Charles Taylor found guilty of aiding Sierra Leone war crimes

Apr 26, 2012

Former president of Liberia helped rebels plan atrocities and was paid in 'blood' diamonds

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CHARLES TAYLOR, the former president of Liberia, was today guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone, after a trial at a court in The Hague that has lasted almost five years.

He becomes the first former head of state to be convicted in relation to war crimes charges at an international tribunal since the Nuremburg trials at the end of World War Two.

Taylor will be sentenced on May 30 and will serve his jail term in Britain.

In a complex judgment that took Judge Richard Lussick almost two hours to deliver, Taylor was convicted in connection with 11 offences including terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery and the use of child soldiers.

He was cleared of being in command of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which brought terror to the country in the 1990s and early 2000s, but he was convicted of helping to plan their atrocities, which often included amputating the limbs of civilians.

The group was also notorious for its use of child soldiers, who were drugged and sent into battle with machine-guns. "More than 1,000 children had the letters 'RUF' carved into their backs to prevent them escaping," reports The Guardian, which says they were often forced to carry out amputations.

The court also heard that Taylor received "blood" or "conflict" diamonds from Sierra Leone. In one of the most celebrated chapters of the trial, model Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow were called as witnesses after Taylor presented Campbell with uncut stones after a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1997.

"Taylor told RUF commanders to seize and hold the diamond producing areas of Sierra Leone so that he could continue trading gems for arms and ammunition," says the Guardian. “One diamond was said to have weighed as much as 36 carats."

Freelance journalist Monica Mark, reporting from Freetown, says there has been a mixed response to the verdicts in the capital of Sierra Leone. "There's definitely a sense of relief... But that's been tempered by disappointment that the verdict convicted Taylor on less serious charges of aiding and abetting, rather than instigating the crimes."

She says locals are frustrated at having to wait another month before he is sentenced. "People have been waiting for ten years for this. They're tired and they want to move on with their lives."

Brima Abdulai Sheriff, the head of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone said: "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.

"Thousands of persons suspected of criminal responsibility for incidences of unlawful killings, rape and sexual violence, mutilations and the use of children in Sierra Leone's armed conflict have never been investigated, much less prosecuted.

Human Rights Watch said Taylor's crimes in Liberia should also be investigated. "The Liberian government's lack of progress in bringing prosecutions against those implicated in war crimes during its own armed conflict is hugely disappointing," it said. "Liberian victims of massacres, rape, and torture are every bit as deserving of justice as victims in Sierra Leone."

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