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.


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

    Comment number 115.

    Why the hell do we in the UK have to pay to imprison him? Send him to Sierra Leone to serve his sentence, that's where the crimes were committed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Excellent news! Now let's get Mugabe and cohorts arrested and tried for their crimes against the Zimbabwean people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    So the British tax payer picks up the tab for keeping Taylor behind bars until his human rights require him to be released prematurely to be given a UK passport, NI number, housing, benefits, a cat, wife and children, lifelong security and a new identity etc.

    We've got ourselves another one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    #109 I was a soldier & served with the UN in Croatia. Unlike you I've actually thrown a WP grenade (in training). As well as smoke it burns people to death. Burning people to death does not violate the Geneva convention. WP is classed as an incendiary not a chemical weapon (because it burns not poisons). I think you will be hard pressed to find a war since WW1 that hasn't used it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    The ICC will have no integrity until it demonstrates that Western leaders can be indicted too for crimes against humanity. Oh, hang on, i see the USA and Israel have not ratified the Rome Treaty so fat chance of getting any of their war criminals indicted!

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    When will we see a Western leader tried? Is this only for ethnic men and women? Seems pretty hypocritical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    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.
    I suggest you read up on the use of white phos. Your understanding of the limit of its use is wrong. Its use(s) are well documented so there is no excuse for ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    RE: 96
    my apoligies, living in the past. Libya is irellavent to my argument, but i'm saying our western leaders do everything they can to make the rest of the world better, like forcing out dictators. hoping for peace. Yes you are correct, they do sod all for their countries. But we are lucky enough to worry about death like people did in sierra leone when a real war criminal was against them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    A good one is above the law bad then ready for the payback....but i will be so glad (infect majority of the world ) if the International criminal court indict Bush for the crimes he commected in IRAQ & other countries...Do i make sense ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Does anyone know for sure if placing him in a UK prison means funded by the UK? Everyone seems to jumping the gun over costs, but if the costs are actually covered by an external fund, then surely having him here under lock and key is preferable to jailing him in a country where there may be a perceived lack of control?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.


    Brilliant outcome, but can anyone advise me why the british tax payer
    will be paying for his stay in a British prison???

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    YES HE MUST SERVE HIS SENTENCE IN A UK JAIL. many UK arms companies including BAE supplied the killer with guns and so benefitted from stolen diamonds. This is also part of the £153 million deal to provide gold concessions to UK company. UK benefits so shut up and look after the killer for once.
    IGNORANCE here is a big disease and note Africa is not a country right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Nice, now for Blair, Bush, Rockefeller, Rothschild and Cheney.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    98. madonorth

    You must be joking, British prisons are hotels comparing to REAL prisons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    A verdict yes. An adequate punishment no. I would turn him over to his victims. There is always something unsatisfactory about the west treating mass murders with gentleness to live out their lives in relative comfort even if in prison. Incarceration does not change attitudes. And what do we expect from him that he will become a model prisoner and be offered ammenities while serving his sentence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    #92 Taylor bankrolled himself with 'blood diamonds'. Nor was it WESTERN arms companies supplying him. Every 'soldier' in Africa I've ever seen has an AK47. Most of those are made in China these days. If you wish to argue with this post a link to a picture of any child soldier carrying a British SA-80. You'll have a job.....

    Of course that doesn't matter because we're always the bad guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Serving his time here? more Megrahi moments please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Margret Beckett in 2008 offered the use of a British jailcell to the Hague as the former colonial masters of Sierra Leone. As a Brit I feel proud that we can at least offer incarceration to this animal. He will not get an easy time in a British prison and for once we are showing that we can take our world reponsibilities seiously.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    We now need to bring before a UN-backed Special Court:- Robert Mugabe, Bashar al-Assad and posthumously Kim Il Jong...... well it IS special

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Connor Yea but at the same time they suck at actually leading our countries. They're good at killing dictators but they suck at ruling and Bush and Blair were in it for the money and oil not for the civvys. Also it was Sarkovy and Cameron who pushed and lead Libya, Obama found Bin Laden.


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