Liberian Charles Taylor, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law

Liberian Charles Taylor, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law

Not since World War II has an international tribunal held a former head state accountable for war crimes. That changed last week when the Special Court for Sierra Leone sentenced Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, to prison for a term of 50 years. Given his age, this is in essence a life sentence.

Although Taylor created mayhem within Liberia and several neighboring countries, his war crimes trial and conviction focused on the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Paid by the rebel Sierra Leone Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in blood diamonds, Taylor provided arms and logistical support to the RUF.

Crimes committed by the RUF with Taylor's support included murder, gang rape, sex slavery, use of child soldiers, and the hacking amputation of limbs. For the 500,000+ victims and their families, a de facto life sentence is better than Taylor deserves in exchange for the pain and suffering he inflicted upon so many.

The fact the tribunal considered Taylor's position as Liberia's president to be an aggravating factor sends a message to other heads of state that the rule of law does not turn a blind eye to government leaders committing war crimes. It is also noteworthy that the tribunal did not adopt defense counsel's argument that Taylor deserved leniency because he stepped down into exile.

Heads of state who conduct themselves like Taylor should take note that there is no immunity from prosecution waiting for them should they step down from power after supporting the commission of heinous human rights violations. For example, after the Houla Massacre, Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad should expect to face justice before the International Criminal Court.

Recommended Reading                                                    

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor gets 50 years for war crimes, LA Times (May 30, 2012)

Taylor will leave jail for grave, Times Live (May 31, 2012)

Charles Taylor: lay preacher and feared warlord, AFP (May 30, 2012)

Mixed Reaction to Sentencing of Liberia's Charles Taylor, VOA News (May 30, 2012)

50-year term for Charles Taylor heralds 'new era of accountability', The Independent (May 31, 2012)

Houla massacre: UK government 'will not abandon' Syrian people, BBC News (May 31, 2012)