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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  • Comment number 195.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    190. Peter_Sym 2MINUTES AGO

    Sadly true. Deniers and apologists are well out of the woodwork. They like to blame political correctness for the fact they are abhorrent.

    Idiots like David Irving are their new heroes....which Irving loves being a publicity junkie living on controversy and poorly written books.

    Respect to your grandfather.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    George 'Dubya' Bush next? I somehow think not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    It says he is the "first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II", but were any former heads of state tried in the Nuremburg trials? Last I checked he ended up in a ditch on fire before the Soviets even got to his bunker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    How typical of you HYS got to have the happy clappy lot who can't see the wood for the trees. What does this actually solve? Some person mentioned Hussein, railroaded as a matter of political expediency. DONT FORGET FOLKS, the only war criminals are the losers. The winners determine who will pay, that's the law of war-not justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    #186 HYS DOES have people cheering Hitler! The BBC Newsnight website is a weird hotbed of anti-semites and holocaust deniers. I got a tirade of abuse about my grandfather being a war criminal (because he liberated one of the camps around Belsen and shot a guard who was trying to burn a hut down). Weirdly that didn't violate the house rules either as the Mod refused to delete the comment

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Under any conditions whatsoever, Britain should never accept the imprisonment of Taylor in Britain whether under agreement with the Dutch government or not. If the ICC want try and jailed war criminals the ICC should have its own jail, food, and cloth to give to those it triad and jailed. Where is the money given to ICC going. Pay Judges and Lawyers. Is Britain a scapegoat for a failed justice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    '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,.....

    So.., 2 things here.
    1: He can appeal. Who says he won't win that appeal?
    2: If he wins the appeal he won't be sent to the UK & even if he wins he may be sent somewhere else.

    Evil people have human rights too.... sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    When it comes to being put in front of the international criminal court in the first place, it is not so much a question of what you've done as who you know.

    I applaud justice.

    I deplore its selective application.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    176. Peter_Sym 19 MINUTES AGO

    You clearly didn't visit HYS. The majority opinion was that Saddam was less guilty than Blair & Bush and should have been set free!

    Very true. HYS is a magnet for dictator loving types who loath the West. I am sure if HYS existed in the 1930's the majority would be cheering Germany and calling the Czechs and Poles aggressors....

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Lest we forget, Bush, Blair et al were democraticaly voted into office, so you guys are as guilty as they! If you don't want a war in your name, vote pathetic lame Liberal, or Fancy Wellies Green. While I agree that the war in Iraq was immoral, it was not illegal, & therin lies the difference, the US & Britain as well as many EU countries have a "dirty ops" office, always have had, & always will!

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The Court should follow the example of the Nuremburg Trials of the German war criminals.
    There was the possibility of the Death penalty.
    World Leaders should face the noose or firing squad for crimes against their fellow citizens!
    One law for citizens another for Leaders. Should not be allowed the relative comfort of jail if perpetrating barbarity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Thank heaven that this criminal is convicted. A college friend from Liberia in the 80's lost her father to the thug prior to Taylor...and learned about it by seeing a picture of her father in the newspaper, hanged in a tree. The victims of these horrors may at last have some respite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Good old Blighty providing the prison. We can now expect to be top of the list for Liberian terrorists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    While justice may have finally been done, this is justice against a leader without systems and individuals that protect him. When will the UN take a brave step? If not, why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Why are we expected to jail him? He was ally of the US and a spy for the CIA!. We did enough by sending troops to stop the Taylor backed RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
    Send him to the States they created him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    ICC has no credibility whatsover. Never mind Taylor's trial. P.W. Botha of South Africa was never brought to trial for SOWETO killing. Western war criminals has never been triad. Milosevich called this court a court of the criminals themselves. I have no respect nor expect any better justice from ICC while it continued to let loose so many international war criminals the like of Bush N Blair

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Wonder when it will be the turn of blair, bush, cheney and rumsfeld to stand in the dock at the hague.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Goes to prove what I have always contended, it's only the Losers who are war criminals never the winners. Mao, stalin, Blair and Bush will never be convicted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    146. ColadadelCid
    If a noose was good enough for Saddan Hussein then it is good enough for CharlesTaylor. I never heard anybody say Saddam should face an international court and be given a life sentence.
    You clearly didn't visit HYS. The majority opinion was that Saddam was less guilty than Blair & Bush and should have been set free! Probably the same posters who think Taylor isn't so bad


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