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 135.

    What was Mrs Beckett thinking? I wouldn't mind so much if others chipped in to pay the ridiculous costs, but they won't, because Mrs Beckett casually took responsibility for an African dictator when we have already spent tax payers cash on cleaning up the civil war. I like to help but don't like being dumped on by my own politicians. AGAIN

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I applaud this verdict, but I am still very skeptical with the definition of war crimes and the neutrality and independence of the ICC. Today, the US uses drones to kill perceived enemies, including women and children. If somebody like Mugabe or the Syrian or Iranian president can develop that same technology overnight and use it tomorrow, the definition of war crimes will change instantly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    #131 I we tried everyone who lied in Parliament the only ones left would be Galloway and Sinn Fein (because they never show up). Do we even HAVE a law called 'deceiving parliament'? Its like Riggadon at #119 demanding Blair be tried for something even he admits is legal (even if it is immoral).

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Oh my God,Justice at last!!!Long live justice. As a sierra Leonean who suffered as a result of the war,I can't help but feel a very big sigh of relief,that at last some form of justice has been achieved.This message is loud and clear to anyone who think they can do anything and go free.
    My only problem is he is serving it in a British prison where he can live better than some of his victms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    130. GlasgowMikey True Blair and Bush are not in the same league, but they did lie to their people and use dodgy intelligence to drag us into a disastrous war. Blair should be dragged before the courts and charged with deceiving Parliament. As for Taylor lets not forget who wined and dined with him, Nelson Mandela should be ashamed of his support for dictators like Mugabe and co.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    "Now for Blair, Bush etc..."

    This is simply wrong. Regardless of what you think of Blair's decisions, he acted with the legal advice of the Attorney General (who maintains that position), and the British army did not hack off limbs or use rape as a genocidal tool.

    A little perspective please, let's not bunch everyone we don't like in the same category as Charles Taylor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    23 Minutes ago

    Who else is going to pay for him in a UK prison? Who cares if there is no control he should be punished in the country where the crimes were committed. We don't have the room for our own criminals without importing them too!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    History has been made. All the leaders of today should learn from this and desist from evil. Otherwise the law will catch up with them now or later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Its good Charles Taylor is going to pay for his crime, during the lifetime of his several victims. I hope some of his victims can start to find a sort of closure (if they ever can).

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    #119 You accuse me of ignorance yet admit that WP in weapons ISN'T illegal after demanding Blair be tried as a war criminal for using it. You've just admitted he'll be acquitted!

    Incidentally I think using it as weapon is highly unpleasant too. The last incident I'm aware of British troops using it to burn their enemies was in the falklands after the argentinians misused a white flag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    ALL people who abuse positions of public service should thusly stand answerable for their actions when in office, without fear or favour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Liberians suffer a lot in the hands of Taylor rebels and the orders I can now sleep in peace. This is a warning to others. I can walk in Monrovia with proud. God is in Control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    As one of the original so called "child soildiers" i believe i speak for many when i say 'thank God at least someone is being held responsible'. This Guy is guilty, yes i know because i was there. he stole my childhood, distroyed my family,and to this day i wake up in the middle of the night with nightmears, (oh how i wish i can erase my memory) lets not rejoice but rather lets reflect

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    (Written from a post-war Sri Lankan perspective)

    'Populist' presidents,
    their brothers and sons,
    Sun gods,
    their kith and kin,
    and the insane satelites,
    Pseudo revolutionaries,
    Freedom fighters,
    'Liberators' of people,
    and terrorising twazzocks,
    will be rolling in their
    beds and graves
    on the fear of visiting you!
    Den Haag!
    You are the greatest city on the planet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I'm glad that bastard has been convicted and that he'l be locked away for a long time. We can now move on with our lives and try to forget the horrible past he afflicted on us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Why does he have to serve his sentence in a British prison ? I certainly hope that the United Nations will be footing the bill or is it another case of abusing the British taxpayers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    @ Peter Wyn

    Arrogant man. Please do not assume what I have thrown or not thrown as you do not know and I am laughing at your arrogance and ignorance.
    Trust me, you do not need to educate me as to what white phos does, or how painful it is to remove. It's use in weapons is immoral. Not illegal, but immoral. Similarly, the use of DU is challenged in international courts. Legal status is pending.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Let him go. He has committed no crimes in the UK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    As someone who spent 13 years in Sierra Leone and grew up there I am quite please with the verdict. But lets not forget:
    1. Taylor came from US with support of CIA to overthrow the then president Doe.
    2. Diamonds stolen on behalf of Taylor were sold in the WESTand funds used to purchase arms.
    3. Are crimes committed by Serbian leader any less horiffic than Taylor's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I am sure that most tyranical and ruthless leaders on the African continent are watching and listening well. It is a lesson to all such leaders. Africans deserve better and the likes of Charles Taylor should not come close to any country of the continent. Justice at its best; Bravo, My Lord !!!!!!


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