Taylor Convicted: Justice For Sierra Leone
On April 26, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) ushered in a new era of international justice when it reached a verdict in the case of former warlord and Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor became the first head of state to be held responsible for various forms of sexual violence. And from the very start, PHR provided the Special Court with the evidence and expert testimony it needed to hold Taylor and other criminals accountable.
Taylor 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, killing and maiming people in graphic and public ways in order to terrorize the population. And against women and girls, they waged a war of rape and sexual violence that left scars as painful and lasting as any amputation.
In 2002, the Special Court was established to prosecute those “who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law.”
That year, PHR investigators travelled to Sierra Leone and used epidemiology to document the horrific toll Taylor and the RUF had taken on innocent civilians, particularly women. Our ground breaking report, War-Related Sexual Violence in Sierra Leone, estimated that nearly 50 percent of women who came into direct contact with the RUF were sexually assaulted. This evidence of a widespread and systematic campaign against women and girls enabled the judges to recognize that sexual violence had become a strategic weapon against individuals, families, and whole communities.
In addition to tracking the systematic use of sexual violence to wage war, PHR used its forensic expertise to bring justice to Sierra Leone. In 2002, PHR’s International Forensic Director Dr. William Haglund also exhumed graves for the Court in the town of Tombodu, where residents suggested that scores of persons may have been executed and their remains thrown into a flooded diamond pit. Through these exhumations, PHR collected irrefutable evidence of extrajudicial executions in Sierra Leone, which we turned over to the Special Court.
And in June 2005, Dr. Haglund was called to provide expert testimony to the SCSL. His testimony included the results of exhumations and evaluations of remains from seven graves near the small village of Tiendecom.
On May 30, 2012, the court will sentence Charles Taylor, and will conclude its mandate. For the people of Sierra Leone, justice will, in some measure, have been served, and the healing can begin.
For PHR, our medical and forensic documentation of mass atrocities in Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and around the world will continue. The evidence we discover will be vital for the prosecutors and judges at work in the International Criminal Court and the emerging regional courts and tribunals.
Please help so that PHR can continue to ensure that innocent victims do not die in vain, that survivors are have their day in court, and that their killers are brought to justice.