Taylor’s conviction sends warning to world tyrants
LEIDSCHENDAM FORMER Liberian President Charles Taylor on Thursday became the first head of state since World War II convicted by an international war crimes court, a legal landmark observers say sent a clear message to tyrants around the world that their days of impunity are numbered.
Taylor, 64, was found guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for sending guns and bullets to Sierra Leone rebels in return for so-called blood diamonds mined by slave labourers and smuggled across the border.
The verdicts were hailed by prosecutors, victims and rights activists as a watershed moment in efforts to end impunity for leaders responsible for atrocities.
Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone said Taylor’s aid played a crucial role in allowing the rebels to continue a bloody rampage during that West African nation’s 11- year civil war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead. The rebels gained international notoriety for hacking off the limbs of their enemies and carving their groups’ initials into opponents and even children they kidnapped and turned into killers.
The verdict “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.
“This is a bell that has been rung and clearly rings throughout the world. If you are a head of state and you are killing your own people you could be next.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also hailed the judgment as “a significant milestone for international criminal justice” that “sends a strong signal to all leaders that they are and will be held accountable for their actions,” said UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland agreed. “The Taylor prosecution at the Special Court delivers a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable,” she said.
Taylor attempted to avoid trial by claiming head of state immunity in 2003, but the court rejected his claim and went ahead with his trial after his 2006 arrest.
Despite Thursday’s optimism, international efforts to prosecute leaders have been spotty so far at best: Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell before he could be found guilty of fomenting the Balkan wars, Moamer Qadhafi was killed by rebels last year before he could be turned over for trial, and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir is openly defying attempts to arrest him on international genocide charges.