The United States has welcomed the conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by a U.N.-backed court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying that it sends a strong message that even those in power can be brought to justice for such grave crimes.
"Today's judgment was an important step toward delivering justice and accountability for victims, restoring peace and stability in the country and the region, and completing the Special Court for Sierra Leone's mandate to prosecute those persons who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities committed in Sierra Leone," said a statement issued by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland on Thursday.
The statement noted that Taylor's prosecution at the Special Court for Sierra Leone delivers a strong message to all "perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable."
It said the trial of Taylor was of "enormous historical and legal significance" as it marked the first time that of a powerful head of state was "brought to judgment before an international tribunal on charges of mass atrocities and serious violations of international humanitarian law."
"The United States has been a strong supporter and the leading donor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone since its inception. The successful completion of the Special Court's work remains a top U.S. Government priority," the statement added.
The U.S. response came hours after international judges at the Hague court found Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war. The court ruled that Taylor was guilty of planning the killing of tens of thousands by rebels during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, but not guilty of ordering the crimes.
Taylor was accused of having armed and supported rebel groups in neighboring Sierra Leone in an effort to seize control of the country's diamond mines. The diamonds from Sierra Leone's mines are infamously known as "blood diamonds," since the precious stones were sold to fund the country's bloody civil war.
The prosecution had summoned supermodel Naomi Campbell and actress Mia Farrow to testify at Taylor's trial last year. The move was part of their efforts to link the ex-Liberian leader to several blood diamonds that Campbell said she had received while in South Africa in 1997.
Taylor faced 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including terrorism, murder, rape, torture and using child soldiers. If he is handed down a prison term when sentenced on May 30, Taylor would be imprisoned in the United Kingdom.
Taylor had rejected the charges and denied any involvement in the atrocities committed by the RUF rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war. Taylor also maintained throughout the trial that he only wanted to bring peace and restore democracy in Sierra Leone.
Taylor was the first African leader to be tried by an international court. He was the president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, and went to exile in Nigeria in 2003 after being ousted in a rebellion. He lived in Nigeria until the Nigerian government eventually handed him over to the tribunal under heavy international pressure.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone is a joint project of Sierra Leone and the United Nations, and its mandate is limited to trying only "those who bear greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone."
by RTT Staff Writer
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