Liberia's former President Charles Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity Thursday by a UN-backed special tribunal in The Hague. Taylor, 64, faces a possible sentence of life in prison for his role in the atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.
Taylor was found guilty on 11 counts, including murder, conscription of child soldiers, rape and sexual slavery. He was tried before a Special Court for Sierra Leone for supplying weapons to the brutal rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war, which ended in 2001. In return, the rebels reportedly supplied him with raw diamonds.
In her summation of the case, Prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued that Taylor was directly responsible for the horrors in Sierra Leone. She built the case that, with Taylor's approval, the RUF terrorized villagers in Sierra Leone, cutting the limbs off of countless victims, forcing young girls into sexual slavery, and turning children and teenagers, with the help of drugs, into violent soldiers. More than 100,000 people are believed to have died during the conflict.
"The accused is criminally responsible ... for aiding and abetting in the crimes," Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said as he read out the court's decision.
Taylor's attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, told reporters after the verdict was announced that the case based on "tainted and corrupt evidence."
'Sending a Message'
Taylor is the first former African head of state to be tried before an international court. He was arrested in 2006 after seeking refuge in Nigeria, and the trial began in June 2007 in The Hague. Taylor pled not guilty to all of the charges. Closing arguments in the case took place in February and March 2011, and the judges for the special court spent the past year studying 50,000 pages of witness testimony against Taylor, along with 1,520 pieces of evidence.
The ruling was welcomed by the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch. "Powerful leaders like Charles Taylor have for too long lived comfortably above the law," Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at the organization, said in a statement. "Taylor's conviction sends a message to those in power that they can be held to account for grave crimes."
In Sierra Leone, thousands of people watched the verdict being delivered in The Hague at special viewing sites set up by officials. As the conviction was being read, crowds of people gathered in the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown sighed with relief, the Associated Press reported.
The news agency also reported that at the beginning of the hearing Thursday, Taylor appeared relaxed, waving at some people sitting in the public gallery. Then, as the judgment was read and appeared to be going against him, Taylor sat tensely with is hands clasped in front of him.
A sentencing in the case is expected at the end of May.
mbw, with wire reports
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