(Another of IntLawGrrls' several posts on the Charles Taylor judgment, part of our Sierra Leone accountability series)This post forms part of a continuing series on the delivery of judgment in the trial against former Liberian president Charles Taylor before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. As noted in previous posts, Taylor was convicted of planning and aiding and abetting eleven counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law on April 26, 2012. After Trial Chamber II considered submissions from both parties on aggravating and mitigating factors (their briefs are available here), with the Prosecutor requesting 80 years, Taylor was sentenced today at 11 am.
The sentence was delivered at the premises of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, where the Special Court for Sierra Leone is based. Members of a Dutch-based organization of Sierra Leoneans stood outside the premises with signs stating ‘No Hiding for War Criminals’ and ‘Justice! What next for the victims?’, and they continued inside to the nearly full public gallery for the delivery of the sentence.
Alternate Judge Sow Absent
Full legal teams on both sides were present in the well of the courtroom. When the judges of Trial Chamber II filed in, Alternate Judge Alhaji Malik Sow was not among them – as noted in a previous post, he had attempted to make a statement following delivery of the summary judgment and had been subsequently removed from his position by unanimous vote of the other Special Court judges meeting in plenary (the judges of Trial Chamber II abstained). Bill Schabas has noted additional details about this issue on his blog here.
Chamber Notes Aggravating Factors Contributing to Long Sentence
The Special Court for Sierra Leone dispenses global sentences, which have ranged from 15 to 52 years. The Prosecution had requested 80 years in the Taylor case due to the magnitude and seriousness of the crimes for which he was held responsible. The defense had contended that an 80 year sentence was ‘manifestly disproportionate and excessive’, and they presented a number of potential mitigating factors including Taylor’s age, his conduct in trial and detention, his role in the Sierra Leonean peace process, and his decision to step down as president of Liberia.
In a forty minute statement, Trial Chamber II’s presiding judge Richard Lussick made a number of detailed references to the gravity of the crimes and the suffering of individual victims in Sierra Leone, including victims of sexual violence and amputations. Lussick noted that Taylor had aided and abetted as well as planned some of the ‘most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history’, and that the Chamber had considered the ‘tremendous suffering caused by the commission of the crimes’ in determining an appropriate sentence.
The Chamber’s massive 2,499-page full judgment (original available here and in searchable form here) documents Taylor’s support to Sierra Leonean rebel forces through supplying arms and ammunition and providing operational support for attacks such as the 1999 Freetown invasion. In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Lussick noted that the ‘cumulative impact of these various acts of aiding and abetting heightens the gravity of Mr. Taylor’s criminal conduct’ and suggested that if the rebel groups had not received this support from Taylor, ‘the conflict and commission of crimes might have ended much earlier.’
‘Special Status’ as Head of State
The Chamber noted that Taylor’s conviction for the mode of liability of ‘planning’ was limited in scope, and it focused largely on Taylor’s role in ‘aiding and abetting’ the crimes of which he was found guilty. While granting that a conviction for accessory liability typically carries lower sentences in the jurisprudence of the Special Court and ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the Chamber found that ‘the special status of Mr. Taylor as a head of state put him in a different category of offenders for the purposes of sentencing.’ Noting that Taylor was in ‘a class of his own,’ the Chamber suggested that Taylor’s long sentence for what appeared to be largely accessorial liability was justified by his leadership role, and that his ‘betrayal of public trust’ is more significant for sentencing than the distinctions between different modes of liability. In effect, this brought Taylor’s sentence into the same range as those granted to principal perpetrators who had been convicted by the Special Court. Indeed, Taylor’s 50 year sentence was only surpassed by RUF leader Issa Sesay’s sentence of 52 years, and was the equivalent given to two members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Kanu).
We will consider the implications of this finding in greater detail in further posts.