Liberia's Taylor found guilty of war crimes

 

FORMER PRESIDENT of Liberia Charles Taylor was yesterday convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Hague, representing what human rights groups said was a landmark for international justice.

Not since the trials at Nuremberg in 1946 has the leader of a nation been found guilty of crimes against humanity by an international court.

Taylor (64), was found guilty of aiding and abetting 11 counts of murder, rape, slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

As president of neighbouring Liberia, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled that he provided weapons, communications and special units for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, and was thus guilty of the crimes they committed during which more than 50,000 perished.

Clad in an immaculate dark suit, burgundy tie and white shirt with golden cufflinks, Taylor stood impassive behind a table on one side of the court room flanked by uniformed guards as the three judges announced their verdict.

“During Operation No Living Thing a civilian was killed, disemboweled  and his remains were strung across the road to form a checkpoint,” said Judge Richard Lussick in his judgment. “That their [RUF] operations were given titles like No Living Thing and Spare No Soul made explicit the intention to wage a campaign of terror.”

Ritual violence, including beheadings and the amputation of hands and arms, was standard practice in nearly a decade of war.

The conviction, with sentencing to be announced in May, marks the end of a long and often controversial trial that began when Taylor was extradited from Nigeria in 2006.

Security fears saw the case moved to The Hague from Sierra Leone.

In August 2010 prosecutors called model Naomi Campbell to take the stand, insisting she was given rough-cut plundered diamonds during a trip with Taylor in South Africa.

Campbell denied knowing that the “dirty rocks” were in fact gifts from Taylor. It is unclear if this evidence formed any part of the final conviction.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis welcomed the verdict: “It was very clear today that his [Taylor’s] support for these rebels was central to their ability to commit those crimes.”

Judges found there was no evidence that Taylor ordered the crimes, but said his role in providing the support for such crimes made him guilty for the atrocities.

Rights groups said the conviction showed that even a head-of-state could not enjoy impunity. “Today’s verdict is incredibly significant for efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the worst crimes,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British Queens Counsel who prosecuted the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, welcomed the judgment.

“At first sight, this seems a very careful deliberation by the judges. It is a conservative judgment. There will be a deterrent effect.”

Controversy came at the end of the trial when Justice El Hadji Malick Sow, a reserve judge who was not part of the three-strong panel, asked to make an objection.

But as he began to speak, with the other judges filing out of the chamber, his microphone was cut off without explanation and a screen rolled down to hide the courtroom from the public gallery.

Taylor denies the charges, saying his contacts with rebels were part of efforts to bring peace to the region, and he insisted the trial was politically motivated by unnamed Western nations.