(New York, December 6, 2006) – The US Department of Justice today took a major step against impunity for atrocities in bringing its first-ever criminal charges for torture committed outside the United States, Human Rights Watch said today.
According to information and research by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, the Boston-born Chuckie Taylor, who is a US citizen, is linked to torture and war crimes committed in Liberia when he headed a security unit under the presidency of his father, Charles Taylor. Chuckie Taylor has been in federal custody in Miami since March 30 when he was arrested at Miami International Airport and charged with a passport violation.
“Today’s first-ever charges for torture committed abroad are a crucial step by the US government to ensure justice for this crime,” said Elise Keppler, counsel with Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “It is especially significant for Liberian victims of Chuckie Taylor’s alleged abuses. After years of civil war, Liberia’s justice system is in no shape to pursue this type of case.”
Federal law makes it a crime prosecutable in the United States for a US citizen to commit torture and war crimes abroad (18 USC sections 2340A and 2441), although no one has ever been prosecuted under either of these laws to date.
Chuckie Taylor led the elite Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) from approximately 1997 through at least 2002 when information suggests that the unit committed torture, including various violent assaults, rape, beating people to death and burning civilians alive. Information collected by Human Rights Watch suggests that the ATU, a pro-government military unit, also committed war crimes during Liberia’s armed conflict from 1999 to 2003. In the years that Chuckie Taylor headed the unit, these war crimes included extrajudicial killing of civilians and prisoners, rape and other torture, abduction, and the recruitment of child soldiers.
His father, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, is currently facing trial by the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict in Sierra Leone, which lasted from 1991 until 2002.
“Enforcement of federal laws on torture committed abroad is long overdue,” said Keppler. “The question is now whether the federal authorities are willing to apply the law against others. Particularly for the sake of victims, the indictment against Chuckie Taylor on torture should be the first of many cases of this kind.”
In May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed concern about the lack of prosecutions under the US federal torture statute.
After being taken into US custody in March, Chuckie Taylor was charged with lying about the identity of his father on a US passport application. He pleaded guilty on September 15 to this charge and is scheduled to be sentenced for the offense on December 7.
Human Rights Watch submitted a memorandum to the Department of Justice on serious abuses in which Chuckie Taylor is implicated. The memorandum included Human Rights Watch’s research and information from other human rights organizations, along with other open-source material. Since that time, Human Rights Watch has provided additional information to the Department of Justice to underscore the need for investigation and prosecution of Chuckie Taylor on torture and war crimes under federal law (18 USC sections 2340A and 2441).
Background on the Anti-Terrorist Unit
Shortly after his inauguration as Liberia’s president in 1997, Charles Taylor created the ATU. The ATU was initially used in Liberia to protect government buildings, the executive mansion, the international airport, and to provide security for some foreign embassies. According to Human Rights Watch interviews with former Liberian combatants, the ATU’s responsibilities were expanded in 1999 to include combat and other war-related duties, after rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy began operating in Liberian territory.
Background on former Liberian President Charles Taylor
On June 4, 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone “unsealed” its indictment against Charles Taylor. He is charged as one of those “bearing the greatest responsibility” for war crimes (murder, taking hostages); crimes against humanity (extermination, rape, murder, sexual slavery); and other serious violations of international humanitarian law (use of child soldiers) in Sierra Leone.
The indictment alleges that Taylor provided training to and helped finance the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, in preparation for RUF armed action in Sierra Leone and during the subsequent armed conflict there. It also alleges that Taylor acted in concert with members of the rebel alliance of the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, who are accused of horrific crimes.
In 2003 Taylor left Liberia for Nigeria, where he was offered asylum until March 29, 2006, when he was surrendered to the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Due to security concerns he was transferred to The Hague in June where he will face trial by the Sierra Leone Special Court, although at the facilities of the International Criminal Court.