Court dismisses torture case against Agnes Taylor
The UK Central Criminal Court has dismissed a case against Agnes Reeves Taylor, the ex-wife of the former Liberian president and convicted war criminal, Charles Taylor. In a decision handed down on Friday 6 December 2019, the Court found that the defendant could not be prosecuted for torture because of a lack of evidence of governmental control at the time of the alleged crimes.
Agnes Taylor, who was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Service in June 2017, was charged with torture and conspiracy to commit torture as part of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in the early stages of the first Liberian civil war in 1990.
The Central Criminal Court judge stated:
“I have asked myself in relation to each count whether there is sufficient evidence taken at its reasonable height upon which a jury could properly conclude that at the time and location of each offence, the NPFL was exercising governmental function in the relevant area.”
“In my view the answer in each instance is clearly in the negative.”
The Geneva-based organisation Civitas Maxima and the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP) provided the initial information to the UK authorities that led to the Metropolitan Police Service commencing an investigation.
The decision in the criminal proceedings followed an appeal on a point of law before the UK Supreme Court, in which REDRESS intervened as a third party. The Supreme Court ruled that members of non-state armed groups could be prosecuted for torture where those groups exercised functions normally exercised by governments over their civilian populations.
Charlie Loudon, International Legal Adviser at REDRESS, said:
“This is a difficult result, principally for the victims of the alleged crimes, who will be denied the chance to have the allegations tested at a trial.”
“In terms of the broader legal consequences, the Supreme Court has made clear that members of other armed groups that exercise sufficient control, such as ISIS and the Taliban, can be prosecuted for torture under UK law. And similar alleged crimes that have occurred more recently than this case, anytime since 1991, if proven could also be prosecuted as war crimes.”
He also stated:
“The priority is that the UK continues to invest in prosecuting cases like this. The British public does not want suspected torturers and war criminals walking on its streets. And for many victims across the world their only hope for justice is through a British court.”
The case against Agnes Taylor was brought using the international law principle of “universal jurisdiction”. This principle allows domestic courts to prosecute the perpetrators of certain crimes regardless of the suspect’s or the victims’ nationality or where the acts took place. Relevant crimes include torture, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. In the past, this principle has been used to convict individuals including Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann and Chadian ex-President Hissène Habré. Prosecutors in Germany, France and elsewhere have recently used universal jurisdiction to issue arrest warrants for Syrian officials responsible for torture and other international crimes during the ongoing Syrian conflict.
In the UK, the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was arrested in 1998 in support of a prosecution by a Spanish court that was based on universal jurisdiction. Agnes Taylor was only the fourth person in the UK to face proceedings on the basis of universal jurisdiction. The most recent UK trial saw Nepalese Colonel Kumar Lama accused of two acts of torture in Nepal in 2005. That trial failed in 2016 after problems with witness evidence and translations.
For more information, please contact Eva Sanchis, REDRESS’ Head of Communications, on 020 7793 1777 or 07857110076 (out of hours) and [email protected].
About REDRESS: REDRESS is an international human rights organisation that represents victims of torture to obtain justice and reparation. REDRESS also uses the law to combat impunity for governments and individuals who perpetrate torture, and to develop and promote compliance with international standards.
Photo: Courtesy BBC.