'Don't be a dictator in the wrong continent at the wrong time': as Charles Taylor's trial ends, does the real test for international justice now begin? Asks Colin Waugh, author of the new book, Charles Taylor and Liberia.

Author:Waugh, Colin
Position:Charles Taylor

DESPITE ITS CUMBERSOME WAYS AND INSTITUTIONAL origins, which lie more in expediency than precedent, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) is nevertheless an impressive forum by any standards. Housed in a building still known as the "Special Tribunal for Lebanon" in The Hague, the SCSL's very presence on European soil can be traced to the concerns of its original African hosts rather than to a natural home in the Dutch capital, which is today also the seat of its main successor, the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In 2006, as Charles Taylor's trial began in Freetown, the President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, asked for the Court to be taken away from his country to protect a fragile peace which had just been achieved there. After bargaining among the Court's main Western backers, it was decided that Taylor's trial should be staged in the Netherlands.

Prior to that, the Court itself was only set up after a successful request by President Kabbah to the UN, and the willingness of the US, the UK and others to back it financially. Then as now, not all from the region were convinced of the merits of setting up a high-profile legal body to try a select few alleged protagonists in Sierra Leone's decade-long conflict.

However, on 26 April 2012., early controversy and muddied origins were swept away in a devastating display of international justice, when for the first time in history an elected African head of state was legally struck down for his part in a multiplicity of war crimes, the most heinous of which were committed while he was president of the sovereign Republic of Liberia.

Shortly after 'pm, before a public gallery of some 80 people including family and supporters as well as diplomats and journalists, Charles Ghankay Taylor, the most popular and among the most brutal of elected Liberian presidents, finally succumbed to international justice, found guilty on II counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and against international law.

A panel of three judges, from Samoa, Uganda and Ireland unanimously found Taylor guilty of an aiding-and-abetting role in all of the crimes of which he had been charged. However, they found him not guilty of engaging in a joint criminal enterprise, which the prosecution had alleged. But his lead part in the planning of the nefarious 6 January 1999 Freetown invasion and related acts was proven beyond reasonable doubt. After the proceedings, Taylor's lead counsel Courtenay Griffiths derided the...

To continue reading