Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor convicted in war crimes trial

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Former President of Liberia Charles Taylor was today found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, Netherlands. Taylor was acquitted of actually ordering the offences or being part of a joint enterprise to conduct them.

A school destroyed by RUF rebels.
Image: Laura Lartigue.

The eleven-count indictment produced a four-year trial that heard allegations of rape, murder, sexual slavery, cannibalism, arms dealing, "blood" diamond trade, and use of child soldiers. Prosecution witnesses totalled 94 whilst the defence had 21 including the accused. Taylor spent his seven months of evidence claiming he was a peacemaker.

The allegations date to civil war in Sierra Leone, which ran from 1991 to 2002. Taylor, who had been a warlord since the '80s, backed the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Taylor was elected Liberian president in 1997 after a different civil war concluded.

Six years later he was ousted when an arrest warrant was issued and fled to Nigeria. He was arrested there in 2006 whilst again trying to flee. Taylor, who had been facing a rebellion against him since 1999 in Liberia, had received training from Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Testimony included claims that Taylor-backed fighters adorned roads with human intestines and ate human flesh. One claimed to have seen Taylor himself eat human liver, something Taylor denied. One described asking RUF rebels to sever his only hand in exchange for his young son's life.

Further allegations said teenage children were involved in the fighting and that Taylor sold illegally mined diamonds to finance arms purchases for the RUF. Western celebrities Naomi Campbell, a model, and Mia Farrow, an actress, described an incident at a charity dinner held by Nelson Mandella, then South Africa's head, in 1997. Campbell and Farrow said Taylor gifted Campbell a number of diamonds. Taylor is claimed to have ordered seizure of Sierra Leone's diamond deposits by RUF soldiers.

It was claimed in court that child soldiers were used in conflict, as diamond mine guards, and to carry out amputations. Allegations of forced amputation were made.

The court, which has spent a year considering its verdicts, unanimously found Taylor guilty. It ruled Taylor knew at least from 1997 the full extent of RUF activities in Sierra Leone, and that he helped bankroll activities dealing in blood diamonds. A judge said more than a thousand youngsters had 'RUF' carved into their skin to prevent escape. From the moment he receives the full judgement Taylor has two weeks in which to file an appeal.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International welcomed the verdict, which is the first conviction of a head of state before an international court since the Nuremburg trials prosecuted Nazi leaders after World War Two. Karl Dönitz was convicted after he took brief control of Germany in the aftermath of Adolf Hitler's suicide.

Former President of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic faced trial but died before a judgement was handed down. Laurent Gbagbo, once Presldent of the Ivory Coast, is in custody at The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court. Taylor joins eight other Special Court convicts, all of whom are from Sierra Leone. He is the first African ruler to appear in The Hague.

The Special Court was formed jointly by Sierra Leone's present administration and the United Nations.

The Netherlands agreed the process could be held there on the condition Taylor did not serve sentence there if convicted. He is expected to be sent to the UK, where Foreign Office has promised to uphold an agreement to imprison him there made by ex-Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.


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