Taylor Sentenced to 50 Years Imprisonment

by Kevin Jon Heller

So reports The Guardian:

Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, has been sentenced to 50 years in jail for being “in a class of his own” when committing war crimes during the long-running civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

Judges at a UN-backed tribunal in The Hague said his leadership role and exploitation of the conflict to extract so-called “blood diamonds” meant he deserved one of the longest prison sentences handed down so far by the court.

Taylor, 64, was found guilty last month of 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity, when supporting rebels between 1996 and 2002 in return for conflict gems.

The offences included murder, rape, sexual slavery, recruiting child soldiers, enforced amputations and pillage.

Delivering the decision at the special court for Sierra Leone, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor’s crimes were of the “utmost gravity in terms of scale and brutality”.

He added: “The lives of many more innocent civilians in Sierra Leone were lost or destroyed as a direct result of his actions.”

Taylor was “in a class of his own” compared with others convicted by the court. “The special status of Mr Taylor as a head of state puts him in a different category of offenders for the purpose of sentencing.”

Prosecutors had asked the judges to impose an 80-year prison term. Lussick said such a long term would have been excessive as Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting which “as a mode of liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than that imposed for more direct forms of participation”.

Definitive analysis will have to await the sentencing judgment, but the length of the sentence appears troubling — particularly in light of Judge Lussick’s comments. It is difficult to see how Taylor received a “lesser sentence” than the direct perpetrators of the crimes in question, given that his 50-year sentence is as long as any of the convicted defendants in the AFRC case (and five years longer than Brima Kamara’s) and is only two years shorter than the longest sentence imposed in the RUF case (52 years for Issa Sesay) and considerably longer than the two other sentences (40 years for Morris Kallon and 25 years for Augustine Gbao).

The comparison with Gbao is particularly revealing. Unlike Taylor, Gbao was convicted of participating in a joint criminal enterprise to commit “unlawful killings, sexual violence crimes, physical violence crimes, enslavement, the crime of pillage and acts of burning.” The Trial Chamber justified Gbao’s lesser sentence (compared to his co-defendants) on the ground that, although he had participated in the JCE, “he did not have direct control over fighters,” was “not a member of the AFRC/RUF Supreme Council,” “remained in Kailahun during the Junta regime,” “did not have ability to contradict or influence the orders of men such as Sam Bockarie,” and “was not directly involved and did not share the criminal intent of any of the crime committed in the Bo, Kenema, or Kono Districts.” The Trial Chamber also emphasized that Gbao’s role in the RUF enterprise was “not at the policy making level nor was it at the ‘fighting end’ where the majority of the actual atrocities were committed.” Indeed, the Trial Chamber accepted the Defence’s submission that Gbao “has not been found to have ever fired a single shot and never to have ordered the firing of a single shot.” Taylor and Gbao thus seem similarly situated, the primary difference between them being that, unlike Taylor, Gbao was not convicted solely on the basis of aiding and abetting. Taylor’s 50-year sentence, therefore, seems significantly disproportionate to Gbao’s 25-year sentence. If a member of the RUF enterprise who had no direct involvement in atrocities deserves a 25-year sentence, how can someone — even a head of state “in a class of his own” among aiders-and-abettors — who not only had no direct involvement in atrocities but was not even a member of any JCE deserve a sentence twice as long?

In a previous post, I expressed my fear that the work the Trial Chamber put into the 2,499 page judgment would affect its sentence determination. That seems to have happened. I look forward to the sentencing judgment — and to Taylor’s appeal.

ADDENDUM: I should add, for the record, that my problems with the sentence are unrelated to my personal view of Taylor’s culpability. Having followed the trial relatively closely for the past few years, I think the Trial Chamber’s judgment understates — perhaps seriously — Taylor’s responsibility for the AFRC and RUF’s crimes. In particular, although I agree with the Trial Chamber’s rejection of ordering and command responsibility, I would have had no problem convicting Taylor for many of the charged crimes via JCE. My problem with the sentence is that, although the Trial Chamber refused to convict Taylor on the basis of JCE or ordering, it has imposed a sentence that seems to require viewing Taylor as much more than an aider and abettor. I view him that way — but the Trial Chamber cannot, given its judgment. And his sentence needs to reflect that fact.

http://opiniojuris.org/2012/05/30/taylor-sentenced-to-50-years-imprisonment/

One Response

  1. I too thought there was definitely a case for JCE. But, if found guilty under JCE, would that not arguably open the door to the argument that through Taylor’s involvement the conflict was internationalised (looking at the judgment summary and following the Tadic 1999 appeals chamber judgment)? In that case, a number of the war crimes charges would not stand, since Article 3 of the SCSL statute appears on my reading to only cover war crimes in NIAC, and only a limited set of war crimes are covered under Article 4? I’m looking forward to reading the Chamber’s full judgment on this – as happy as I am to see some sort of accountability for taylor, I’m also looking forward to seeing how the defence handles the appeal.

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