29 January 2013

Liberia: Appeals Chamber Concludes Oral Hearings in Charles Taylor's Appeal

Oral hearings in the Charles Taylor appeals case continued into a second day on Wednesday, January 23, as both prosecution and defense lawyers responded to each other's submissions made one day earlier.

On the previous Tuesday, January 22, prosecution and defense lawyers made submissions to a panel of five Appeals Chamber judges, making emphasis mainly on the limits of criminal liability for aiding and abetting a crime based on the findings of Trial Chamber judges. Nearly one year ago, Trial Chamber judges found the former Liberian president guilty of aiding and abetting the commission of serious crimes by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. The crimes that Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting include murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, terrorizing of the civilian population of Sierra Leone, and the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. Mr. Taylor was also found guilty of helping to plan specific rebel attacks in Sierra Leone, including those on the diamond rich town of Kono and the country's capital Freetown in late 1998 to early 1999. Mr. Taylor has since appealed the Trial Chamber's verdict.

As the parties responded to questions from the judges on the second day of the oral appeal hearings, prosecutors told judges that Taylor's defense lawyers were wrong to assert that causation and substantial contribution towards the crimes committed were necessary for an accused to be guilty of aiding and abetting. Prosecutors referenced case law in which the simple supply of food was deemed sufficient to amount to aiding and abetting. They argued that case law supports the position that contribution need not be direct, nor tangible in some cases.

Prosecutors emphasized to the judges that in the case of Sierra Leone, if it were not for Taylor's involvement, thousands of people would not have been killed during the conflict.

Taylor was aware of the situation that obtained in Sierra Leone - that the operational strategy of the rebels was to terrorize the civilians - prosecutors argued on Wednesday. They told judges that Taylor knew about the crimes committed by rebels, that he supplied materials, provided moral support and logistical advice to the rebels, and that his supplies were indispensable and critical to enabling the operation of the rebels in Sierra Leone. They relied on Taylor's support, prosecutors said.

Defense lawyers on their part argued about the need to be "practically certain," have full knowledge and intention to support the commission of a crime before one can be convicted for aiding and abetting. The standard applied by the Trial Chamber, defense lawyers said, was wrong. The Trial Chamber judges, according to defense lawyers, based their finding on possibility and not on a virtual certainty to meet the mens rea standard of aiding and abetting.

Defense lawyers further argued that the Trial Chamber relied on uncorroborated hearsay and not eye-witness evidence. This, they argued, was wrong for a case of this magnitude. To meet the mens rea element of aiding and abetting, there has to be a virtual certainty, not one of probability, Mr. Taylor's defense argued.

After asking several questions and putting on record the responses of prosecution and defense lawyers, the judges adjourned the proceedings. They will now commence their deliberations and as noted in a press release issued by the court afterwards, the Appeals Chamber judges will deliver their judgment before the end of the year. They have the option to either uphold or overturn the Trial Chamber's findings, or reverse, reduce, uphold, or increase Mr. Taylor's sentence of 50 years.

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