Taylor-Made But What if the Suit Don’t Fit?

If Charles Ghankay Taylor is determined guilty on 25 April 2012, he will be the first former head of state to be convicted by an international criminal tribunal.  The former Liberian president has remained the most senior figure being tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) on eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Taylor trial has produced diametrically opposed narratives about Taylor’s role in West Africa.  Taylor’s lead lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, has argued that his “role in Sierra Leone was entirely peaceful,” and although atrocities took place, he was not at the center of them.  American prosecutor Brenda Hollis, however, contends that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was a terrorist army created, supported, and directed by Taylor and responsible for acts such as displaying “heads on sticks and car bumpers,” killing babies, cutting open pregnant women, and eating “Nigerians and white people.”

To prove Taylor is responsible for “acts of terrorism,” the prosecution has the difficult task of demonstrating that he forged an illicit conspiracy with RUF leader Foday Sankoh in the late 1980’s to conquer West Africa through a campaign of terror financed by rough diamonds (or “blood diamonds,” as they are sometimes called) from Sierra Leone.  The trial has produced close to 50,000 transcript pages and well over a thousand exhibits.  The prosecution has flown ninety-four witnesses to The Hague.  Some observers, however, criticize the Court’s temporal jurisdiction, which only extends after November 1996, which leaves questions of Taylor’s responsibility for atrocities committed before then unaddressed.

See related articles here and here.

One comment

  1. This post brings out several controversial areas of international politics that have been surrounding the Charles Taylor case. Most western nations would agree that the prosecutions of individuals like Charles Taylor represent justice, as Taylor was certainly instrumental in the perpetration of the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone. However, there are some who believe that convicting African human rights abusers in western courts are merely “for show.” One recent article stated that “Given the tsunami of suffering that Taylor unleashed upon West Africa, the overly constrained proceedings in the Hague are really more like a show trial, a demonstration of Western judicial power rather than a real exploration of the facts and figures surrounding the series of events that destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives across the region.” The concept behind this point is that this trial in the Hague is much more a demonstration of “white man’s justice” than a meaningful and thorough effort to uncover all the truths of the atrocities, and prosecute all those who are culpable. This is not to say that the trial of Charles Taylor is not a step in the right direction. But some critics believe it falls short of truly addressing the crisis that affected so many lives.

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