Monrovia — Public reaction to the Special Court for Sierra Leone Appeals Chamber decision unanimously upholding the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and affirming the 50- year sentence imposed by the court's Trial Chamber has been mixed in Monrovia.
Some Liberians described the final decision as sad because it puts behind bars a former President of Liberia.
"The final verdict is saddening for me as a Liberian; to see that my former president going to languish in jail for 50 years. I am very sad. '
"Today is a sad day for me. This is the first African president to go in jail for that long," said Joemah Y. Kollie, a resident of Monrovia.
Christopher S. Doe another Liberian expressed disappointment over the verdict adding that the Taylor issue is a political one solely done to keep him out of Liberia.
"My ex-president left my country with our present president knowing about it. And she is happy and going to show her supremacy." he said.
Liberian gathered before television screens across the city watching the Judge of the Special Court as he read the verdict, though many did not expect any considerable difference from the previous verdict handed down by the court, they could not come to accept that the fact that a former president of Liberia could spend lifetime in jail in a foreign land and not for crimes committed in Liberia.
"It is highly discouraging for the court to come with such verdict on our ex-president," said Darlington S. Wiles.
On 26 April 2012, the Trial Chamber found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting crimes committed by RUF and AFRC rebel forces against Sierra Leones civilian population over a five-year period, and of planning, with RUF Battlefield Commander Sam Bockarie, crimes committed by rebel forces during the January 1999 attack on Freetown. The Defense and the Prosecution had each appealed both judgment and sentence.
The Appeals Chamber, consisting of Justice George Gelaga King (presiding), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, Justice Renate Winter, Justice Jon Kamanda, Justice Shireen Avis Fisher and Alternate Judge Justice Philip Waki, found that the Trial Chamber had properly applied the standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt according to a release issued by the special court.
The Judges also dismissed Defense challenges to findings of fact, saying that the findings were reasonable in light of the Trial Chamber's careful and cautious approach to the evaluation of the evidence.
The Judges said the Trial Chamber had relied on a combination of direct, circumstantial and hearsay evidence in reaching its findings, and that none of its findings were based on uncorroborated hearsay evidence, said the court.
The Trial Chamber also found that Mr. Taylor had supplied the rebels with arms and ammunition, military personnel, sustained operational support, encouragement and moral support, knowing that their strategy was to commit crimes against the civilian population.
The Appeals Chamber concurred, saying that Mr. Taylor had a substantial effect on the rebels' capacity to implement its operational strategy and to carry out attacks on civilians.
The Defense according to the judge reading the verdict argued that the Trial Chamber erred in finding the mens rea (intent) of aiding and abetting by applying "knowledge" standard rather than a "purpose" standard.
The Appeals Chamber rejected this argument, holding that under customary international law, knowingly participating in the commission of crimes establishes individual criminal responsibility. The Defense had also argued that the conviction was legally erroneous because Mr. Taylor had not assisted the individual soldiers who committed the crimes.
The Appeals Chamber did not agree, finding that the crimes were committed in furtherance of the RUF/AFRC operational strategy, and that the Trial Chamber had properly found that Mr. Taylor aided and abetted the planning, preparation and execution of that strategy and thus the crimes.
Justice King added that the Appeals Chamber was "not persuaded" by the recent ICTY Appeals Chamber's Perišić judgment, which concluded that "specific direction" is an element of aiding and abetting liability under customary international law.
Justice King noted that the ICTY's jurisprudence did not contain a clear, detailed analysis supporting the conclusion that "specific direction" is an element of aiding and abetting under customary international law.
The Appeals Chamber affirmed Mr. Taylor's conviction for planning the crimes committed during the January 1999 attack on Freetown. The Appeals Chamber recalled that Mr. Taylor instructed Sam Bockarie to make Freetown "fearful" and to use terror tactics against the city's civilian population. Mr. Taylor thus demonstrated his intention that crimes would be committed in Freetown.
The Prosecution had argued that, based on the evidence before the Court, the Trial Chamber should have found that Mr. Taylor had ordered or instigated crimes committed by RUF and AFRC rebel forces.
The Appeals Chamber found, however, that ordering and instigating were "inadequate characterisations of culpable acts and conduct" found by the Trial Chamber, and held that aiding and abetting "fully captures Taylor's numerous 'interventions' over a sustained period of five years."
The Appeals Chamber agreed with the Prosecution, however, that the Trial Chamber erred in concluding that aiding and abetting liability. Justices Shireen Avis Fisher read out a concurring opinion on behalf of herself and Justice Renate Winter.
She stated "the confirmed findings overwhelmingly establish that Mr. Taylor, over a five year period, individually, and knowingly, and secretly, and substantially assisted the perpetration of horrific crimes against countless civilians in return for diamonds and power, while publicly pretending that he was working for peace."
Justice Fisher noted that eight independent judges had established Mr. Taylor's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and stressed the importance of judicial independence.
UK welcome verdict
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in a statement said his government welcomes the judgment against former Liberian leader. He said the court's decision sends a strong message that those in positions of power who commit atrocities, including former heads of state, can and will be made to answer for their actions.
Hague said the conviction is also a victory in the fight against impunity for sexual violence, as the judges emphasized Taylor's responsibility for horrific crimes of rape and sexual enslavement used to terrorize the people of Sierra Leone.
"I pay tribute to the courage of the witnesses, whose testimony was crucial to ensuring justice was served."
" No verdict can undo the pain and suffering the victims and their families have endured, but I hope they take some comfort in the fact that a line can now be definitively drawn under that period of Sierra Leone's history," he said.
"This verdict marks the successful conclusion of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is the first international court to complete its mandate. "
"This is a remarkable achievement, and I commend the legal teams and staff of the Court for their tireless and dedicated work over the last 10 years."
"I am proud that the United Kingdom has been the second largest bilateral donor to the Special Court over its lifetime."
The UK foreign secretary then urged other states to consider making voluntary contributions to the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, which will now take on the essential remaining work, including witness protection and managing the sentences of the convicted.
"The UK will continue to support this vital work, and the people and government of Sierra Leone as they build a peaceful and secure future for their country," he said.
Liberty Party 'sad Day'
One of Liberia's lead opposition political party said it was sad news for all Liberians even though the sentence was based on international best practice.
"It is a sad day for the country when a former president of Liberia has to be incarcerated. I don't think anybody is happy about that and the one thing about Liberians is that we're not used to long prison sentences, so I believe it will send shock waves through the country," said Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa National Chairman of the LP at a news conference in Monrovia.
Cllr. Koffa urged all to respect the decision of the court adding that it was based on international law. "I think it is sad that it has come to that; there are international standards to uphold; maybe at some point, we will tender justice with mercy and Mr. Taylor may one day come home and see his family," he said.
"It is a sad situation, because we can't have our president incarcerated as such but at the same time there are international standards and international norms to uphold and as soon as we align our systems to those, I don't think we will ever see those situations again."