After a four-year trial, Charles Taylor has finally been found guilty of "aiding and abetting" war crimes. The former Liberian president is the first African head of state to be convicted by an international tribunal. The court found that he had funded and helped plan brutal attacks by the rebel outfit Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Between 1996 and 2002 the RUF terrorised the people of Sierra Leone, carrying out thousands of murders, rapes, and enforced amputations. They trapped thousands of women in sexual slavery, and forced children to fight for them: more than 1,000 children had the letters "RUF" carved into their backs to prevent them from escaping. It was a vicious struggle for control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines – a struggle in which Charles Taylor played a deplorable role.
A bizarre twist
During the trial, the court heard how the former warlord once tried to woo supermodel Naomi Campbell by giving her what she described as three "small, dirty-looking stones" (read: uncut blood diamonds – watch her testimony here). While ruler, Taylor moved in elevated circles: see this extraordinary photograph of him with Campbell, Mia Farrow and Imran and Jemima Khan, at a party hosted by Nelson Mandela.
But now, international justice has finally caught up with him. "For decades, so-called 'big men' – people who either led armed groups or wielded significant political power – have been allowed to carry out abuses, seemingly with no fear of being investigated or held accountable by a credible judicial body," Human Rights Watch said in a statement released today. "In this trial, for the first time, such a 'big man' was taken into custody and forced to answer for his alleged crimes."
Speaking before the verdict, Edward Conteh, a father of eight and just one of the RUF's victims, put it more plainly: "If I see Charles Taylor behind bars, and do not breathe free air that we do breathe, I will be happy until the rest of my life."
Further reading: Veteran Africa correspondent Sam Kiley remembers Charles Taylor's cronies bringing terror to Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1999.