One of the judges from Charles Taylor’s trial in the Special Court of Sierra Leone this week publicly renounced the judgment against Charles Taylor, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As an alternate judge, Judge Sow was not allowed to speak for the court and thus not allowed to offer his dissenting opinion, even though he had witnessed every phase of the trial alongside the other judges. Some observers noted that he attempted to speak after the judgment was read, but his microphone was cut off.
Afterwards, Judge Sow’s behavior was renounced by the court and he was barred from sitting in on future proceedings. At the time of the trial, a researcher noticed the absence of Judge Sow’s name on most of the SCSL’s documentation of the trial.
A reporter tweeted a photo of Judge Sow’s notes for his statement. In his notes, Judge Sow wrote that he was afraid that “the whole system is under grave danger of just losing all credibility, and I’m afraid this whole thing is headed for failure.”
In an article that will be published in New African magazine in December, Judge Sow said that the SCSL’s judges barely discussed their verdict and had contradictory evidence that he viewed as inconclusive.
International courts are a new project, and their rules and procedures are not always clear to all those involved.
Judge Sow believed he was entitled to express his opinion, and many people probably agree with him. While the courts are still in the early stages of developing themselves, I think it’s important that they err on the side of impartiality – making sure all sides have had a chance to be heard, so the final decision can be trusted by the public as not predetermined, but honestly based on the testimony heard. The court’s firm stance on Judge Sow’s comments makes the court seem unwilling to hear dissenting points of view, which is detrimental to justice and the court’s reputation.