findings of the trial judgement in which Judge Richard Lussick had said Taylor was guilty of “some of the most heinous crimes in human history”.

It was established that in Sierra Leone, rebels from the RUF and AFRC groups routinely and systematically killed, raped and mutilated tens of thousands of people.

The fighters also recruited thousands of children to be used as soldiers, often drugging them and forcing them to carry out killings.

“Taylor’s acts and conduct did not only harm the victims of the crimes and their immediate relatives, but fuelled a conflict that became a threat to international peace and security in the West African sub-region,” said Judge King, delivering the appeals chamber’s verdict.

According to the appeals bench, Taylor abused the trust put in him by the people of Sierra Leone to end the conflict, by instead “aiding and abetting the widespread and systematic commission of crimes against the civilian population”.

Taylor is the first former head of state to be tried and convicted by an international court of serious crimes against international law since the Nuremburg trials held after the Second World War.

Taylor will remain in custody in The Hague until arrangements are made for his transfer to a prison to serve his sentence.

Britain has offered to provide prison accommodation for Taylor.

Matthew Rhodes is an IWPR intern in The Hague.