Justice at last for the people of Sierra Leone – Charles Taylor is found guilty of war crimes

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 April 2012:

Throughout the course of human history, there has been a handful of very bad men who have done very bad things to humanity, and today, Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia has won his place in the annals of the world’s most wicked and ignoble men.

He has been found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed against the people of Sierra Leone. More than 50,000 people were killed and tens of thousands left amputated by the rebels in Sierra Leone.

As he stood at the International Court of Justice in The Hague this afternoon to receive the verdict, Charles Taylor showed no emotion, after a long trial lasting five years.

Many viewers in Sierra Leone and Liberia watching the live court proceedings, could have been forgiven for thinking that, behind that steely motionless demeanour, Charles Taylor was already beginning to plan his escape from British prison, where he is expected to serve at least 50 years jail term.

Taylor had once escaped a US prison, where he was serving jail sentence for corruption in Liberia, prior to becoming head of state.

He was convicted at The Hague today on all eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity; ranging from murder, child abduction, aiding and abetting the ruthless RUF and AFRC rebel fighters in Sierra Leone.

The Judge found Taylor guilty beyond reasonable doubt, on the following counts:

Count 1: acts of terrorism (a war crime)

Count 2: murder (a crime against humanity)

Count 3: murder (a war crime)

Count 4: rape (a crime against humanity)

Count 5: sexual slavery (a crime against humanity)

Count 6: outrages upon personal dignity (a war crime)

Count 7: cruel treatment (a war crime)

Count 8: inhumane acts, including mutilations and amputations (a crime against humanity)

Count 9: the recruitment, enlistment and use of child soldiers

Count 10: enslavement (a crime against humanity)

Count 11: pillage (a war crime)

The Court upheld that Taylor had aided and abetted the RUF and AFRC rebels between 1996 and 2002, by providing them with arms and ammunition, communication equipment, military personnel, operational and moral support, making him individually culpable for their crimes.

Charles Taylor was remanded in custody, but will be sentenced on the 30 May, 2012, after both the prosecution and defence have had the chance of making any final deputation on Wednesday, 16 May, 2012.

It is not expected that Taylor’s lawyers will launch an appeal.

Response to Taylor’s indictment has been swift, both in Sierra Leone and across the world, as he becomes the first African head of state to be indicted by the International Court.

Amnesty International says that; the conviction of Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sends out a clear message to leaders the world over that no one is immune from justice.

The Director of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone – Mr. Brima Abdulai Sheriff, told reporters that; “there is no doubt that today’s verdict sends an important message to high-ranking state officials. No matter who you are, or what position you hold, you will be brought to justice for crimes.”

“While the conviction is a milestone, Amnesty International remains concerned that thousands of people who suffered atrocities during a decade of armed conflict are yet to see their perpetrators brought to justice.

“Due to the Special Court’s limited jurisdiction mandated only to investigate and prosecute those bearing the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed on the territory of Sierra Leone, only 12 individuals aside from Taylor were charged with crimes.

RUF warlord – Foday sankoh

“Three of them died and one suspect remains at large. Thousands of other suspects belonging to the RUF, AFRC and Civil Defence Forces (CDF) have not been brought to justice in the SCSL or national courts.

“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,” says Sheriff.

“Thousands of persons suspected of criminal responsibility for incidences of unlawful killings, rape and sexual violence, mutilations and the use of children in Sierra Leone’s armed conflict have never been investigated, much less prosecuted.”

“Sadly, only a limited number of Sierra Leone’s thousands of victims who bear the terrible scars of the conflict have received reparations, despite the Lomé Peace Accord and the clear recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC),” says Sheriff.

“Reparations are integral to achieving justice for the victims and assisting them to rebuild their lives.“

Amnesty International also said that:

“In 2004, the TRC’s report made detailed recommendations for the provision of reparations to those who had suffered throughout the conflict. However, more needs to be done to ensure long-term sustainable plan is in place so that all victims receive full and extensive reparations.

“One survivor of a double amputation to the arms told Amnesty International, “There are no plans to make reparations for victims. We have been asking them for years throughout the court proceedings to find ways and means to compensate us but victims are still languishing in the streets and begging for a living.”

“Amnesty International continues to call for the repeal of the amnesty provision in the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord and the enactment of legislation defining crimes against humanity and war crimes as crimes under Sierra Leone law. Until then, the thousands of alleged perpetrators not tried by the Special Court can never face trial in Sierra Leone.

“In addition to repealing the amnesty law, the authorities of Sierra Leone must bring the country’s criminal laws into line with international law and provide the domestic criminal justice system with the capacity to investigate and prosecute all crimes under international law in fair trials without the death penalty, and it should allow survivors to seek reparation directly against a convicted person.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Navi Pillay, said that; “It is important to recognise that Taylor may appeal the verdict, and that his guilt is not fully established until the end of the judicial process.

“Nevertheless, whatever the final outcome, this is undoubtedly a historic moment in the development of international justice.

“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.

“That is immensely significant, and a stark warning to other Heads of State who are committing similar crimes, or contemplating doing so.

“This is the first time since Nuremberg that an international tribunal has reached judgment in the trial of a former Head of State.

“Sierra Leoneans suffered so much during the terrible conflict that wracked their country for some ten years, and so many vicious crimes were committed. The victims, and their families, will continue to need help from the current Government and the international community for many years to come.

“I understand local communities have been gathering at crime scenes and sites of mass graves throughout the country to listen to the court proceedings over the radio. I wish all those who doubt the value of these international courts, or who think justice should be sacrificed in the search for peace, were present to watch those scenes in Sierra Leone today.”

Liberia’s warlord

As Taylor awaits sentencing, a key security issue now preoccupying the British justice and prison authorities is, the possibility of Taylor masterminding yet another prison breakout in Britain.

In the mid-1990s Taylor escaped justice in the USA. He broke out of prison cell only to return to Liberia to start a decade long war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Will Taylor make a second coming as he promised?

What is certain is that today’s legal outcome is going to be of little comfort to the amputees languishing in abject poverty in the streets of Freetown, and to the families of the war dead. War victims are yet to receive reparations.

The world has turned a blind eye on their plight. Perhaps today’s outcome will bring back on to the agenda – the plight of Sierra Leone’s war victims – most are incapacitated and cannot find work. The are languishing in abject poverty.

There is little doubt Sierra Leone is still recovering from the Foday Sankoh (RUF), Johnny Paul Koroma (AFRC), and Charles Taylor war enterprise.

Yet there are those in power in Sierra Leone who are fully aware of Johnny Paul Koroma’s whereabouts (one of the world’s most wanted war criminals), who may be shielding and funding his sojourning in another West African State.

The wheels of justice may be turning very slowly, but those in power in Sierra Leone who may be unlawfully shielding Johnny Paul Koroma, must remember that international justice has a long reach, and will one day hold them to account.

Those who inflict pain on their fellow men – out of greed and hate, shall never evade or avoid justice. They will be punished, as Charles Taylor has today discovered.

Sadly, it is the British taxpayer that will have to foot the cost (over £60,000 a year) of what observers say is Charles Taylor’s luxurious imprisonment in a British jail – once he has been sentenced next month, while over 50,000 of his Sierra Leonean victims lay buried – many unceremoniously in unmarked graves.

Today is a day for remembering those victims, including the long suffering amputees.

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