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Taylor convicted in 'historic' ruling

Publish date: 30 April 2012
Issue Number: 3024
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Criminal

A UN-backed court 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 notes the judgment found Taylor 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 44-page summary of the judgment

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 in a statement. 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 said. '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

The conviction of Taylor was an important step in what can only be described as the faltering path of international justice. In an editorial, The Guardian notes that the sentence pronounced in The Hague sent strong signals to both his victims and former supporters in Freetown and Monrovia. 'And yet there is still a long way to go before one can say that the goal of ending impunity for crimes against humanity has been reached. It is still plainly nowhere in sight. Laurent Gbagbo, the former President of Ivory Coast, has appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC), but Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, another recipient of an ICC arrest warrant, will not be delivered to a court over Darfur anytime soon..' Full editorial in The Guardian