human rights news & views

US citizen indicted for torture committed abroad

Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia wanted on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, made headlines last year when he was finally arrested in Nigeria and handed over to be tried by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Now the law has caught up with his son, Charles ‘Chuckie’ Taylor, a US citizen wanted for torture.

Born in Boston in 1977, Chuckie went on to command the Anti-Terrorist Unit in Liberia, a pro-government militia accused of grave human rights violations committed between at least 1997 and 2002, during his father’s presidency.

Taylor was arrested entering the United States in Miami on 30 March 2006, and in December was indicted by the US Department of Justice for torture and conspiracy to torture. The charges are the first-ever use of US laws enacted in 1994 (18 USC sections 2340A and 2441) that prohibit torture and war crimes committed abroad. If found guilty, Taylor would face between 20 years’ and life imprisonment.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) further accuses Taylor Jnr’s unit of "beating people to death, rape and burning civilians alive" (all of which could come under the rubric of torture) as well as extrajudicial executions and using children as soldiers.

Elise Keppler of HRW’s International Justice Program says, “After years of civil war, Liberia’s justice system is in no shape to pursue this type of case.” Amnesty International none the less hopes Liberia, led since 2006 by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, will enact the necessary legislation, investigate and prosecute many others suspected of similar crimes.

The federal anti-torture statute applies both to US citizens and to anyone on US soil, regardless of nationality and regardless where the crimes occurred. It’s laudable to see the US exercising universal jurisdiction in fulfilment of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.


  1. 9 December 2008 | 10:33 am

    As reported by the BBC in October 2008, the Miami jury has convicted 31 year-old, US-born Charles ‘Chuckie’ Taylor of torture: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7701195.stm He is due to be sentenced on 9 January 2009 and faces a possible life sentence.

  2. 10 December 2008 | 8:56 am

    Australia may follow suit with similar legislation:

    The Government is also planning to sign up to the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and [Attorney-General] Mr McClelland says it may also introduce anti-torture legislation.

    “Given the nature of torture we are considering an offence of extra-territorial application, consistent with the treatment of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes under domestic law,” he said.

    “Within Australia and internationally we are working to help eliminate the use of torture, wherever it occurs and whoever commits it.”

    ABC News 10 Dec. 2008

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