Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, has been found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war after a five-year long trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
Mr. Taylor, 64, was accused of supporting a deadly rebel group that committed atrocities in Sierra Leone during the civil strife between 1991 and 2002, killing and maiming thousands of civilians, raping women and conscripting child soldiers. More than 50,000 people were killed during the war.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, the Netherlands, found him guilty of all of the charges on Thursday, and said he traded arms for diamonds with the Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
Judge Richard Lussick said Mr. Taylor is guilty of 11 charges including aiding and abetting acts of terrorism, murder, rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, conscripting child soldiers and pillage.
He was however cleared of ordering the crimes.
“The trial chamber unanimously finds you guilty of aiding and abetting [all of these] crimes,” presiding judge, Mr. Lussick said.
The conviction has been welcomed by human rights group.
“There is no doubt that today’s verdict sends an important message to high-ranking state officials; no matter who you are or what position you hold, you will be brought to justice for crimes,” said Brima Abdulai Sheriff, the Director of Amnesty International Sierra Leone.
“Powerful leaders like Charles Taylor have for too long lived comfortably above the law,” said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.
“Taylor’s conviction sends a message to those in power that they can be held to account for grave crimes.”
Mr. Taylor, himself a former rebel leader, resigned as Liberia’s president two months after an ICC arrest warrant was issued, and arrived in Nigeria on exile where he lived in Calabar, Cross River state.
The trial opened June 2007 having been arrested in March 2006 after a failed escape bid near Maiduguri, Borno state.
The courts had earlier convicted RUF fighters of crimes against humanity, including rape, torture and terrorism.
Mr. Taylor’s sentencing is expected later today, but may be delivered on a later date, an international criminal lawyer said.
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