World Welcomes War Crimes Conviction of Taylor

Posted April 27th, 2012 at 4:00 am (UTC-5)
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The global community is welcoming the decision of an international court to convict former Liberian President Charles Taylor of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

A special tribunal in The Hague on Thursday found Taylor guilty on all 11 counts against him, including acts of terrorism, murder and rape by Sierra Leone rebels who paid him for arms with diamonds mined by slave labor.

Many of the victims of Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war say they are pleased with the verdict, including Muhammad Ba, who lost both his arms at the hands of the Taylor-backed rebels.

“I think that everybody is happy for this type of judgement, a long awaited judgement. People were crying for this judgement. I think impunity has been addressed. Justice has been done for Sierra Leonians, so we are so grateful for the international community.”

Taylor, who will be sentenced on May 30, became the first former head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and has the right to appeal the verdict.

World governments and human rights groups also welcomed the conviction.

In Washington, officials said the verdict sends a powerful message to those who would commit similar crimes. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said it also represents a victory for the people of Sierra Leone.

“We understand that there were huge and joyous crowds celebrating in Freetown — of people who are very relieved to see Taylor convicted. And today's judgement is a very important step toward delivering justice and accountability, not only for victims of this set of atrocities, but also for setting an example for those who would commit them in the future.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also hailed the ruling as “historic,” calling it a milestone for the international criminal justice system.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Taylor's conviction is a warning that those in power can be brought to justice for committing atrocities.

Prosecutors said Taylor masterminded Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s, arming and assisting Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels in exchange for “blood diamonds” mined in eastern Sierra Leone.

The court found Taylor did not have command and control of the rebels, but was aware of their activities and provided them with weapons and other supplies.

Taylor was arrested and handed over to the court in 2006, three years after his indictment and subsequent resignation as president. The trial, which opened in 2007, was transferred from Freetown to The Hague amid regional security concerns.

During the trial, the court heard testimony from 94 prosecution witnesses and 21 defense witnesses, including Taylor.

The tribunal was established to try the most serious cases of war crimes rising from the Sierra Leone conflict. The Taylor case is expected to be the court's last major trial.