26 April 2012

Sierra Leone: Charles Taylor - Guilty of Aiding and Abetting War Crimes

Photo: Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera television news records the moment Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years' jail by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on Wednesday.

The Hague — In a tense courtroom in The Hague today, Charles Taylor became the first former president to be convicted by a modern international tribunal. He will be sentenced on 30 May.

Dressed in a dark business suit and sunglasses, Taylor sat pensively as he listened to a summary of the judgement against him at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).

Presiding judge Richard Lussick found him guilty of aiding and abetting murder, acts of violent sexual abuse and using child soldiers in the Sierra Leone conflict of 1996-2002.

He was paid in "blood diamonds" in return for his help in planning and providing the infrastructure for the rebel RUF fighters to wage war and commit atrocities.

Some 120,000 people were killed and thousands more were mutilated during the country's ten-year civil war.

No command and control

But this was not the verdict thousands of victims had been hoping for. Taylor was found not guilty of being ultimately responsible for directing the murderous RUF militia.

Judges said the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the former president had command and control over the group.

Taylor's testimony

The former Liberian president's defence had rested on a long retelling of West African history in which he painted himself as a statesman and a peacemaker.

But prosecutor Brenda Hollis called that testimony, and much of the defence's evidence, "unreliable and full of inconsistencies".

"This judgement brings some measure of justice to the many thousands of victims," she said.

The three-year trial has been beset by controversy and frayed tempers. Instead of making closing arguments for his client in January 2011, chief defence counsel Courtenay Griffiths walked out of proceedings describing them as a "farce".

Today Griffiths was equally indignant, complaining there was dissenting opinion among the judges which we were not allowed to hear.

Terrorizing civilians

Despite these misgivings, the Sierra Leone tribunal judges said they were satisfied with the finding that Taylor helped plan war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel RUF fighters in Sierra Leone.

Judge Lussick described gruesome acts of violence.

"The severed heads of victims were put on spikes and human intestines removed from bodies and stretched across a road for use as a checkpoint. These were acts designed to terrorise the population," Lussick said.

Taylor's proxy militia and Liberian soldiers carried out horrific crimes to forcibly control the people and territory of Sierra Leone and to pillage its resources, particularly its diamonds.

According to today's judgement there were killings on a mass scale, public amputations, mass rapes, enslavement in diamond mines and children conscripted to fight.

The guilty and the dead

When Taylor faces sentencing on 30 May he will become the ninth perpetrator to be convicted by the court. The SCSL's other four indictees are dead. Those it has convicted are all serving long sentences. No one involved in today's judgement expects the 60-year-old Taylor to see freedom again.

Taylor's lawyers will appeal the decision.

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