The 50-year prison sentence handed down to Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague represents justice for the people of Sierra Leone, said Global Witness today.
The sentencing follows Taylor’s conviction in April on 11 charges of aiding and abetting in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war, as well as helping Sierra Leonean rebels fund the conflict through exploiting and trading the country’s diamonds.
In passing sentence, the Chamber described Mr Taylor’s crimes as “amongst the most brutal and heinous recorded in human history”.
“Today’s sentence not only reflects the severity of Taylor’s crimes but sends a clear message that individuals who aid and abet war crimes can no longer act with impunity,” said Patrick Alley, Founder Director of Global Witness.
Taylor was a warlord in and later president of Liberia, which shares a border with Sierra Leone. During Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 war, Taylor trained and armed the Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) which became notorious for horrific abuses, including sexual violence, cutting off limbs and forcibly recruiting child soldiers. Taylor’s trial highlighted the way in which he systematically used natural resources such as diamonds to fund his campaign of brutal war, while also providing him with a personal fortune.
Global Witness is also calling for similar justice for the people of Liberia where those responsible for war crimes have still not been held to account. Elected the country’s president in 1997, Taylor used his time in power to traffic Sierra Leonean diamonds and Liberian timber, exchanging the countries’ natural resources for guns and siphoning off millions of dollars for himself.
“Unlike in Sierra Leone, no court has been established to hold accountable those who perpetuated Liberia’s bloody conflict,” continued Alley. “A quarter of a million people died in Liberia’s equally brutal civil wars and yet many of those who committed these crimes, including companies and individuals that helped Taylor exploit the region’s resources to fund war, continue to live freely.”
In 2009 Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the country establish its own hybrid international-Liberian war crimes court. To date this recommendation, along with many others set out by the Commission, has not been adopted by the Liberian Government.
“Taylor would not have been able to fund his regime and his wars without the presence of companies like the Oriental Timber Company and their international trading partners such as DLH and Swiss-German timber giant Danzer, which provided markets and money that helped fuel these wars,” said Alley. “Were Liberia to establish its own war crimes court, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended, the Liberian people could hold to account the individuals and companies that fed the conflict with resources.”
The Hague: Andie Lambe at +44 (0)7809 616 545 or [email protected]
UK: Patrick Alley via +44 (0)7912 517 147 or [email protected]
Mike Davis at +44 (0)207 492 5896 or [email protected]
Liberia: Jonathan Gant at +231 770 80 651
Notes to editors:
1. While no Liberia war crimes court has been established, action has been taken against some of the international companies that enabled Charles Taylor’s brutal regime:
- In 2007 businessman Guus Kouwenhoven, head of the Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), was convicted in the Netherlands for running guns to Liberia in violation of a UN arms embargo. The conviction was overturned on appeal in 2008 but then the Dutch Supreme Court ordered the case to be re-opened in 2010. The case is currently ongoing.
- In 2009 several groups, including Global Witness, lodged a complaint in France against Dalhoff, Larsen and Horneman (DLH), a major timber purchasing company. DLH bought timber from Liberian companies that provided support to Taylor’s regime. DLH knew where the timber was coming from, and who was benefiting from the sales, and yet it carried on regardless.
2. To date Liberia has also failed to recover the vast fortune Taylor accumulated while in power, estimated at some $375 million. Much of this money was made through stripping the country of its natural resources. Global Witness has documented millions in payments made by logging companies directly to Taylor – in 2000 alone some $108 million of logging taxes failed to enter the country’s budget. However, by the time he was brought before the Special Court, Taylor claimed to be penniless, with the U.S. Government largely footing his $50 million defence bill.
3. To accompany this release, Global Witness has produced a background document further outlining issues raised by the Special Court for Sierra Leone verdict and sentencing. This document is available on the Global Witness website.
4. For additional reports produced by Global Witness on Charles Taylor, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the trial of former logging baron Gus Kouwenhoven, visit www.globalwitness.org/campaigns/conflict/post-conflict/liberia.