“PAPAY” TAYLOR CONVICTED OF WAR CRIMES: INT’L COMMUNITY WELCOMES VERDICT

“PAPAY” TAYLOR CONVICTED OF WAR CRIMES: INT’L COMMUNITY WELCOMES VERDICT

Judges at the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague have handed down a guilty verdict in the Charles Taylor trial.

According to the West African Democracy Radio, former Liberian president was found guilty of all eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the decade-long civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone (1991-2002), which saw some of the worst human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian laws in Africa.

Taylor has denied all charges in the trial which opened in 2006.

Human rights groups have welcomed the guilty verdict against former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague said he aided and abetted war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

Taylor, 64, has been on trial for almost five years.

“This is an incredibly significant decision,” Elise Keppler from the campaign group Human Rights Watch told the BBC.

“Charles Taylor has been called to account for the crimes in Sierra Leone. It is an incredible day for international justice but most of all for victims in Sierra Leone and everywhere,” she added.

Taylor was accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands of people in Sierra Leone’s 1991-2002 civil war. He was convicted on 11 counts including terror, murder and rape – but cleared of ordering the crimes.

David Crane was the first prosecutor for the Special court for Sierra Leone. In 2003 he signed the indictment against Charles Taylor. He told the BBC’s Newshour programme that it was irrelevant that he was not convicted on all charges.

“When I drafted that indictment and signed it there were three [charges] and you only had to [find him guilty on] one, so therefore at the end of the day it’s what they did with the charges that matters, and they found him guilty as charged… of the horror story in Sierra Leone,” he said.

Taylor is the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II.

Another group, Amnesty International, said the verdict sent an important message to all high-ranking state officials.

Diamonds for weapons

“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.

The US State Department said the ruling sent “a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable”.

Chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis said it was “confirmation of what the people in Sierra Leone told us from the beginning of our investigations, and that is that Mr Taylor was one of those who bore greatest responsibility for the crimes against them”.

Defence lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told the BBC that the trial had not been fair, but rather “prompted by political imperatives”.

However he added that he had been surprised at the extent to which the judges were “prepared to reject the initial theories put forward by the prosecution” – notably the contention that Taylor was micro-managing events in Sierra Leone.

Reading out the verdict in The Hague, Judge Richard Lussick said Taylor had been found guilty beyond reasonable doubt in connection with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Those included terror, murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers, he added.

Judge Richard Lussick said the court was satisfied Taylor had aided war crimes

Judge Lussick said that as Liberian leader, Taylor had extended “sustained and significant” support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The judge said the accused had sold diamonds and bought weapons on behalf of the RUF – and knew the rebels were committing atrocities.

But Judge Lussick added that this support fell short of effective command and control over the rebels.

“The trial chamber finds the accused cannot be held responsible for ordering the crimes,” he said.

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Taylor timeline

Sierra Leone-Liberia map

• 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

He also said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor 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 has a right to appeal against the conviction.

If he loses the appeal he 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.

The BBC’s Mark Doyle in the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown, says traditional chiefs and victims of the war watching the proceedings by video link breathed a sigh of relief when the verdict was read out.

Freetown – Sierra Leoneans cheered or quietly let the news sink in Thursday as ex-Liberian president Charles Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting a terror campaign by rebels during their country’s 11-year civil war.

Victims, leaders and civil society representatives packed the headquarters of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a modern building in the lush, hilly capital, to watch on monitors as the verdict unfolded in a courtroom in the Dutch capital thousands of miles away.

Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, former chairperson of the amputees association, watched the nearly 2-hour judgement stony-faced, using his prosthetic arms to clasp a handkerchief to wipe his face in the heat.

“I am happy … I feel justice has been done,” he said, after calmly listening to judge Richard Lussick announce Taylor was guilty of arming the rebels who in 1999 hacked off first his left, then his right arm as he was pinned to a mango tree.

“We as victims expect that Taylor will be given 100 years or more in prison,” he added. Sentencing will take place on May 30.

While victims quietly filed out of the courtroom, another hall packed with victims and tribal chiefs from around the country erupted into cheers as they turned to congratulate each other.

“People were so happy,” said PC Kaimpumu, paramount chief for the southern Bonthe district, adding that he was “perfectly pleased.”

The verdict served as a warning to the country that “you can’t just commit crimes without impunity.”

Mohammed Bah, 35, who was forced to become a combatant at aged 24 and also later had his left arm amputated during the war, said he “feels great” over the decision.

However others felt Taylor’s conviction did nothing to change the hardships they had been through.

“You can try Taylor, jail him, but what about us the victims? What will now happen to us?” asked Ken Sesay, who lost his left leg. “Why aren’t we being helped.”

Victim Jusu Jarkar said: “This is a happy day. I have not been able to do many things because my arms were cut off, but today I am happy.”

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, newspaper publisher Tom Kamara hailed the verdict, saying “justice has been done” and it was “an end to impunity”.

However, young supporters of Charles Taylor took to the streets brandishing placards reading: “We love you Taylor, God willing you will come back.”

Taylor, a rebel leader in the 1980s and early 1990s, was elected president of Liberia in 1997 following a peace deal which ended a brutal civil war.

He governed for six years before being forced into exile in Nigeria following a second conflict.

In 2006 he was arrested, repatriated to Liberia and eventually sent to The Hague to be tried.

The United States has welcomed the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The VOA reports that Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, noted that the court in the Netherlands found Taylor criminally responsible for aiding and abetting the commission of those crimes and planning the attacks on Freetown in 1998 and 1999.

“We understand that there were huge and joyous crowds celebrating in Freetown — of people who are very relieved to see Taylor convicted. And today’s judgement is a very important step toward delivering justice and accountability not only for victims of this set of atrocities, but also for setting an example for those who would commit them in the future.”

Human rights activists also hailed the conviction of the former Liberian leader, calling it a milestone for the international criminal justice system and the people of Sierra Leone.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Taylor’s conviction sends a message that those in power can be brought to justice for grave crimes.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the war crimes conviction of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor Thursday 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.

“A former president, who once wielded immense influence in a neighbouring country where tens of thousands of people were killed, mutilated, raped, robbed and repeatedly displaced for years on end, has been arrested, tried in a fair and thorough international procedure, and has now been convicted of very serious crimes.”

illay 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.”

Sources: West African Democracy Radio, VOA,  AFP, BBC