24 January 2013

Rwanda: Taylor Appeals Hearings End, Judgment By the End of the Year

Lausanne — The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), sitting in The Hague, on Wednesday ended two days of appeals hearings in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

The judges will now deliberate and are expected to hand down a decision by the end of the year, according to a statement from the Court.

Taylor was last year sentenced to 50 years in jail for aiding and abetting rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war (1991-2002). However, both the prosecution and defence are appealing.

Taylor is the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court. At the end of Wednesday's hearings he was allowed to make a statement. "I'm very appreciative of the handling of the proceedings so far, and I have the belief that the right thing will be done by the grace of Almighty God," he told the judges.

In its decision of April 26, 2012, the lower court found Taylor guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers. However, it found him guilty on the basis that he aided and abetted the RUF and planned crimes with them, not that he commanded them as the prosecution had sought to prove.

The Defence has presented 42 grounds of appeal, arguing that the Trial Chamber made multiple errors serious enough to "reverse all findings of guilt entered against him" and invalidate the sentence.

The Prosecution has also appealed the judgment on four grounds. It says the judgment is full of errors and that the sentence does not reflect "the inherent gravity of the totality of his criminal conduct and overall culpability". The Prosecutor is asking the Appeals Court to overturn the lower court findings and recognize Taylor guilty of ordering and instigating the crimes as well as planning, aiding and abetting them. In any case, it wants his sentence increased to 80 years.

Meanwhile, Taylor has written to Liberian MPs demanding to be paid an annual state pension of some $25,000 dollars, according to media reports. In a letter to the Liberian Senate, he says the withholding of his presidential pension is a "mammouth injustice".

Taylor's trial opened in June 2007. The Prosecution called 94 witnesses to the bar, including 32 "insiders", former allies of Taylor who ultimately testified against him.

Taylor was indicted in June 2003 but the arrest warrant remained secret until he agreed to leave power in August 2003, after being granted political asylum by Nigeria. In March 2006, he was nevertheless arrested in Nigeria and transferred to the custody of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The Dutch government agreed to host the trial following a request from Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who feared instability in Liberia if Taylor were tried in Sierra Leone. The Netherlands agreed on the basis that if Taylor were convicted he would serve his sentence elsewhere. The UK agreed to take him.

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