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The Prosecutor v. Charles Ghankay Taylor

Court Special Court for Sierra Leone (Appeals Chamber), Sierra Leone
Case number SCSL-03-01-A
Decision title Appeals Judgment
Decision date 26 September 2013
  • The Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone
  • Charles Ghankay Taylor
Categories Crimes against humanity, Terrorism, War crimes
Keywords aiding and abetting, child soldiers, crimes against humanity, planning, war crimes
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In April 2012, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was found guilty of providing arms, financial and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebel forces. With the aim of destabilizing the country and gaining access to the natural resources of Sierra Leone (mainly diamonds), he supported the RUF in the preparation of military actions in Sierra Leone (in the districts of Bo, Kono, Kenema, Bombali, Kailahun, Freetown). During the military actions, civilians were killed, beaten, terrorised, raped, and abducted. Children were also abducted and involved in the military actions.

Charles Taylor was sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment.

On 26 September 2013, the Appeals Chamber of the SCSL confirmed that Charles Taylor assisted and planned numerous crimes committed during the Sierra Leone's civil war by the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebel forces. The Appeals Chamber also confirmed the fifty years’ sentence. 

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Procedural history

On 7 March 2003, the SCSL issued an indictment under seal against Charles Ghankay Taylor. On 4 June 2003, the indictment was unsealed when Charles Ghankay Taylor visited Ghana.

On 31 May 2004, The Appeals Chamber dismissed a motion brought on behalf of Charles Taylor that challenged his indictment on the grounds of sovereign immunity and extraterritoriality.

On 29 March 2006, Charles Taylor was transferred to the Special Court. On 30 June 2006, he was transferred to the Hague.

On 18 May 2012, the Trial Chamber found Charles Taylor guilty of war crimes (acts of terrorism, outrages upon personal dignity, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons (murder and cruel treatment), and pillage) and crimes against humanity (murder, rape, sexual slavery, other inhumane acts, enslavement) and conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 under Article 4(c). The accused was found individually criminally liable under Art. 6(1) of the Statute for aiding and abetting, and planning the commission of the crimes.

On 30 May 2012, the Trial Chamber issued a sentencing decision imposing a prison term of 50 years.

On 1 October 2012, both the Prosecution and the Defence filed Appeals Briefs.

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Related developments

On 4 October 2013, the President of the SCSL issued an order designating the United Kingdom as the country in which Charles Taylor would serve his sentence.

On 15 October 2013, Charles Tailor was transferred to the UK to serve the remaining part of his sentence. See also ‘Liberia's Charles Taylor transferred to UK’, BBC News, 15 October 2013.

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Legally relevant facts

Charles Taylor is the former president of Liberia. From 1989 to 1997, Taylor led a rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which sought to unseat Liberia’s then-president, Samuel K. Doe, and to take control of the country.

Charles Taylor provided support to the RUF/AFRC with the knowledge that his support would assist the commission of crimes in the implementation of the RUF/AFRC‘s Operational Strategy. 

He was aware of the specific range of crimes committed during the implementation of the RUF/AFRC‘s Operational Strategy and was aware of the essential elements of the crimes (see also para. 450 of the judgment).

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Core legal questions

  • Did the Trial Chamber err in imposing a sentence of fifty years? (Section X)
  • Did the Trial Chamber err in law in the application of the actus reus and the mens rea elements of individual criminal liability under Article 6(1) to the facts? (para. 499)

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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 2(a),(c),(g),(i) (crimes against humanity), 3(a),(d),(e),(f) (war crimes), 4 (other serious IHL violations) and 6(1) (individual criminal responsibility) of the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
  • Article 4(1) of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  •  Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 
  • Article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Article 7(1)(b) of the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

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Court's holding and analysis

On 1 October 2012, both the Prosecution and the Defence filed Appeals Briefs. The Prosecution’s grounds of appeal included the Trial Chamber’s failure to find Taylor liable for ordering and instigating the commission of crimes, the Chamber’s failure to find him liable for crimes committed in certain locations in five districts on the ground that they fell outside the scope of the indictment, and the Chamber’s sentencing decision which was an error in fact and in law. The Defence appealed the finding of guilt and sentence on forty-two grounds. The Defence raised both errors in law and in fact.

On 26 September 2013, a five-judge panel of the Appeals Chamber of the SCSL upheld the conviction and the sentence of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

The Appeals Chamber upheld in part two grounds of appeal. First, the Appeals Chamber amended the Disposition for planning liability by deleting Kono District under Counts 1-8 and 11 (para. 574). Second, it held that ‘the Trial Chamber erred in law in finding that aiding and abetting liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than other forms of criminal participation the Trial Chamber erred in law in finding that aiding and abetting liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than other forms of criminal participation’ (para. 670).

In addition, the Appeals Chamber declared that the ‘actus reus of aiding and abetting liability is established by assistance that has a substantial effect on the crime, not by the particular manner in which such assistance is provided’ (para. 482). Consequently, it rejected the specific-direction requirement adopted by the Momčilo Perišić Appeal Judgment.

The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence of fifty years of imprisonment (Disposition).

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

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