( 4UMF NEWS ) Former Liberian President Found Guilty:
A U.N.-backed court on Thursday convicted ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor of war crimes during a conflict that left 50,000 dead. He is the first former head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal.
Taylor, 64, was charged with murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, the court found him guilty of only some of the charges.
Human rights advocates say the case is a reminder that even the most powerful do not enjoy impunity.
Taylor, who was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, was accused of backing and giving orders to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in the 11-year civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
The prosecution alleged the RUF undermined a ceasefire agreement in 1999, prolonging the war for another three years, and that Taylor financed their war effort with the proceeds of “blood diamonds” mined illegally in Sierra Leone.
“The Taylor verdict is a watershed moment,” said Richard Dekker, head of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. “As president, Taylor is believed to have been responsible for so much murder and mayhem which unfolded in Sierra Leone. His was a shadow that loomed across the region, in the Ivory Coast, in Sierra Leone and Liberia.”
Taylor denied the charges.
The crimes of the RUF are not in doubt. Courts have earlier convicted RUF fighters of crimes against humanity, including rape, torture and terrorism. Civilians were mutilated during the conflict, their arms being cut off above the hand (known by fighters as “long sleeves”) or above the elbow (“short sleeves”).
Trial witnesses described seeing children and pregnant women being shot, disemboweled or mutilated in a process aimed at creating terror in the civilian population. But the challenge was to link Taylor to these crimes.
“The accused never set foot in Sierra Leone when these crimes were being committed. He never directly, physically committed these crimes,” Brenda Hollis, the court’s chief prosecutor, told Reuters before the verdict.
“In a domestic case, you have to prove there was a murder, we have the added level of proving linkage.”
This was the reason the supermodel Naomi Campbell was summoned to give testimony to the court in 2010. Naomi Campbell delivered potentially critical evidence against former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor when she revealed he sent her a bag of rough diamonds after a dinner more than 10 years ago. NBC’s Martin Fletcher discusses how this can affect the trial of a man who once denied ever dealing with the gemstone.
The prosecution alleged Taylor had sent uncut diamonds to her hotel room after a dinner given by former South African president Nelson Mandela, attended by both her and Taylor. She told the court she had no idea who had sent her the diamonds, which she called “dirty little pebbles.”
Taylor is likely to appeal, meaning the trial could easily last for another six months.
- Charles Taylor war crimes trial – live coverage of the verdict (guardian.co.uk)
- Liberians Await Verdict in Charles Taylor Trial (voanews.com)
- Liberian Government Calls for Calm Ahead of Taylor Verdict (voanews.com)
- ‘A watershed moment’: UN court set to rule in Charles Taylor war-crimes case (worldnews.msnbc.msn.com)