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 a UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years.He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war.
Taylor was convicted of 11 counts including terror, murder and rape – but cleared of ordering the
Taylor 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.
Rights group Amnesty International said the verdict sent an important message to all high-ranking state officials.
“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.
Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the BBC that those responsible for atrocities “can no longer feel safe that they can hide behind important positions of authority”.
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 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 crimes.
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.
He also said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor was part of a joint criminal enterprise.
A sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on 30 May, he added.
Taylor 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.
Mr Taylor, a warlord in the 1980s and early 1990s, was elected president of Liberia in 1997 following a peace deal than 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.