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January 22, 2013

Charles Taylor Appeals War Crimes Case

by Lisa Bryant

An international criminal court in The Hague opened an appeals trial of former Liberian president and warlord Charles Taylor, who was sentenced in 2012 for his role in atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil war. 

Nearly a year after being sentenced to 50 years in jail for his involvement in Sierra Leone's conflict, Charles Taylor was back in court Tuesday. He wore a dark suit and red tie as he listened to the opening of his appeals trial.

In April, 2012, Liberia's former leader was found guilty of aiding, abetting and planning horrific crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. Among them: murder, rape, mutilation and the use of child soldiers.

But the 64-year-old Taylor maintains he is innocent. Now he has a second shot to convince judges at The Hague-based court.

Rights groups that hailed Taylor's 2012 sentence also welcome the appeals process. Elise Keppler is senior counsel at Human Rights Watch in New York.

"The appeal hearing today and tomorrow in the Charles Taylor trial is an important moment in what has been an incredibly significant trial. It's the first conviction of a former head of state before an international court since Nuremburg, and Taylor was found guilty of heinous crimes in Sierra Leone," Keppler said. "Now, a fair and credible justice means a right to appeal, and we look forward to the judges doing their part in properly assessing any issues that have come up in this appeals process. And its an overall contribution to ensuring justice for victims in Sierra Leone."

Taylor's defense wants his sentence overturned, saying it was a miscarriage of justice and based on faulty and uncorroborated evidence.  The prosecution wants to extend the sentence to 80 years in jail.

The Hague judges are expected to rule by September. If Taylor loses his appeal, he will serve his sentence in Britain.