24 Sep Universal Jurisdiction Trial Begins in US; No Signs of the Apocalypse Thus Far
The trial of Charles Taylor’s son, “Chuckie,” for acts of torture committed in Liberia began today in Miami:
Chuckie Taylor is the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is on trial for war crimes by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. The son is accused of responsibility for torture committed between 1997 and 2003 while he headed Liberia’s notorious Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) during his father’s presidency.
The Taylor case is the first brought under a 14-year-old federal law that allows the United States to bring charges against a person accused of torture abroad if the accused is in the United States or is an American citizen (18 USC § 2340A).
“As the first prosecution for torture committed abroad, Chuckie Taylor’s trial is a vital, long-awaited step by the US government to ensure human rights abusers do not escape justice,” said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “The Department of Justice’s efforts should be applauded and replicated in more cases like this one.”
Taylor, Jr. is charged with criminal responsibility for acts of torture, which include burning victims, shocking them with an electrical device, imprisoning them in holes in the ground, and ordering that that their genitals be mutilated. He is also accused of ordering executions.
Jury selection in the trial, which will be held before Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is expected to last three days and will be followed by opening statements.
This is a major development, part of a remarkable trend of Congress giving US courts universal jurisdiction over serious international crimes. Such jurisdiction now exists for genocide, as well, and should be extended to the use of child soldiers and human trafficking soon.