CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CrimProf Michael Scharf and Students Assist in Prosecution of Former Liberian President

Scharf_smCase Western Reserve University School of Law CrimProf Michael Scharf and students have played a central role in the events leading to the international trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, which is set to start on June 4. Taylor will be tried by the Special Court for Sierra Leone (sitting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague) for his role in the commission of crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, which were portrayed in the Academy Award-nominated film "Blood Diamond" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Shortly after the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established by an agreement between the United Nations and Sierra Leone in 2002, its chief prosecutor, David Crane, contacted Case law professor Michael Scharf requesting assistance. Scharf, a former U.S. State Department official who knew Crane from Crane's days as dean of the Army JAG School, runs the War Crimes Research Office at Case, which provides legal assistance to several international tribunals. Scharf has also provided training to the judges of the Rwanda Tribunal, the Iraqi High Tribunal that recently convicted the late former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and most recently the Cambodia Tribunal.

With a scant budget, small staff, and no library, Crane and his colleagues in Freetown relied on the students at Case to write lengthy research memoranda on the most difficult legal issues facing the Tribunal. Since then, the Case War Crimes Research Office has produced more than 30 memoranda for the Tribunal, including one that Crane has said "was absolutely critical to proving that the former Liberian president was not protected by the doctrine of Head of State Immunity."

Armed with the Case memo, Crane issued a controversial indictment of Taylor while Taylor was attending a peace negotiation in Ghana in June 2003. Citing the authorities that the Case students supplied, the Tribunal held that Taylor did not have immunity, setting the stage for his eventual arrest and trial. [Mark Godsey]

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