Ex-President of Liberia Aided War Crimes, Court Rules


THE HAGUE — Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and once a powerful warlord, was convicted by an international tribunal on Thursday of arming, supporting and guiding a brutal rebel movement that committed mass atrocities in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s. He is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

After 13 months of deliberation, a panel of three judges from Ireland, Samoa and Uganda found Mr. Taylor guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, slavery and the use of child soldiers. They said he had helped plan the capture of diamond mines and the invasion of Freetown, the capital. But the prosecution failed to prove that Mr. Taylor had directly commanded the rebels responsible for the atrocities, the judges said.

The conflict in Sierra Leone became notorious for its gruesome tactics, including the calculated mutilation of thousands of civilians, the widespread use of drugged children and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition. A sinister rebel vocabulary pointed to the horrors: applying “a smile” meant cutting off the upper and lower lips of a victim, giving “long sleeves” meant hacking off the hands, and giving “short sleeves” meant cutting the arm above the elbow.

Ten years after the war ended, Sierra Leone is still struggling to rebuild. An estimated 50,000 people died, while countless others fled the country or took refuge in camps. A large portion of the nation’s young missed their educations. Unemployment, particularly among the young men who emerged from the war with few skills, is crushing. Electricity is scant, even in the capital. The country has returned to democracy, but many educated Sierra Leoneans remain abroad, literacy is low and some industries, like mining iron ore, are just starting up again.