In the Media

Charles Taylor asks not to be jailed in UK

PUBLISHED May 11, 2012

Exiling the convicted former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to Britain's unsafe jails would leave him "culturally isolated" and constitute a "punishment within a punishment", his lawyers have told a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal.

In defence submissions ahead of the former president's sentencing later this month, his defence team have argued for a shorter period of detention than the 80 years demanded by the prosecution.

Taylor, who is 64, was found guilty at the special court for Sierra Leone in The Hague last month of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity by supporting rebels in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002 in return for "blood diamonds". Any prison sentence is likely to be served in the UK which has offered to accommodate him once his trial and appeal is completed.

Sentencing for the 11 counts of which he was found guilty ? including murder, rape, sexual slavery, enforced amputations and pillage carried out ? is scheduled for 30 May. His defence, led by Courtenay Griffiths QC, has signalled that it will appeal against Taylor's conviction after he has been sentenced.

The Hague court cannot impose the death penalty or a life sentence, so an 80-year sentence, Griffiths maintained, was "manifestly excessive" and "outlandish".

"The suggestion that but for Mr Taylor the war in Sierra Leone would not have happened the way it did is an outright fallacy or wild speculation at best," he added. "Forcing [him] to take the blame for the entirety of the Sierra Leonean conflict might assuage the conscience of Sierra Leoneans who committed atrocities themselves but it will not ultimately contribute to peace and reconciliation in the sub-region."

An appropriate penalty, the defence submission suggested, "would be a number of years which falls short of what would be in real terms a life sentence".

Before the four-year-long trial began, the UK signed a "sentence enforcement agreement" with the Dutch government, stating that Britain would give Taylor prison space. It is up to the tribunal, however, to decide where the ex-Liberian president will be jailed.

"That Mr Taylor should serve his sentence in a prison, culturally and geographically thousands of miles from his home, should be considered a factor in mitigation as it in fact amounts to exile," Griffiths said.

Taylor, a "patriarch" with "15 biological children", has been in a Dutch prison for the past six years and has already experienced difficulties in financing visits from family and friends because of prohibitive flight costs and a stringent visa regime, his lawyers said. Family visits would be equally difficult in the UK. Others convicted by the special court have been imprisoned in Rwanda.

"In addition to the geographic component," the defence submission argued, "the prisoner accommodation model the United Kingdom uses further compounds the problem of isolation which Mr Taylor will face.

"The UK uses the dispersion model of incarceration (where tribunal prisoners are intermixed and interact with prisoners) ... Thereby making them more vulnerable to attack by domestic prisoners. The attack on Krstic [a Bosnian Serb general convicted by another UN-backed war crimes tribunal in The Hague] in the British maximum security Wakefield prison is a lasting example."

Krstic, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was stabbed in his cell in Wakefield by three Muslim inmates in 2010.

Griffiths' submission requests "that the [court] considers as a mitigating factor the fact that Mr Taylor will effectively serve his sentence in isolation from all culturally familiar circumstances and very far removed from family and friends. That, we submit, is a punishment within a punishment."