26 April 2012

Africa: Smith Statement On Charles Taylor Guilty Verdict

Photo: Special Court for Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor, left, being transferred for trial at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Washington, DC — The Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague rendered a "clear and just verdict" today in the case of notorious human rights offender Charles Taylor, said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.

After a trial lasting five years, the Court found former warlord and Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, ranging from terrorist acts to rape to enslavement to murder. Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced by the court on May 30.

"Many of us on the U.S. Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee worked diligently over the years to end the war crimes Taylor caused and to bring him to justice," Smith said. "Our efforts resulted in a number of steps that helped end that crisis, including the creation and operation of the court, the dispatch of international peacekeepers to Sierra Leone and the capture and trial of those responsible for horrific crimes against the people of Sierra Leone. Many of those who have suffered greatly at the hands of Charles Taylor, especially the survivors and the families of those who did not survive, have waited a long time for this day; it is a just verdict."

Taylor trained and armed the notorious Sierra Leonean rebel group known as the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, which terrorized the country through acts of sexual violence, amputations and forcible recruitment of child soldiers. The RUF took control of Sierra Leone's diamond fields, which provided revenue for their reign of terror and for Taylor through his funneling sales of Sierra Leone diamonds to the international market through Liberia.

Current Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for calm in her country in response to the verdict. Taylor still has supporters in Liberia who either served in his rebel army or his government or who otherwise profited from his action.

This court set a number of precedents. It is the first hybrid tribunal, created by agreement of the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone. It is the first modern international criminal tribunal to complete its mandate. Its decision today marks the first time a head of state was indicted, tried and convicted by an international tribunal.

It now establishes the principle of accountability for African leaders who violate international law.

"This demonstrates that tyrants like Charles Taylor can be held accountable for their crimes," Smith said. "One hopes that with the light of scrutiny, those in Sudan who have committed similar atrocities, including Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, will one day be held to account as well."

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