Charles Taylor

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 22.05.2018 )
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Charles Taylor was born on 28 February 1948 in Arthington, Liberia. He completed his university studies in the United States, where he was arrested in 1979 for threatening to occupy the Liberian diplomatic mission in New York. He was President of Liberia between 1997 and 2003. His term in office was marked by rebellions and conflicts in the region.

According to the indictment of the SCSL, Taylor met Foday Sankoh in Libya in the late 1980s, and immediately made common cause with him. Taylor is said to have financed and supported Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) with material and personnel, providing weapons, ammunition and military training. With the aim of destabilizing the country and gaining access to the natural resources of Sierra Leone (mainly diamonds), he allegedly supported the RUF in the preparation of these military actions in Sierra Leone and during the ensuing conflict.

Taylor allegedly encouraged and supported all the actions of the RUF and the AFRC (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) alliance, who are said to have launched armed attacks within the territory of Sierra Leone, namely in the districts of Bo, Kono, Kenema, Bombali, Kailahun, as well as in the capital, Freetown. The targets of these attacks included the civilian population, humanitarian aid workers and United Nations peacekeeping forces. These attacks were allegedly perpetrated with the aim to terrorize the civilian population and to punish it for the lack of support given to the RUF and the AFRC. During these attacks, the RUF and the AFRC allegedly committed murders, physical violence (especially mutilations and rape), pillaging and abduction of civilians as sexual slaves or forced laborers. They also allegedly abducted children in order to enroll them by force. These acts were allegedly encouraged or executed with the collaboration of, or on order from, Taylor.

On 7 March 2003, Taylor was indicted by the SCSL on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Under pressure exerted by the international community, he relinquished power and resigned as President of Liberia on 11 August 2003.


legal procedure

On 7 March 2003, Taylor was indicted by the SCSL on 17 counts. Under pressure exerted by the international community, he relinquished power and resigned as President of Liberia on 11 August 2003.

On 23 July 2003, Taylor raised opposition to his indictment and the arrest warrant issued against him stating that, as a Head of State, at the time the indictment and the arrest warrant were issued, he had the right to immunity from prosecution. On 31 May 2004, the Appeals Chamber considered that the principle of international law establishing the sovereign equality of States does not prevent Heads of States from being prosecuted for serious international crimes.

The charges upheld by the SCSL included crimes against humanity (for extermination, murder, rape, enslavement) and war crimes (for acts of terrorism, collective punishment against the civilian population, violence to life and person, outrages upon personal dignity, pillage and abductions). Among those acts were attacks on civilians, on humanitarian and medical personnel, on peacekeeping missions and enrolment of children under 15 years old in the armed forces. According to the indictment, the Revolutionary united front (RUF) and the Armed forces revolutionary council (AFRC) shared a common plan and purpose, thus forming a joint criminal enterprise which consisted in carrying out, with Taylor, the joint actions necessary to gain and exercise political power and control over the territory of Sierra Leone, and in particular over the diamond mining regions.

After a failed attempt to escape from Nigeria, Taylor was arrested on 29 March 2006 at the border with Cameroon and immediately handed over to the SCSL, located in Freetown. Taylor pleaded not guilty for all charges brought against him. On 30 June 2006, for security reasons, the UN Security Council authorized the transfer of Taylor’s trial to The Hague. Some charges were dropped and only 11 of them were kept in order to reduce the length of the trial.

The trial opened on 4 June 2007, in the absence of Taylor who refused to appear on the grounds that he would not be given the right to a fair trial.

After that date, the resumption of the trial was postponed many times in order to settle many administrative issues. The trial finally resumed on 7 January 2008, with the submission of the prosecutor’s evidence until 27 February 2009. The prosecutor called 91 witnesses to testify. The prosecution’s main argument was that Taylor provided military training and support to RUF and AFRC rebels and that although he knew or should have known about the various crimes committed, he failed to take reasonable measures to prevent or punish them.

The submission of the Defense’s evidence started on 13 July 2009 and ended on 12 November 2010, after the hearing of 20 witnesses, amongst which Taylor himself. The Defense claimed that Taylor was a peace-maker who tried, in his capacity of president of Liberia, to help reach a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Sierra Leone. They argue this trial is a “western conspiracy” to remove him from power.

On 11 March 2011, the Court withdrew for deliberations.

On 31 January 2012, Taylor’s lawyers asked for a re-opening of the trial in order to submit to the Court a report of experts of the United Nations on Liberia, published in December 2011. According to that report, Liberian mercenaries acted in Ivory Coast without any control. Taylor’s lawyers say an analogy has to be done with what happened in Sierra Leone ten years earlier, when the mercenaries allegedly acted without Taylor’s control. The judges rejected that request unanimously on 10 February 2012.

On 26 April 2012, the Trial Chamber of the SCSL unanimously found Charles Taylor guilty of aiding, abetting and planning war crimes (acts of terrorism, murders, outrages to personal dignity, cruel treatments, enrolment and conscription of children under 15 years to use them to participate actively in hostilities, pillage) and crimes against humanity (murders, rapes, sexual slavery, enslavement, other inhumane acts).

On 3 May 2012, the prosecution suggested an 80-year sentence.

On 30 May 2012, the SCSL sentenced him to a term of 50 years in prison. He will serve his sentence in Great Britain under an agreement made with the SCSL.

On 19 July 2012, the Prosecution and the Defense filed appeals against both the decision on Taylor’s conviction and his sentence.

The Prosecutor appealed against the denial of the Chamber to find Taylor liable for ordering and instigating the commission of crimes, its exclusion of the crimes committed in five specific districts and the 50 years sentence, which it deemed too low.

Defense lawyers appealed some points of facts about Taylor’s involvement in some attacks. Moreover, it argued that the 50 years sentence was manifestly unreasonable and raised some irregularities in the proceedings (for instance the lack of deliberation among judges and Justice Julia Sebutinde’s participation in the proceedings after she had already become a judge of the International Court of Justice).

On 22 January 2013, the appeal process started. The hearings lasted two days, during which lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense presented their final arguments after which the judges withdrew to consider their verdict. The initial verdict was upheld on appeal on 26 September 2013, making Taylor the first ex Head of State to be conclusively sentenced by an International Tribunal since the end of the Second World War.

Following this verdict, Taylor was transferred in October 2013 to the Frankland prison in Durham, United Kingdom. In a three page letter dated 10 October 2013, Taylor requested that his sentence of 50 years for war crimes be served in Rwanda rather than in the United Kingdom. Taylor explained that it would be easier and less costly for his family to visit him in Rwanda. He also feared that he would be the target of aggression in a British prison.

On 24 March 2015, the Trial Chamber of the SCSL denied the request for transfer. The Chamber asserted that Taylor’s presence in Rwanda could potentially undermine the peace, security and stability of the West African sub-region. The Court also contended that Taylor’s detention was in accordance with international standards and did not violate his right to a family life. Finally, the judges stressed that prisoners do not benefit from a right to choose their place of incarceration.


On 23 March 2018, a two Liberian American citizens filed a lawsuit against Taylor and several other defendants before the United States District Court of Massachusetts in Boston, Massachusetts, US. The suit was filed on the basis of several statutes, including the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.

The defendants, including Taylor, are being accused of being the main perpetrators and sponsors of atrocities committed against civilians during the country’s civil war, which include violence, torture, and rape. The victims of the alleged atrocities included that of the plaintiffs.

On 26 April 2018, the Court issued a summon for the accused, giving them 21 days to file a response ad to serve their motions on the plaintiffs.



On 31 May 2004, the Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected a preliminary appeal filed by Charles Taylor. He had claimed that as President of Liberia at the time of the alleged facts, he benefitted from immunity as Head of State and that consequently, his indictment by the Court was illegal.

The Court ruled that the principle of non-interference in the affairs of another State does not prevent the criminal prosecution of a Head of State by an international criminal tribunal such as the one set up in Sierra Leone.

Moreover, in invoking such precedents as the Nuremberg and Tokyo Charters, and the Statutes of the ad-hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, it further held that the immunity of heads of States does not extend to crimes against humanity and war crimes.




For about eleven years, between the 1991 and the 2002, Sierra Leone was torn apart by a civil war. The government forces – at different stages supported by Nigeria-led ECOMOG forces, Guinea and the United Kingdom – tried to resist continuous attempts of ‘coup d’état’ by some rebel groups, notably the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), supported by the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). A high number of crimes were perpetrated in those years, including murders, mutilations, rapes, abductions and conscription of child soldiers.

Because of such devastation, on 2 June 2000, Sierra Leone’s President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Kabbah asked the UN for cooperation in bringing to justice those responsible for the crimes perpetrated during the conflict.

A few months later, on 14 August 2000, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1315, mandating the Secretary-General to negotiate the creation of a special tribunal with the Sierra Leonean government. As a result, on 16 January 2002, the UN and Government of Sierra Leone signed the agreement creating the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).


The SCSL is a criminal tribunal sitting in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Its Appeals Chamber sit however in Leidschendam, near The Hague, in the Netherlands. Like in other “hybrid courts”, the judiciary is composed by both international and national judges. The same holds true for the staff of the other SCSL’s bodies.

The aim of the SCSL is ‘to prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996, including those leaders who, in committing such crimes, have threatened the establishment of and implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone’ (SCSL Statute, art. 1).

The Court therefore applies both international and domestic law, by prosecuting on the one hand crimes against humanity, violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions (1949) and of Additional Protocol II (1977), and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and on the other hand Sierra Leonean crimes like arson and rape of girls.


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