Do war crimes trials really help victims?

Editor’s note: Phil Clark is a lecturer in comparative and international politics at SOAS, University of London, and co-founder of Oxford Transitional Justice Research.

Charles Taylor. Image: AP

The long overdue verdict in the case of the former Liberian President Charles Taylor will be widely celebrated as a critical achievement for international criminal law. Taylor has been on trial at the special court for Sierra Leone since 2006 on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, pillage and the conscription of child soldiers.

Champions of international justice will highlight the unquestionable importance of prosecuting a former head of state, which signals that political seniority is no guarantee of immunity. They will also see the child soldier charge against Taylor as particularly pertinent, given the recent focus on this crime in Africa by the Kony 2012 internet campaign and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) conviction of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

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