In a tense courtroom in The Hague today, Charles Taylor became the first former President to be convicted by a modern international Tribunal. He will be sentenced on May 30.
by Richard Walker in The Hague
Dressed in a dark business suit and sunglasses, Taylor sat pensively as he listened to a summary of the judgement against him at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Presiding judge Richard Lussick found him guilty of aiding and abetting murder, acts of violent sexual abuse and using child soldiers, in the Sierra Leone conflict of 1996-2002.
He was paid in “blood diamonds” in return for his help in planning and providing the infrastructure for the rebel RUF fighters to wage war and commit atrocities.
Some 120,000 people were killed and thousands more mutilated during the country's 10-year civil war.
No Command and control
But this was not the verdict thousands of victims had been hoping for – Taylor was found not guilty of being ultimately responsible for directing the murderous RUF militia.
Judges said the prosecution had not proved beyond reasonable doubt that the former President had command and control over the group.
The former Liberian President's defence had rested on a long re-telling of west African history in which he painted himself as a statesman and a peacemaker.
Defence counsel Courtney Grifiths described the evidence as “tainted” and “deeply flawed”.
He was equally incensed that at the end of the hearing Alternate Judge El Hadji Sow tried to express a dissenting opinion but was ignored by the three principal trial judges who stood and walked out of the courtroom as he started to speak.
Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis was pleased with the court's verdict when she spoke to journalists after today's hearing.
“This judgement brings some measure of justice to the many thousands of victims in Sierra Leone.”
The three principal Sierra Leone tribunal (SCSL) judges said they were satisfied that Taylor helped plan war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by rebel RUF fighters in Sierra Leone.
Judge Lussick then described some of those gruesome acts of violence. “The severed heads of victims were put on spikes and human intestines removed from bodies and stretched across a road for use as a checkpoint. These were acts designed to terrorise the population” he said.
Taylor's proxy militia and his Liberian soldiers carried out horrific crimes to forcibly control the people and territory of Sierra Leone, to pillage its resources, and in particular its diamonds.
According to today's judgement there were killings on a mass scale, public amputations, mass rapes, enslavement in diamond mines and children conscripted to fight.
The guilty and the dead
When Taylor faces sentencing on May 30 he will become the ninth perpetrator to be convicted by the court. The SCSL's other four indictees are dead. Those it has convicted are all serving long sentences. No-one involved in today's judgement expects the 64 year old Taylor to see freedom again.
Taylor's lawyers are likely to appeal the decision.