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Prosecutor v. Charles Taylor

Facts of the Case

In April 2012, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was found guilty of providing arms, financial and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebel forces. With the aim of destabilizing the country and gaining access to the natural resources of Sierra Leone (mainly diamonds), he supported the RUF in the preparation of military actions in Sierra Leone (in the districts of Bo, Kono, Kenema, Bombali, Kailahun, Freetown). During the military actions, civilians were killed, beaten, terrorised, raped, and abducted. Children were also abducted and involved in the military actions.

On 26 September 2013, the Appeals Chamber of the SCSL confirmed that Charles Taylor assisted and planned numerous crimes committed during the Sierra Leone's civil war by the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council rebel forces. The Appeals Chamber also confirmed the fifty years’ sentence.

On 7 March 2003, the SCSL issued an indictment under seal against Charles Ghankay Taylor. On 4 June 2003, the indictment was unsealed when Charles Ghankay Taylor visited Ghana.

On 31 May 2004, The Appeals Chamber dismissed a motion brought on behalf of Charles Taylor that challenged his indictment on the grounds of sovereign immunity and extraterritoriality.

On 29 March 2006, Charles Taylor was transferred to the Special Court. On 30 June 2006, he was transferred to the Hague.

On 18 May 2012, the Trial Chamber found Charles Taylor guilty of war crimes (acts of terrorism, outrages upon personal dignity, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons (murder and cruel treatment), and pillage) and crimes against humanity (murder, rape, sexual slavery, other inhumane acts, enslavement) and conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 under Article 4(c). The accused was found individually criminally liable under Art. 6(1) of the Statute for aiding and abetting, and planning the commission of the crimes.

On 30 May 2012, the Trial Chamber issued a sentencing decision imposing a prison term of 50 years.

On 1 October 2012, both the Prosecution and the Defence filed Appeals Briefs.

Charles Taylor is the former president of Liberia. From 1989 to 1997, Taylor led a rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which sought to unseat Liberia’s then-president, Samuel K. Doe, and to take control of the country.

Charles Taylor provided support to the RUF/AFRC with the knowledge that his support would assist the commission of crimes in the implementation of the RUF/AFRC‘s Operational Strategy.

He was aware of the specific range of crimes committed during the implementation of the RUF/AFRC‘s Operational Strategy and was aware of the essential elements of the crimes.


Charles Taylor was sentenced to fifty years of imprisonment.


Most of the charges were related to crimes of outrages upon personal dignity and committing acts of terror (including through sexual violence).


The Taylor trial was the third SCSL case to hear evidence of widespread rape during the conflict in Sierra Leone; the CDF case did not hear evidence of rape, as a majority of the Trial Chamber rejected a request by the Prosecutor to amend the CDF indictment to add this and other gender-based crimes. The first case, documenting atrocities committed by AFRC troops, discussed the use of gang rape as a tactic within the conflict. The second case considered the use of rape by the RUF, and concluded that the rebel group employed gang rape, multiple rapes, rape with weapons and other objects, rape in public, rape in which family members were forced to watch, and forced rape between family members or among captured civilians to accomplish its strategic goals. The Taylor judgment expanded somewhat on these factual findings. It confirmed that the RUF and AFRC were both responsible for the rape of civilian women and girls, but it added that other affiliated fighters were also responsible.

The Trial Chamber also added more detail, finding that no one was safe; young and old alike were subjected to abduction or capture and rape, and previous societal taboos were ignored, for example, in the targeting of breastfeeding mothers. The Taylor judgment also confirmed that both groups used a variety of rape tactics, ranging from gang rape, to rape in public or in the midst of other civilian captives, to sexual mutilation (for example, with sticks), to rape accompanied by beating, including beating on the genitals. As was the case in the AFRC and RUF trial judgments, the evidence in Taylor contained many illustrations of how rape did not occur in isolation; rather, it was often accompanied by a multitude of other violations. Murder, abduction, mutilation (including sexual mutilation), forced nudity, sexual slavery, forced labor, forced marriage, and physical assault often occurred alongside rape.

For example, in 1998 a young girl named Finda Gbamanja was captured along with her family by an RUF soldier named Peppe in Baima Town. When her parents tried to seek her release, Peppe beat her mother and killed her father. He then took Gbamanja to Koidu Town, where he raped her. This caused her to bleed and become so weak that she could not stand. Subsequently, Peppe took Gbamanja to his sister, and his sister forced Gbamanja to work alongside other RUF “bush wives” (women and girls who were forcibly assigned as “wives” to fighters and were expected to submit to rape and provide forced labor). One day, when she was harvesting pepper for Peppe’s sister, she was taken by another soldier named Sergeant Foday, who kept her as his “wife,” raping her every night. The Taylor trial judgment also highlighted that rape by AFRC and RUF fighters was not accidental: it was inextricably linked to how these groups achieved their military and political objectives.

Sexual Slavery, Forced Marriage, and Conjugal Slavery

Some of the most significant gender-related developments in the Taylor case are found in the court’s consideration of sexual slavery and, as part of that discussion, forced marriage or conjugal slavery. The Taylor trial judgment helped to solidify the international definition of sexual slavery, as well as contributed to defining the contours of the crime, for example, as a continuing crime. It also provided analysis distinguishing between what had been called “forced marriage” and what it termed “conjugal slavery.” This discussion raises crucial questions about how best to capture the widespread practice during the Sierra Leone conflict in which rebels forcibly assigned girls and women to commanders and soldiers for the purposes of sexual slavery and forced domestic labor.

The SCSL entered the first-ever international criminal convictions for the crime against humanity of sexual slavery. The RUF trial judgment was the first one to enter convictions in this respect, and the Taylor trial judgment was the second. The AFRC trial judgment discussed sexual slavery but dismissed the sexual slavery charges for duplicity, and it therefore did not enter any convictions. The AFRC, RUF and Taylor cases presented a united approach in the determination of the elements of the crime of sexual slavery, albeit in slightly different wording. The Taylor approach defined sexual slavery as: i. The perpetrator exercised any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership over one or more persons, such as by purchasing, selling, lending or bartering such a person or persons, or by imposing on them a similar deprivation of liberty; ii. The perpetrator caused such person or persons to engage in one or more acts of a sexual nature; iii. The perpetrator intended to engage in the act of sexual slavery or acted with the reasonable knowledge that this was likely to occur.

While Charles Taylor was not charged with forced marriage as an inhumane act, the Prosecutor did introduce evidence of the “bush wife” phenomenon to support the sexual slavery charges. Since it was considering evidence of forced marriage, albeit as proof of sexual slavery, Trial Chamber II took the opportunity to express its views again on forced marriage. It began by finding that the Prosecutor had erred in charging forced marriage under the crime against humanity of inhumane acts. It characterized the term “forced marriage” as a misnomer because there is no actual marriage: “The Trial Chamber does not consider the nomenclature of ‘marriage’ to be helpful in describing what happened to the victims of this forced conjugal association and finds it inappropriate to refer to their perpetrators as ‘husbands.’” The Trial Chamber identified two harms that it felt were originally meant to be captured by the term “forced marriage”: sexual slavery and enslavement through forced domestic and other forms of labor. It thus proposed the term “conjugal slavery” instead to capture these harms. However, it stressed that conjugal slavery is not meant to be a new crime—it is merely two different forms of enslavement captured under one heading.


On 1 October 2012, both the Prosecution and the Defence filed Appeals Briefs. The Prosecution’s grounds of appeal included the Trial Chamber’s failure to find Taylor liable for ordering and instigating the commission of crimes, the Chamber’s failure to find him liable for crimes committed in certain locations in five districts on the ground that they fell outside the scope of the indictment, and the Chamber’s sentencing decision which was an error in fact and in law. The Defence appealed the finding of guilt and sentence on forty-two grounds. The Defence raised both errors in law and in fact.

On 26 September 2013, a five-judge panel of the Appeals Chamber of the SCSL upheld the conviction and the sentence of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

The Appeals Chamber upheld in part two grounds of appeal. First, the Appeals Chamber amended the Disposition for planning liability by deleting Kono District under Counts 1-8 and 11 (para. 574). Second, it held that ‘the Trial Chamber erred in law in finding that aiding and abetting liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than other forms of criminal participation the Trial Chamber erred in law in finding that aiding and abetting liability generally warrants a lesser sentence than other forms of criminal participation’ (para. 670).

In addition, the Appeals Chamber declared that the ‘actus reus of aiding and abetting liability is established by assistance that has a substantial effect on the crime, not by the particular manner in which such assistance is provided’ (para. 482). Consequently, it rejected the specific-direction requirement adopted by the Momčilo Perišić Appeal Judgment.

The Appeals Chamber upheld the sentence of fifty years of imprisonment (Disposition).

Additional Information

On 4 October 2013, the President of the SCSL issued an order designating the United Kingdom as the country in which Charles Taylor would serve his sentence.

On 15 October 2013, Charles Tailor was transferred to the UK to serve the remaining part of his sentence. See also ‘Liberia's Charles Taylor transferred to UK’, BBC News, 15 October 2013.


With the Taylor trial judgment, there are now two different approaches within the SCSL on how to address the “bush wife” phenomenon, which therefore raises some questions as to which is the best approach. In some respects, the Taylor approach is better. One of the strongest criticisms of the forced marriage approach was that it misnamed and miscategorized the crime. On misnaming, the main critique is that, while the name itself refers to marriage, no marriage, as defined by international human rights law or domestic Sierra Leonean law, was involved. In Sellers’ view, the reference to marriage is “linguistic camouflage.”

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