Ex-Liberian president convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity
BY MIKE CORDER Associated Press
Friday, April 27, 2012
4/27/12 at 5:09 AM
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor became the first head of state since World War II to be convicted by an international war crimes court.
The warlord-turned-president was found guilty Thursday of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for arming Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for "blood diamonds" mined by slave laborers and smuggled across the border.
Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone said Taylor played a crucial role in allowing the rebels to continue a bloody rampage during that West African nation's 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.
The rebels gained notoriety for hacking off the limbs of their victims and carving their groups' initials into opponents and even children they kidnapped, drugged and turned into killers. The rebels developed gruesome terms for the mutilations that became their chilling trademark: They would offer their victims the choice of "long sleeves" or "short sleeves" - having their hands hacked off or their arms sliced off above the elbow.
The 64-year-old Taylor will be sentenced next month after a separate hearing. The court has no death penalty and no life sentence.
The verdict was hailed by prosecutors, victims and rights activists as a watershed moment in efforts to end impunity for leaders responsible for atrocities.
The ruling "permanently locks in and solidifies the idea that heads of state are now accountable for what they do to their own people," said David Crane, the former prosecutor who indicted Taylor in 2003 and is now a professor of international law at Syracuse University.
The implications meant little to survivors in Sierra Leone who celebrated his conviction.
"I am happy that the truth has come out ... that Charles Taylor is fully and solely responsible for the crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone," said Jusu Jarka, who had his arms hacked off by rebels in 1999 and who now runs a support group for fellow amputees.
Crowds that gathered to watch the verdict live on television in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, sighed with relief when the conviction was announced. Some carried posters that exposed still-simmering anger. "Shame on you Charles Taylor. Give us your diamonds before going to prison," one read.
The three-judge panel convicted him of aiding and abetting the fighters. He was cleared of direct command responsibility over the rebels.
Original Print Headline: Ex-Liberian president convicted