Taylor conviction and sentencing shows war criminals can no longer hide

The sentencing of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on 30 May, following his conviction last month for war crimes and crimes against humanity, sends another important message to political and military leaders that the era of inaction over horrendous international crimes is over, according to a University of Western Sydney international law expert.
Steven Freeland, UWS Professor of International Law, has been a Visiting Professional within the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, and a Special Advisor to the Danish Foreign Ministry in matters related to the International Criminal Court.

Professor Freeland says the case shows war criminals such as Charles Taylor can no longer avoid accountability for their actions.

“The Taylor decision and this week’s sentencing represent another small but significant step in the fight against both impunity, and the traditional lack of political will to prosecute those persons whose actions shock us all,” says Professor Freeland.

“Whilst no system of international justice will ever be perfect, it is clearly worth the effort to encourage and support these courts as they continue to do their work, not just for the people that they bring to account, but also because of the message they send and the example they set for other leaders.”

“Civil society now demands that those most responsible for the commission of horrendous crimes face proper justice, and politicians and diplomats can no longer ignore these calls. Continued diplomatic pressure for each state to co-operate with these international justice mechanisms must be applied.”

Professor Freeland says the decision should also spur Australian politicians to institute national legal mechanisms for prosecutions in its own courts.

“As the international courts will not be in a position to deal with every person accused of such crimes, there remains a responsibility on each country to also address them. Australia has implemented into its national laws those crimes that are within the jurisdiction of the ICC, including the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity,” says Professor Freeland.

“Yet what is missing is the establishment of a dedicated investigative agency that would allow, more comprehensively, the prosecution of war crimes committed overseas by persons now in Australia.

“Such an agency briefly existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s before being disbanded, largely for political reasons, and it’s time for Australia to once again recommit itself to bringing justice to war criminals who live within its own shores.”

Professor Freeland is currently in Europe, and is available to comment on the historic nature of the Taylor decision and other current international criminal law cases. For Professor Freeland’s contact details please get in touch with Mark Smith at the UWS Media Unit on 0404 016 236


28 May 2012 

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer