In a historic ruling, a United Nations-backed tribunal at The Hague has found Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, "criminally responsible" of aiding and abetting in the commission of 11 crimes. The ruling is momentous: according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), this is the first time a head of state has been convicted by an international court since Nuremberg, the trial of Nazi officials that followed the Second World War. Taylor is also the first former African leader ruler to stand trial for war crimes.
Taylor was found to have provided sustained support for rebels during a reign of terror in neighbouring Sierra Leone. The tribunal also ruled that Taylor participated in the planning of some attacks, including the assault on Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
According to Elise Keppler, HRW's senior international justice counsel, "this is a victory for Sierra Leonean victims of Taylor's brutal crimes, and all those seeking justice when the worst abuses are committed".
The specific crimes committed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which Taylor supported, include terrorizing civilians, murder, rape, sexual slavery and enforced amputations. Judge Richard Lussick of Samoa said more than 1,000 children had the letters "RUF" carved into their backs so that they could not escape, and children were also employed as soldiers and forced to amputate limbs and guard diamond mines.
Taylor's sentence will be handed down on May 3rd. He has 14 days to file a notice of appeal against his convictions.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, was in the red chair recently talking about the challenges and importance of bringing political criminals to justice:
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