Charles Taylor’s conviction confirmed on appeal

About the author(s):

Rogier Bartels

Rogier is a researcher at the Netherlands Defence Academy (NLDA) and works at the Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office. He holds LL.M-degrees from Utrecht University and the University of Nottingham. Before taking up his current positions, he was an associate legal officer in Chambers at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and a legal adviser at the International Humanitarian Law Division of the Netherlands Red Cross.

Rogier is an adjunct-lecturer at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, where he teaches international humanitarian law, and he co-convenes the Hague Initiative for Law and Armed Conflict.

Yesterday, the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone dismissed most of the Defence’s and Prosecution’s grounds of appeal and confirmed Taylor’s sentence of 50 years imprisonment. With this judgement the Special Court closes its doors.

In comparison with the Trial Judgement, the 306-page Appeals Judgment was available on the Court’s website surprisingly fast (see here). Although officially not an issue before the Appeals Chamber as the Defence had been denied its request to make observations in light of recent ICTY case law on the matter, the question whether the Special Court’s Appeals Chamber would follow the ICTY’s Appeals Chamber’s approach in Perisic (taken on board by the Stanisic & Simatovic Trial Chamber) with regard to “specific direction” as an element of aiding and abetting, was on the mind of many commentators.  Well, it has not as it concludes that, although persuasive authority, the ICTY jurisprudence is not binding on the Special Court, and that no specific direction requirement in customary law exists.

Marko Milanovic gives his first reaction to the Appeals Chamber’s discussion on the specific direction matter here, as does Kevin Jon Heller here. Dov Jacobs’ first thoughts on the judgments can be found here.

Interesting also is the concurring opinion that Justice Fisher (joined by Justice Winter) appended to the Judgement. It contains language defending the integrity of the “colleagues in […] sister Tribunals”/“judges in international criminal courts”. However, by rejecting the Defence’s argument that linked the specific direction element to the possible criminalisation of support by States of rebel groups, with the words “the Defense purposely confuses customary law-making with international law-breaking” and “suggesting that the Judges of this Court would be open to the argument that we should change the law or fashion our decisions in the interests of officials of States that provide support for this […] court”, the concurring opinion appears to implicitly criticise the ICTY Appeals Chamber along similar lines as some allegations made in Judge Harhoff’s infamous letter (and elsewhere) about improper pressure by the US government.

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