The Taylor trial and judgment reflect a major departure from the impunity that heads of state have traditionally enjoyed when they are implicated in the gravest crimes. It also builds on the precedent set by the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Trials of such leaders, accused of serious crimes committed in violation of international law, can be complex, lengthy, and fraught proceedings. The Taylor trial progressed against a backdrop of criticism and concern following Milosevic’s trial, which was notable for its sometimes chaotic atmosphere and the death of the accused before a judgment could be issued almost seven years after his indictment. For some, this brought the effectiveness and viability of trials of the highest-level leaders at international tribunals into question.
The Taylor trial is an important step forward. The Taylor case largely avoided the major disruptions and delays that have marred some other major international proceedings. Lessons should be drawn from the Taylor trial to promote the best possible practice in future trials of such high-level leaders.
Adding further support to the principle that no one should be above the law was the November 2011 transfer of Laurent Gbagbo, former president of Côte d’Ivoire, to the custody of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of serious crimes committed during post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire.
Key documents on Slobodan Milosevic, former president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia:
Key documents on Laurant Gbagbo, former president of Côte d’Ivoire: