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 215.

    The sad thing about war is if this man was The Victor of the World he might be held as a Savior. There is little to give credit to the word civilization as it today stands. Crimes against humanity exist acceptable to the military of nations as a way to excel in knowledge above their enemies but visited upon their own people of no worse crimes than Hitler's Scientist and Military committed.

  • Comment number 214.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Well I'm not a fan of Charles Taylor but my question is why is there no explanation on how Taylor escaped jail in America to get to Serra Leone?
    or who are to be held accountable for the atrocities committed by the ECOMOG? personally it is sad that it takes the international community to meddle in African affairs when groups like the AU or ECOWAS should be more then capable of handling this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Another waste of taxpayer's money. Nothing will happen. Justice never happens to the leaders of these regimes - the west just does a pact with them to look after them if they surrender. He will probably be given a luxury apartment in Manhattan like we did with Ferdinland and Imelda Marcos. Our elected officials are WEAK and pathetic and too scared to do any real justice to their fellow leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    "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"

    I agree, but why just Africa? Is that the only place in the world where atrocities are committed? What about Sri Lanka, Burma, USA, UK, etc?

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    "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."

    Admiral Karl Doenitz was the last head of state of the Third Reich, and was convicted there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Today is a victory for thousand of Sierra Leonians who lost their life or suffer wound during that country's civil war. Our former president Charles Taylor is now an example but is neither good for Liberia nor me. I lost my dad in 1993 who was killed by rebels of other warring factions, I'm still at grieve and still find it hard to forgive without justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    The ICC is an international organisation, not a UN subsidiary but autonomous, funded by many nations. One of its locations is in The Netherlands, though it can sit anywhere. For details rather than hearsay, see:

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    The trial was racist.

    I am no fan of Taylor, but he voluntarily relinquished power after a deal that gave him immunity from prosecution. It was a good price to pay to give peace a chance.

    The negotiation had the full support of the west, but they did not feel obligated to honour an agreement negotiated by African leaders.

    Unfortunately, the next Taylor has no incentive to cede power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I think it's important that the western world take a stand on this sort of thing.
    Selling and using weapons, killing thousands of people regardless of age, gender or combat status for pure political/financial ideology and gain is abhorrent.
    I'm so glad the leaders of the western world, who represent us so selflessly well, would never involve themselves in such criminality.............

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Unemployment in Britain very high. British immigrants who have left Britain to live in other countries including Africa (many). Prices of goods and food highrocketing in Britain. Parliament is debating Rupert Murdoch media crime. Some British can't afford public transport. Where is the money coming from to keep Taylor in Jail there in Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    i think that charles taylor should be given a penalty only so his body can take it because he is old

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    # 182 -Typical whinging pom comment. Liberia will be delighted he’s out of their hands – he was President of the place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Next is the ruthless and murderous Gambian leader who murdered many and has dealings in the diamonds trade in Freetown and Liberia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    199. Ben 3MINUTES AGO

    Along with Armadinajad, kim jong Un, Khaled Meshaal

    I am sure you would agree?

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    #194 thanks!

    Weirdly the Blair bashers overlook one inconvenient truth: it was Blair exceeding the UN authority who sent 1st Para in to END the civil war in Sierra Leone rather than 'peace keep' who ended the civil war, brought ten years of peace to the country & allowed Taylor to end up on trial at all.

    I suspect many of you would rather he was still chopping hands off than admit that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    In his far right cell should be Bush.
    In the far left Blair.
    In the front Netanyahu.
    In the back Assad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    The worst part of this story is that it has taken so long and cost such a fortune to finally convict this thug. The entire world knew very well that he was behind and condoned all these barbaric atrocities. What "rights" were given to all those murdered and tortured ? This beast, along with other similar degenerates should be summarily executed after, of course, a 3 day trial. You are next, Joe !

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    It is a travesty of justice to find Charles Taylor guilty of war crimes while making no attempt to prosecute the CIA agents who worked with him to commit these crimes.

  • Comment number 196.

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


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