Charles Taylor guilty of aiding Sierra Leone war crimes

 
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor looks down in the courtroom of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague Taylor, a former warlord, was elected president of Liberia in 1997

International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

Taylor, 64, has been on trial in The Hague at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years.

He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands of people in Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.

Taylor was convicted on 11 counts including terror, murder and rape - but cleared of ordering the crimes.

He is the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II.

Human rights groups described the judgement as historic.

"This is an incredibly significant decision," Elise Keppler from the campaign group Human Rights Watch told the BBC.

Another group, Amnesty International, said the verdict sent an important message to all high-ranking state officials.

Analysis

The indictment of Charles Taylor took war crimes jurisprudence to a new level, establishing the principle that a serving head of state was not immune from prosecution.

The later indictments by the International Criminal Court of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast are a testament to the significance of the Taylor precedent.

Mr Gbagbo, who shares a prison compound in The Hague with Taylor, will undoubtedly feel less sanguine about the outcome of his trial as a result. The same is true of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of DR Congo, also on trial at the ICC.

The sight of a convicted defendant facing justice in a courtroom as a contrast to the squalid ends suffered by Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi is a relief to those who argue the case for the integrity of international war crimes law.

"While today's conviction brings some measure of justice to the people of Sierra Leone, Taylor and the others sentenced by the Special Court are just the tip of the iceberg," the group's Brima Abdulai Sheriff said in a statement.

The US State Department said the ruling sent "a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable".

Diamonds for weapons

Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis said it was "confirmation of what the people in Sierra Leone told us from the beginning of our investigations, and that is that Mr Taylor was one of those who bore greatest responsibility for the crimes against them".

Defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told the BBC that the trial had not been fair, but rather "prompted by political imperatives".

However he added that he had been surprised at the extent to which the judges were "prepared to reject the initial theories put forward by the prosecution" - notably the contention that Taylor was micro-managing events in Sierra Leone.

Reading out the verdict in The Hague, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in connection with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those included terror, murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers, he added.

Judge Richard Lussick said the court was satisfied Taylor had aided war crimes

Judge Lussick said that as Liberian leader, Taylor had extended "sustained and significant" support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The judge said the accused had sold diamonds and bought weapons on behalf of the RUF - and knew the rebels were committing atrocities.

But Judge Lussick added that this support fell short of effective command and control over the rebels.

"The trial chamber finds the accused cannot be held responsible for ordering the crimes," he said.

Taylor timeline

Sierra Leone-Liberia map

• 1989: Launches rebellion in Liberia

• 1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone

• 1997: Elected president after a 1995 peace deal

• 1999: Liberia's Lurd rebels start an insurrection to oust Mr Taylor

• June 2003: Arrest warrant issued; two months later he steps down and goes into exile to Nigeria

• March 2006: Arrested after a failed escape bid and sent to Sierra Leone

• June 2007: His trial opens - hosted in The Hague for security reasons

• April 2012: Convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes

He also said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor was part of a joint criminal enterprise.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, says traditional chiefs and victims of the war watching the proceedings by video link breathed a sigh of relief when the verdict was read out.

Victim Jusu Jarkar said: "This is a happy day. I have not been able to do many things because my arms were cut off, but today I am happy."

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, newspaper publisher Tom Kamara hailed the verdict, saying "justice has been done" and it was "an end to impunity".

However, young supporters of Charles Taylor took to the streets brandishing placards reading: "We love you Taylor, God willing you will come back."

A sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on 30 May, he added.

Taylor has a right to appeal against the conviction.

If he loses the appeal he is expected to serve his sentence in a British prison, as the Dutch government only agreed to host the trial if any ensuing jail term was served in another country.

Taylor, a rebel leader in the 1980s and early 1990s, was elected president of Liberia in 1997 following a peace deal which ended a brutal civil war.

He governed for six years before being forced into exile in Nigeria following a second conflict.

In 2006 he was arrested, repatriated to Liberia and eventually sent to The Hague to be tried.

 

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 95.

    Charles Taylor's conviction by ICJ should send a clear message to despots or any country's leader who commit atrocities and crime against humanity, that there is no safe haven. However, since Charles Taylor's war was largely financed with "Blood Diamond" proceeds, when would the diamond dealers mostly, if not all of who are in Europe and the US, face justice for their role?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 94.

    86. uncrasimatic
    " Men who allowed the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus in warfare"

    Err.... neither of those are illegal. Depleted uranium is in most nations anti-tank shells & is no more dangerous than lead. White Phosphorous is an incendary and used to make smoke screens. Try and find some REAL war crimes to accuse Blair & Bush of doing.

  • Comment number 93.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 92.

    Other foolish and evil "leaders" on the continent will be shaking in their pants. What about those companies who bankrolled this killer. Arms trade is worst than drugs trade and must be banned too. If you allow arms why not allow drugs trade. This is what I call one law for all different law for western companies supplying guns for murder.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 91.

    Is this in any way important or relevant to us in the UK? No!

    We should concentrate on exploiting Africa's mineral wealth.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 90.

    Excellent news now I would like to know when Messrs Bush and Blair will be brought before the court and charged with crimes against humanity

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

    Justice has not been completed. I hope efforts to bring to justice all those guilty of terrible crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other African states will continue, and will be speeded up.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 88.

    UN-backed Special Court's should have UN-backed Special Prisons funded by UN-backed Special Money and NOT burdened onto the tax payers of any single country

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 87.

    Tony Blair should take his place in the empty dock now.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 86.

    RE: 76.

    Really? Blair, Bush and Obama, three men all proven by independent investigations to be guilty of war crimes? Men who allowed the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus in warfare, ordered countless drone strikes on civilians, staged false flags and went to war for oil and power yet still walk free...? Keep your blind patriotism to yourself please, some of us are trying to think.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 85.

    Thank GOD. JUSTICE !!!! I hope the rest of wicked African leaders will follow suit and I think it should be a lesson to all African leaders in power NOW. Thanks ICC

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 84.

    Next up Blair and Bush (we wish)


    This court can't possibly be taken seriously until it can bring charges agains every person involved in such crimes against humanity no matter who they are and what country they led.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 83.

    A friend of mine, a lawyer, has just returned from Sierra Leone & having worked voluntarily for the drawing up of legal law.

    Universal rule of law is still missing from many nations, including surprisingly, regime China.

    Without Universal rule of law, agrieved citizens cannot achieve redress & justice through a Court.

    Universal rule of law is essential for civilising a nation

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    77. Kcila

    The article is correct; Taylor is the second Head of State to be convicted of War Crimes. Karl Donitz was President of Germany after Hitler and was subsequently found guilty on 2 out of 3 charges of War Crimes at Nuremberg.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 81.

    I wonder if the International Judges will ever find the former US and UK leaders guilty of an illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 which ultimately relsulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians??? I doubt it!

  • Comment number 80.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 79.

    Yes this is historic and to be welcomed. Hopefully it will send a message to other so called leaders who believe they are above the law.

    However

    How on earth could it have taken 5 years? It is ridiculous and must have cost millions and millions.

    Keep up the good work.....but please speed it up.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 78.

    76.
    Connor I support Bin ladens death and killing those dictators, even though Iraq is under another dictatorship now, but dude have you been smoking weed?? They were/are con-men and complete idiots, ok Obama has tried to fix some of what Bush did but still they ain't what I would class as "great"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 77.

    Great news but I think you will find that Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted. The Nuremburg trials were of high ranking Nazi's - their head of state had thankfully shot himself in May 1945 while Doenitz, who stepped into the breach nevre regarded himself as a politician. OK I'm being pedantic! I just want to congratulate the UN & ICC for perservering in bringing Taylor to justice.

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 76.

    Blair, bush and obma have ended Huessein Gaddafi and Bin Laden. All warlords. Who thrived on killing and destruction of innocence. They are bringers of peace, and peace keepers, they go out to protect the innocent, save the people, save the countries that politically shouldnt have anything to with us, Blair bush and obama are and were great leaders of great nations.

 

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