Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Charles Taylor begins appeal against 50-year sentence

Taylor, wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie, listened intently as the prosecution began its appeal at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, headquartered in Leidschendam outside The Hague on Tuesday.

The court should "hold responsible not only those who perpetrate the crimes but also those who promote them", said prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian.

"They are just as important, including the lords of war who sell arms in these conflicts," he said.

The court's sentence last May against Taylor (64) for "some of the most heinous crimes in human history" was widely welcomed around the world at the time.

Judges said he aided and abetted rebel forces fighting against Freetown during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war, known for its mutilations, drugged child soldiers and sex slaves.

Blood diamonds
In return, trial judges found Taylor was paid in "blood diamonds" mined by slave labour in areas kept under the control of ruthless Sierra Leonean rebels.

But prosecutors argue that trial judges made a mistake by only convicting Taylor of aiding and abetting the notorious Revolutionary United Front and other rebel groups.

They say the court should have convicted Taylor for actively issuing orders to the front and its ally, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council.

Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting terrorism, murder and rape, committed by the Revolutionary United Front, who waged a terror campaign during a civil war that claimed 120 000 lives between 1991 and 2001.

The initial trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received a gift of "dirty" diamonds, said to be from the flamboyant Taylor, wrapped up in March 2011.

His sentence was the first handed down against a former head of state in an international court since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946.

Possible 80-year prison sentence
Koumjian said that as a result, the trial is "of great consequence".

Tuesday's hearing was dominated by particularly complex legal arguments – with both sides saying judges made legal mistakes in convicting Taylor in April last year and sentencing him in May.

The prosecution wants Taylor jailed for 80 years "in order to reflect the totality of his overall conduct and culpability".

The prosecution attacked Taylor's lawyers, who they said would argue that the former warlord had merely benefitted by obtaining blood diamonds.

"In their view as long as their purpose is not crimes, but advantages, in the case of Charles Taylor the diamonds of Sierra Leone, then it's OK, they're not responsible for aiding and abetting," Koumjian said.

"That would be a great step backwards in international law."

Sources during the trial
Taylor's defence has filed 42 grounds of appeal, calling the trial chamber's decision a "miscarriage of justice", and asked appeals judges to reverse the conviction and quash the sentence.

"The colossal judgement, over 2 500 pages in length, is plagued throughout by internal inconsistencies, misstatements of evidence and conflicting findings," Taylor's lawyer Morris Anyah said in court papers.

Taylor's lawyers say that many of the 94 prosecution witnesses who testified during Taylor's nearly four-year trial provided "uncorroborated hearsay evidence".

Taylor, said Anyah, "was never in Sierra Leone when these crimes were committed" and furthermore he was so "engulfed at the time in many other domestic issues that it was not possible for him to be leading rebels in other countries to fight wars".

But special court for Sierra Leone chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the six judges that the trial chamber relied not only on hearsay evidence, but on multiple other sources during the trial.

"There has been no showing that the trial chamber relied solely on uncorroborated evidence as a basis for this conviction," she said.

Appeals judges are expected to have a decision by September, with the Liberian ex-president remaining behind bars at the UN's detention unit in the Hague until appeals proceedings are finalised.

If his appeal fails, Taylor will serve his sentence in a British jail. – Sapa-AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Jan Hennop
Jan Hennop
AFP correspondent -- The Netherlands

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf

Extortion rackets are part of a corrupt system that includes religious leaders, councillors, police and syndicates

Tobacco farmers want the taxman to do more to control...

The Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association the introduction of a minimum price level for cigarettes

More top stories

Cape Flats gangsters, children die in fight over turf

Extortion rackets are part of a corrupt system that includes religious leaders, councillors, police and syndicates

Father and son abandon gangs to start a project of...

After spending more than 40 years in a life of gangsterism, Ralph Haricombe’s life changed after his son asked him to change his life

Predators: Beauties or beasts?

How farmers perceive jackal and caracal — as ‘beautiful’ or ‘thieves’ — determines whether they will tolerate them on their livestock farms

Creecy taken to court over oil, gas plan

An environment group says its application is a ‘watershed’ case for stopping deep sea exploration
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×