For Immediate Release
PHR welcomes today’s verdict against former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, the first head of state to be convicted by an international court. Today, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting in 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder and mutilation of civilians, rape and sexual slavery, forced labor, and abduction and conscription of children to serve as child soldiers during the conflict in Sierra Leone.
The court found Taylor to have supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels fighting in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to January 18, 2002. With Taylor’s assistance, the RUF waged a notoriously ruthless and violent campaign against civilians in Sierra Leone.
In 2002, PHR published a report that documented sexual violence and related crimes against internally-displaced people. The report estimated that nearly 50 percent of women who came into direct contact with the RUF were sexually assaulted and concluded that as many as 215,000-257,000 women and girls in Sierra Leone had been affected by war-related sexual violence. The study also demonstrated that thousands of women and girls who had suffered rape were willing to testify to the Special Court.
Additionally, the former director of PHR’s International Forensic Program, Dr. William Haglund, conducted forensic investigations to exhume graves of victims of mass crimes in Sierra Leone for the SCSL.
“PHR’s study and Dr. Haglund’s forensic work revealed that these crimes were systematic and occurred over a several-year period,” said Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director of PHR. “Scientific investigations were powerful tools in supporting the Office of the Prosecutor of the SCSL in developing its case against Taylor. They demonstrate the important role that forensic evidence and population-based studies can play in prosecutions and seeking justice for victims.”
The SCSL was established in 2002 to try “those who bear the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. PHR has long supported the work of the SCSL and has called for accountability of those perpetrators responsible for egregious human rights violations, including crimes of sexual violence, in Sierra Leone.
Taylor’s landmark conviction marks a milestone for the SCSL as it is the final case before the SCSL and will close as a key chapter in the ongoing process of accountability and reconciliation in Sierra Leone. The Court’s decision today also marks a milestone for international law as the verdict sends a clear message to other perpetrators of international crimes that they too will one day face justice.
“Such a high-level prosecution provides some redress for Taylor’s victims, but more remains to be done. Victims of the RUF’s atrocities, including victims of sexual violence, require reparation. Personal and community-based healing is as much a part of justice as what happens in a courtroom. All victims of serious human rights violations require full reparation, including access to medical services and counseling. After the conviction of Charles Taylor, the international community and the Government of Sierra Leone should now turn to victim-centered support services in order to continue the march toward justice,” said Sirkin.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.