Breaking: Charles Taylor Convicted — But…

by Kevin Jon Heller

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has found Charles Taylor guilty on all counts, but only as an aider and abettor — the judges have rejected the prosecution’s allegations that he participated in a JCE to commit the crimes alleged in the indictment or that he had effective control over the RUF soldiers who committed the crimes (i.e, no ordering or command responsibility).  The verdict represents a colossal victory for Taylor, even if it means that he will still receive a substantial sentence.  (Kudos to the superb Courtenay Griffiths, QC.)

Shocking.  Absolutely shocking.  What a stunning rebuke to the prosecution.

http://opiniojuris.org/2012/04/26/breaking-charles-taylor-convicted-but/

10 Responses

  1. There are other names as well:
    * Milosevic
    * Peter von Hagenbach (not really an international court)
    * “The  Treaty  of  Versailles  provided  for  the  punishment  of  enemy nationals  through  two  mechanisms:  one  for  the  Kaiser,  a  second  for all other individuals 43  Article  227 arraigned the Kaiser ‘for a supreme offence against  international  morality  and  the  sanctity  of  treaties’ before  a  special  tribunal  composed  of five judges  to  be  appointed by the US, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan. It implied that the Kaiser was  liable  for  breaches  of  international  law,  although  it  did  not expressly refer to the source of any individual obligations not to commit those breaches. No trial of the Kaiser ever took place: after abdicating, William II had entered the Netherlands under asylum.”, Parlett, K. (2011). The individual in the international legal system: continuity and change in international law. CUP

  2. Can this be fixed on appeal? Or does the special court have a US-style double jeopardy rule?

  3. To start with the judgment does not appear to have been released.  I have looked through the summary that was made available on the SCSL website (and was apparently what was read in court).

    I am not sure that this should be seen as a stunning rebuke for the prosecution.  True, the court found that he had a lower level of participation, that of an aider and abettor rather than a direct form of commission.  But he was found guilty of having aided and abetted murder as a CAH, common article 3 violations, rape as a CAH, sexual slavery as a CAH, other inhumane acts as a CAH, conscripting, enlisting and using child soldiers, enslavement, and pillage.  These are far from insignificant findings.  (Of course,  what I really want to see is the evidence that supported these findings, but that will have to wait for the release of the full judgment.)

    Given the way the summary is written, it appears that his level of participation in the crimes is more consistent with aiding and abetting than a more direct mode of liability.  There is lots of talk of supporting the RUF in various ways, like providing logistical support, ammunition and money.  The court found that he had “substantial influence” over the RUF but did not effectively control them. The court explicitly found that Sankoh was not a subordinate of Taylor and did not take his orders.

    Oh and it looks like the court did find him guilty of a more direct form of participation in at least some instances.  Paragraph 177 of the summary finds him guilty of “planning” certain attacks that took place during an assault on Freetown. 

    Many people criticize when courts stretch the linkage evidence to support direct forms of liability based on inconsistent eyewitness testimony, a lack of documents, and the use of inference.  Why not applaud when a court appears to act reasonably? (Of course, I have to hedge my bets here and say that we can’t know for sure that the court has acted reasonably until we see the evidence that supports these findings in the judgment, but the summary appears pretty reasonable to me.)

  4. I guess I would also add that the length of these judgments is getting out of hand.  The SUMMARY of the Taylor judgment is 45 pages.  I heard a rumor last week that the Taylor judgment will end up being the longest judgment ever issued by an international criminal court.
    That seems counterproductive to me.  I realize that these are complicated cases, but the number of people who will actually read the entire judgment has to be pretty low.  I think we have to find a better way to produce judgments that people other than the lawyers for the parties and a handful of academics will actually read.  It doesn’t seem to be helped by the fact that the judgments are very long but seem to say relatively little at times.  At least, that was my initial response to the Lubanga judgment.

    I guess the fact that it is common to issue summaries of the judgments is essentially an acknowledgement by the courts that few people are going to read the whole thing.

  5. Where can i get the full judgment of the chamber?

  6. Raymond,

    It will not be released for a couple of months.

  7. I don’t think it’s a matter of “fixing” this on appeal. To be sure, both parties will appeal, but there is absolutely no basis yet for speculation that the chamber has erred in its judgment. On length of judgment: I think one should also consider whether the TC should have more strictly limited the evidence and witnesses called by the parties. We’re looking at evidence that spans several countries, two conflicts, 20 years, 11 counts and multiple MOL. This could have been pared down by the TC, and they arguably could have then had a shorter judgment (of course, this didn’t happen in the much more tightly focused Lubanga trial…).

    Further — any thoughts on whether it is a violation of fair trial rights to expect sentencing briefs to be filed based on a summary? I hadn’t heard that it will be “months” before we see a judgment, but unless it’s out in the next few days, both parties would arguably be disadvantaged by this — for the Prosecution especially with regards to the planning conviction, since we don’t know the precise crime bases involved in those findings.  And if it is months, how can they be expected to prepare appeals?

  8. @Jennifer: I didn’t say the trial chamber erred. In fact, it looks like the prosecutor did. Hence the question: can they have a do-over on appeal? (And it looks like you’re saying they can.)

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. […] As a number of observers have noted, the guilty verdict falls short of the prosecution’s goals (The Economist). Mr. Taylor was not held directly responsible for any of these crimes. As Kevin Heller reports: the judges have rejected the prosecution’s allegations that he participated in a JCE to commit the crimes alleged in the indictment or that he had effective control over the RUF soldiers who committed the crimes (i.e, no ordering or command responsibility).  The verdict represents a colossal victory for Taylor, even if it means that he will still receive a substantial sentence. (Opinio Juris) […]

  2. […] is locked away for. But this seems like a minimal victory, if not a defeat, for the Prosecution. Kevin Jon Heller, for example, has described the verdict as “a colossal victory for Taylor” and […]