International judges have found former Liberian leader Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war, at his trial in The Hague.Taylor has been on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone for almost five years. He was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war.
But he was cleared of ordering their crimes. Human rights groups have described the judgement as historic.
“This is an incredibly significant decision,” Elise Keppler from the campaign group Human Rights Watch told the BBC. “Today is a landmark moment.”
Right group Amnesty International said the verdict sent an important message to all high-ranking state officials.
• 1989: Launches rebellion in Liberia
• 1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
• 1997: Elected president after a 1995 peace deal
• 1999: Liberia’s Lurd rebels start an insurrection to oust Mr Taylor
• June 2003: Arrest warrant issued; two months later he steps down and goes into exile to Nigeria
• March 2006: Arrested after a failed escape bid and sent to Sierra Leone
• June 2007: His trial opens – hosted in The Hague for security reasons
• April 2012: Convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes
“While today’s conviction brings some measure of justice to the people of Sierra Leone, Taylor and the others sentenced by the Special Court are just the tip of the iceberg,” the group’s Brima Abdulai Sheriff said in a statement.
Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had sold diamonds and bought weapons on behalf of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels – and knew they were committing crimes.
“The chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is criminally responsible… for aiding and abetting the commission of the crimes 1 to 11 in the indictment,” judge Lussick told the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in the outskirts of The Hague, as he read the verdict.
The accused had substantial influence over the RUF, but this fell short of effective command and control, the judge said. Judge Lussick also said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was part of a joint criminal enterprise. A sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on 30 May, he added. Taylor is expected to serve his sentence in a British prison as the Dutch government only agreed to host the trial if any ensuing jail term was served in another country.