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'Historic moment in the development of international justice'

Publish date: 30 April 2012
Issue Number: 476
Diary: Legalbrief Africa Old
Category: Liberia

A UN-backed court has convicted former Liberian President Charles Taylor of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the first time a head of state has been found guilty by an international tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg.

Legalbrief reports that Taylor was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in connection with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, when more than 50 000 people were killed. Taylor was paid in so-called blood diamonds, illegally mined by Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who were known for murdering and raping civilians and chopping off limbs with machetes. After being overthrown in 2003, Taylor fled to Nigeria, which extradited him three years later under international pressure. A report on the IoL site notes that the court ruled that Taylor was criminally responsible for aiding and abetting the crimes, and found him guilty of providing weapons, food, medical supplies, fuel and equipment to forces in Sierra Leone which committed atrocities. However, it said he was not guilty of either ordering or planning the atrocities - a disappointment for the prosecution and a decision which could eventually result in a lighter sentence. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for 16 May, with a decision expected later that month. Full report on the IoL site Key excerpts from the 44-page summary of the judgment Interview with IBA Director Mark Ellis on the verdict

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the war crimes conviction means tyrannical rulers can no longer retire on blood money. 'This is undoubtedly a historic moment in the development of international justice,' Pillay said. According to a report on the

News24 site, Pillay said the verdict was a 'stark warning' to other heads of state. 'The days when tyrants and mass murderers could, even when they had been deposed, retire to a life of luxury in another land are over,' she is quoted in the report as saying. 'And so they should be. Few things are more repugnant than seeing people with so much blood on their hands, living on stolen money with no prospect of their victims seeing justice carried out.' Full report on the News24 site

Jabati Mambu has lived all his adult life without his right hand. He was only 15 when RUF rebels swept through Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. In their signature, sinister style, they hacked off his hand with a machete. CNN reports that Mambu, now 28 and a goalkeeper for Sierra Leone's amputee soccer team, was one of thousands of victims who felt huge relief after the tribunal convicted Taylor. 'I think this should send out a very big message to those who want to commit crimes,' Mambu is quoted in the report as saying. 'People will listen, even if they don't care, and they will know what has happened today is important for us victims.' The report notes that in the diamond-mining region of Kono, where much of the atrocities took place, almost everyone has a story to tell about the rebels, who the Special Court for Sierra Leone concluded were supported militarily by Taylor. 'Things went bad, but this will let people know that it will not go unpunished,' said the Reverend Sahr Christian Fayai, head of the Human Rights Commission in Kono, according to the report. The Guardian reports that Sorie Sawanah, a former taxi driver, rarely speaks about the day he became one of the statistics of the brutal 'Operation No Living Thing', when drug-crazed child soldiers rampaged through Freetown in 1999. On the eve of Taylor's conviction, Sorie maintained his silence. 'I don't want to recall them days,' Sorie said, covering his face with a shaking hand, the report notes. Sorie's son Ibrahim had nightmares for years about the scene he witnessed cowering behind a bush. 'A child soldier give my father short sleeves. A boy 10 years of age carrying a long military knife. He say, I dey chop your arm, your arm go fly! Then he mark,' Ibrahim mimes a machete tapping at his elbow. For some, relief at the verdict has been tempered by its limited scope - only a handful were tried out of hundreds of rebel commanders who directed atrocities. Those who escaped the court's attention include Eldred Collins, leader of the political arm of the RUF guerrillas that Taylor used as proxy soldiers. Standing in front of the squat building, Collins rejected the court's authority. 'How credible are those witnesses who testified in the trial just to make money? What happened during the war wasn't co-ordinated by Taylor or anyone - they were random acts that cannot be prevented during a war. Taylor will appeal and that is the right thing for him to do,' the smartly-dressed Collins said, as amputees - some hobbling on crutches - streamed past him. Full CNN report Full report in The Guardian

Taylor's conviction provides an opportunity to reflect on the many other alleged war criminals still awaiting their day in court. According to a report on the site, these include former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo who is currently on trial on four counts of crimes against humanity that he allegedly committed after refusing to recognise the results of a 2010 presidential election, and deploying the use of force against those who subsequently challenged him. Muammar Gaddafi's eldest son, Saif Al-Islam is waiting to see whether he will be tried by the ICC while Saleh Jerbo is awaiting trial for alleged war crimes related to raids on peacekeepers during the conflict in Darfur, notes the report. It says in the Central African Republic, Jean-Pierre Bemba is accused of leading his militia group, the Movement for Liberation of Congo, into the neighbouring country of the Central African Republic, and allegedly murdering and raping civilians. His trial began in November 2010 and he faces two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. Full report on the site