The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone has rejected an appeal by former Liberian President Charles Taylor against his conviction for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone. In April 2012, the Trial Chamber foundTaylor individually criminally liable under Article 6(1) of the Special Court Statute for aiding and abetting the commission of the charged crimes. In May 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison — 30 years short of the prosecution's request for an 80-year sentence.
While 50 years is not enough justice for Taylor's horrific crimes, the rejection of the appeal is at least reassurance that Taylor will spend the rest of his life in prison.
On appeal, the defense raised 45 grounds of error of law and fact and the prosecution raised four grounds. The defense particularly raised what it referred to as "systematic errors in the evaluation of evidence" and also contended that there were irregularities in the judicial process constituting violations of Taylor's right to a fair trial. The prosecution, on the other hand, claimed that the Trial Chamber made errors of law and fact in failing to find that, in addition to aiding and abetting and planning crimes, Taylor ordered and instigated the commission of crimes, which makes him directly responsible. The prosecution also appealed against the 50-year sentence, which it deemed inadequate in light of the crimes for which Taylor was convicted.
While rejecting the appeal, Judge George King stated that Taylor's actions in Sierra Leone did not only harm the victims of the crime and their immediate relatives, but also fueled a conflict that became a threat to international peace and security in the West African Sub-region. Judge King also scolded Taylor for abusing the trust Sierra Leoneans and the international community placed in him to resolve the civil war. Taylor, as President of neighbouring Liberia, was one of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) point-persons for a peaceful resolution of the Sierra Leonean civil war. However, Taylor used his position mainly to support the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels and renegade Sierra Leone Army officers. He was indicted in 2003 by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a court jointly established by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law.
Taylor launched a civil war in Liberia in 1989 as head of the vicious National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) — a rebel movement that used mostly drug-intoxicated children as combatants. Sierra Leone was involved in an ECOWAS peacekeeping mission in Liberia at the time, and Taylor promised to ensure that Sierra Leone taste the bitterness of war. The RUF, led by former Sierra Leone Army corporal Foday Sankoh, invaded Sierra Leone from Liberia a year later. At the end of a decade-long civil war in 2002, more than 50,000 people had been killed, an estimated 27,000 people had their limbs chopped off or otherwise disabled, and around 35,000 children had been used as combatants. A decade later, Sierra Leoneans are still pulling the pieces of a wrecked country together and Taylor's conviction is an important part of post-conflict justice for the victims.
At the height of Taylor's terror in the Mano River region, his child combatants used to sing that "Anybody say you don't want Taylor, we'll kill you like a dog." In keeping with their lyrics, they slaughtered and raped thousands of civilians. The prosecution is right that Taylor's sentence, which will probably be spent in a British prison, is not much in comparison to the horrendous crimes he sponsored in Sierra Leone. But perhaps 50 years is enough time for him to find it in his malignant heart to beg for forgiveness from the people of the Mano River region, who endured more than a decade of wanton crimes at the hands of both the RUF and the NPFL.