On 30 May 2012 history was made. A former head of state, Charles Ghankay Taylor, was sentenced to fifty years in prison. This is the first time that a head of state has been convicted and sentenced for the crimes he has been accused of. For those of us that have worked at an international court, Charles Taylor’s sentence is fundamental. We’ve worked behind the scenes. We know how much work, time and energy it takes to conduct a seemingly smooth routine day in the courtroom. Just like the Charles Taylor case, we’ve swam through thousands of documents, looked at hours of video footage, drafted an endless amount of filings, read infinite numbers of witness statements, and prepared countless exhibits for trial. If you’ve worked on a case at an international court, then you know what I mean because what I just described was a taste of your daily working life.
We’ve worked countless hours for the hope of (depending on which side you were working for) a conviction or acquittal. After a few years of pre-trial preparation and finally a trial, judgement day always meant that one of the sides was going to have a bad day. Sometimes, depending on the verdict, both sides had a bad day. However, up until 30 May the Prosecution had always had an uphill battle when it came to prosecuting heads of states, let alone top officials. The standard is high, extremely high. You have to prove that the accused had direct knowledge or contributed to the crimes. Now that Charles Taylor has been convicted and given an impressive sentence, both sides will have renewed thoughts about trying heads of states and other high level officials. The prosecution is given a new hope – convicting a top figure is possible. The defense on the other hand will have to up their game. Why? Because convicting a top figure is possible.
There are still outstanding accused international war criminals freely walking around. Just like Charles Taylor they are have been accused of heinous crimes. The most notable figure at this moment is Joseph Kony, the alleged Commander-in-Chief of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony was made infamous by The Invisible Children organization. I wonder if Kony, and any of the other outstanding accused, are shivering in their boots. Or will they continue to shun the international courts and outside world? Will current heads of states think twice before making decisions about going to war?
The Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Madame Hollis, provided a compelling statement in regards to Charles Taylor’s sentence:
“The Sentence imposed today does not replace amputated limbs, does not bring back to life those who were murdered, does not heal the wounds of those who were victims of sexual violence, and does not remove the permanent emotional, psychological and physical scars of those enslaved or recruited as child soldiers. But this sentence does bring some measure of justice for these terrible wrongs, and reflects the condemnation of all members of the global community for the suffering inflicted on innocent men, women and children.”
I tend to agree with her. What do you think?
 Press Release, Special Court For Sierra Leone, Office of the Prosecutor (30 May 2012).