The upholding of former president of Liberia Charles Taylor's conviction for war crimes marks the final stage of justice for the people of Sierra Leone and the victims of its brutal war, said Global Witness today.
In April 2012 the Special Court for Sierra Leone found former warlord Taylor responsible for aiding and abetting crimes including pillage, murder and rape during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Taylor appealed after being sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment in May 2012. The Chamber upheld all of the findings of the trial judgement and the conviction of Taylor for planning, aiding and abetting all 11 counts against him, with the exception of crimes he was accused of planning in Kono district, which the Chamber found were not proven. These exceptions did not affect the final sentence, which was upheld.
“Finally this long process is over and one of history’s most notorious war criminals has been brought to book,” said Patrick Alley, Director of Global Witness. “Taylor used diamonds and timber to finance campaigns of exceptional brutality against the people of Sierra Leone, and his legacy still affects the region today. It’s good to see that the international justice system has done its job.”
During the war Taylor trained and armed the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group which became notorious for sexual violence, amputating limbs and recruiting child soldiers. Taylor was elected as president of Liberia in 1997, during a lull in Liberia’s own civil wars, and fled into exile in Nigeria in 2003 at the end of the conflict there.
Taylor’s use of diamonds and timber to fund the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia left both countries with a legacy of misusing their rich natural resources. Both have undertaken major reform programmes, but continue to face difficulties in breaking with the corruption and abuse of the past. Liberia is reeling from the government’s illegal sell-off of a quarter of the country for logging permits in 2010-12, and huge new palm oil concessions are now threatening the subsistence livelihoods of hundreds of rural communities. A recent independent audit assessed 68 natural resource deals and found that the government had awarded the vast majority in breach of its own laws.
“Liberia and Sierra Leone are slowly learning that they can use their natural resources for the good of everyone in the country, not just the elites,” said Alley. “But corruption and elitism run deep, and there is still the temptation to sign resource deals that bring in short-term windfalls but don’t provide long-term benefits for the country.”
Notes to editors
1. Following sentencing, both Taylor’s lawyers and the prosecution submitted appeals. Taylor's lawyers called for his conviction to be overturned, while the prosecution called for an increase in his sentence to 80 years, to represent the gravity of the crimes, and conviction on several additional charges.
2. In April 2012, the Special Court found Taylor criminally responsible on 11 charges of aiding and abetting in the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The charges included aiding and abetting in murder, rape and sexual violence, and using child soldiers. The Court also found that Taylor had received diamonds in exchange for arms and ammunition, helped smuggle Sierra Leonean diamonds through Liberia and on to international traders, and supported the Revolutionary United Front’s exploitation of diamond fields.
3. In 1991, the Sierra Leonean rebel group the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded Sierra Leone from Liberia. The RUF, which was armed and supported by Charles Taylor, had the declared objective of overthrowing Sierra Leone’s government, which had ruled Sierra Leone since 1968. The RUF became notorious for its brutal tactics used to terrorise the civilian population. Its signature tactic was the amputation of limbs, but it also committed widespread sexual violence against women and children. The RUF also used child soldiers, many of whom were forcibly recruited, given drugs and used to commit atrocities. Peace was eventually declared in January 200