Tribunal convicts Charles Taylor of war crimes in Sierra Leone

April 27, 2012

By McClatchy Newspapers

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa _ The litany of abuses was chilling: mass murder, rape, sexual slavery. Forcing children to fight. Chopping off victims’ limbs.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor’s conviction Thursday in the Netherlands by an international tribunal on charges of abetting such war crimes in the West African country of Sierra Leone sent a powerful message to other warlords that they will eventually face justice, human rights activists and prosecutors say.

But it also highlights what can be a wrenching tension between pursuing justice or peace first in some of the most violent, chaotic corners of the world.

Taylor’s destiny, a sentence that may well send him to prison for the rest of his life in prison, could encourage others to fight to the end rather than try to negotiate an escape, as Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi chose to do last year.

Taylor armed and supported militias, traded arms for “blood diamonds” in Sierra Leone, and allegedly used child soldiers in the 1989-96 Liberian civil war, which killed about 200,000 people.

The verdict at a special U.N.-backed court related only to his role in supporting Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, where about 50,000 people died. In its 1991-2002 reign of terror, the RUF was notorious for hacking off people’s limbs, rape on a wide scale, abducting girls and women as sex slaves, and forcing children to fight after killing their parents and fellow villagers.

Taylor stepped down as Liberian president in 2003 in return for avoiding prosecution, and took up residence in a mansion in Nigeria. Several months earlier, he had been indicted by the special court created to try crimes committed in the Sierra Leone conflict. Under international pressure, then-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo allowed him to be arrested as he tried to leave the country in 2006.

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