press releaseBy Richard Lee
The Open Society Foundations welcome today's guilty verdict in the criminal trial of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague.
The court found Taylor guilty of all eleven charges against him, on the grounds that he had knowingly aided and abetted rebel forces in Sierra Leone that had carried out atrocities between 1996 and 2002, and that he had been directly involved in planning attacks during which atrocities had occurred.
It said the prosecution had not proved its claims that Taylor's liability extended to direct command responsibility for the crimes, nor that the atrocities were part of a joint criminal enterprise with his rebel allies in Sierra Leone. The verdict marks the first time that a former head of state has been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by one of the international tribunals set up since the early 1990s.
Abdul Tejan-Cole, regional director of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, said: "Today's verdict marks a significant milestone for the victims of the conflict in Sierra Leone, and supports the fight against impunity for serious crimes. It reinforces respect for the rule of law and accountability, which are both essential to underpin peace and stability across the region."
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, also welcomed the ruling, saying: "This judgment sends a clear message to the rest of the world: that powerful political leaders who perpetrate atrocities to gain or to retain power can one day be held accountable."
The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which uses a mix of Sierra Leonean and international judges and staff, has tried a total of 10 people, including Taylor, since it was set up in 2002 under an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone.
The Open Society Foundations' support for the court has included operating a trial monitoring site, www.charlestaylortrial.org, to explain its work to the widest possible audience, and supporting related outreach efforts in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Both the Justice Initiative and OSIWA have been involved in efforts to strengthen governance, civil society, the media and the justice systems in both countries.
Looking forward, Tejan-Cole said: "Now, attention has to be shifted to alleviating the great physical and emotional suffering of the victims. A protection and support services strategy, including compensation, needs to be proffered to meet the victims' needs."
Goldston noted that the conduct of the Taylor trial had underlined the success of the SCSL's "hybrid" court model in delivering effective and independent justice for international crimes: "The record of the Special Court for Sierra Leone demonstrates that in the right circumstances, a court that uses a mix international and local staff and judges can provide an excellent locally-based alternative to taking cases before the International Criminal Court."
Taylor will now remain in custody until the judges schedule a separate sentencing hearing during which they will determine the length of jail-term that he would serve. His defense team will then have an opportunity to appeal against the guilty verdicts to a five judge appeal chamber. Both prosecution and defense teams will have the right to appeal the eventual sentence. Taylor has been in custody of the court since March 2006. Any future jail term would be served at a prison in the United Kingdom.
When the Taylor appeals process concludes, the Special Court will become the first of the international criminal tribunals set up since the early 1990s to successfully conclude its operations.