Special Court for Sierra Leone - Trial Chamber judgment of Charles Taylor

"Today's verdict is yet another step towards ending impunity for those that recruit and use child soldiers. This judgment establishes that providing arms and supporting armed groups that recruit and use children in hostilities is a criminal offence" said Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International.

On 26 April 2012 the Trial Chamber II of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) found former Liberian President, Charles Ghankay Taylor, guilty of a range of crimes under international law, including recruiting children under the age of 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

With this judgment, the SCSL is reaching another critical milestone establishing the criminal responsibility of a former head of state for the part he took in planning and supporting crimes committed by armed groups active during the armed conflict in Sierra Leone. It sends a clear message that those who support armed groups that commit crimes such as the recruitment of children can be brought to justice.

The SCSL has already convicted five individuals for enlisting children under the age of 15 years and using them to actively participate in hostilities and they are all serving prison sentences. The Taylor judgment appears one month after the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court found the Congolese armed group leader, Thomas Lubanga Dylo, guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers.

It confirms that there shall be no impunity for the crime of recruitment of children or their use in hostilities.

The Taylor judgment may be appealed, and once appeal proceedings are concluded the SCSL will have completed its mandate (although some residual functions will be taken up by the Residual Special Court).

The conclusion of the Charles Taylor trial will not, however, represent the end to investigations and international trials of grave crimes against children. Before the ICC two defendants (Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo Chui) are charged, inter alia, with the war crime of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 years and using them to participate actively in hostilities.

Others accused of conscripting and enlisting children are still at large. However, partly as a result of these recent judgments, pressure has been mounting on the DRC authorities to arrest Bosco Ntaganda and transfer him to the ICC. Similarly, pressure is mounting for the arrest off senior members of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), including Joseph Kony.

While the ICC will continue to play a very important role in prosecuting those suspected of serious crimes against children, Child Soldiers International remains seriously concerned that at national level, bringing to justice the perpetrators of these crimes is not seen as a priority. Child Soldiers International reiterates its call to all states to criminalize the recruitment of children and their use in hostilities in their domestic legislation, in line with their obligations under international law. The organization also calls on states to effectively investigate reports of child recruitment and use, and bring to justice the suspected perpetrators.

Background

The conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia were characterized by extensive use of child soldiers. The prosecutor of the SCSL (established by the UN and Sierra Leonean government in 2002) issued its first indictments in 2003.

Charles Taylor was indicted under seal on 7 March 2003. Charles Taylor was transferred to the Special Court on 29 March 2006. The Taylor trial opened on 4 June 2007. During the trial, the SCSL heard testimonies of former child soldiers and of other witnesses, all pointing to the grave crimes committed against children and the long standing suffering that they are enduring. The judgment of the Trial Chamber II can be appealed.