September 26, 2013

Charles Taylor is staying in prison. A United Nations-backed court today delivered an appeals judgment affirming the original verdict against the former Liberian president, upholding his 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during neighboring Sierra Leone's armed conflict that ended in 2002. 

It is a major milestone for victims in Sierra Leone and the development of international justice. Taylor is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone is a strong example of what's known as a hybrid or mixed criminal tribunal, which includes international and national participation in delivering justice for the gravest crimes.

People in Sierra Leone consistently told Human Rights Watch that the Special Court's success would largely hinge on whether it could apprehend and try Taylor, who had safe haven in Nigeria for three years before he was surrendered for trial.

Also worth noting is that the judges affirmed Taylor's liability partly on a theory of aiding and abetting the crimes. In so doing, the Special Court did not follow a recent controversial ruling narrowing liability under this theory by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Human Rights Watch has a long and detailed history of working for justice for the crimes in Sierra Leone, including through the Special Court. Our International Justice Program has actively evaluated the court's work, producing reports and recommendations to ensure its strongest performance, which included a long campaign from 2003 to 2006 for Taylor's surrender by Nigeria.

I took hundreds of detailed statements from Sierra Leonean victims of horrific abuses committed by the rebels Taylor supported, and I testified in the Taylor trial. This is now the end of a long and difficult, but crucially important, process, especially for victims in Sierra Leone who suffered brutal crimes during the country’s armed conflict. I’m glad to see this case reach its conclusion and hope other would-be perpetrators have taken notice.