Former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday began his appeal in The Hague against his conviction and 50-year sentence for war crimes committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone [JURIST news archive]. Taylor's 42-point appeal [AFP report] states that the the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] made "systematic errors" in evaluating evidence and relied on hearsay testimony of the 94 prosecution witnesses as the basis for its fact-finding. The former leader was sentenced to 50 years in prison in May after he was convicted [JURIST reports] of war crimes a month earlier. He was accused of planning as well as aiding and abetting crimes committed by rebel forces in exchange for diamonds during the civil war, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, conscripting or enlisting children into armed forces, enslavement and pillage. Specifically Taylor was convicted of 11 counts for arming Sierra Leone's rebels in return for "blood diamonds" during the war. On appeal the prosecution is asking the court to overturn Taylor's acquittal on charges that he actively issued orders to the rebels, and increase Taylor's sentence [BBC report] to 80 years. At the original sentencing hearing Taylor claimed [JURIST report] he had "sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes suffered in Sierra Leone" but that he was not responsible for actions taken by rebel forces during the decade-long civil war that claimed 120,000 lives.
In October JURIST Columnist Charles Jalloh [university profile] of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law examined allegations [JURIST op-ed] made by Alternate Judge El Hadji Malick Sow at the end of Charles Taylor's trial, arguing for the establishment of an independent fact-finding commission to promote transparency and public confidence in the SCSL. In June Kenneth Gallant of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law wrote that Taylor's sentencing should have included the provision of reparations for his victims [JURIST op-ed] and that the prosecution ought to raise that issue on appeal. In February Taylor's lawyers asked that the SCSL reopen the case [JURIST report] in light of new evidence, including a report by the UN Panel of Experts on Liberia. His lawyers claimed that the new evidence demonstrated that Taylor was not instrumental in the war crimes committed by rebel forces, but the court declined to reopen the case. The SCSL heard closing arguments [JURIST report] in March 2011. Taylor denied all the charges [JURIST report] against him. His defense lawyers opened their case [JURIST report] in July 2009 and have claimed that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia.