UK & World News
Charles Taylor Found Guilty Of War Crimes
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor faces a lengthy prison sentence in Britain after being found "criminally responsible" for war crimes by supporting brutal Sierra Leone rebels in return for blood diamonds.
Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said that prosecutors have proved beyond reasonable doubt that Taylor aided and abetted crimes during Sierra Leone's harrowing civil war.
The judge said the warlord-turned-politician provided arms, ammunition, communications equipment and planning to the rebels responsible for countless atrocities in the 1991-2002 conflict.
He called the support "sustained and significant."
"The chamber finds beyond reasonable doubt that the accused is criminally responsible... for aiding and abetting the commission of the crimes 1 to 11 in the indictment," Judge Lussick said, as he read the verdict.
The 64-year-old stood and showed no emotion as the 11 guilty verdicts were delivered. A sentence will be imposed later.
Taylor had pleaded not guilty to the charges, including murder, rape, terror and conscripting child soldiers.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the verdict and said: "This landmark verdict demonstrates that those who have committed the most serious of crimes can and will be held to account for their actions.
"It demonstrates that the reach of international law is long and not time limited and it demonstrates that heads of state cannot hide behind immunity."
Taylor is the first African former head of state to be tried in an international court, after he became notorious for feeding the illicit trade in blood or conflict diamonds.
During the trial prosecutors said the "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" trained the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
The rebels, often high on drugs, murdered, raped and maimed their victims, notably amputating hands and arms with machetes.
Sky's Europe correspondent Robert Nisbet, reporting from outside the special court, said the legal process has taken five years to reach a verdict.
"It has been a fairly lengthy process," Nisbet said.
"Three judges have poured over about 50,000 pages of evidence to get to this point."
The trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from Taylor at a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, finished in March 2011.
"He (Taylor) was really key in people's minds as to who was accountable for what happened," Elise Keppler, who monitored the trial for Human Rights Watch, said.
She added: "He is a former head of state, the first to hear a judgment against himself: it is unprecedented, it is a historic moment."
Taylor launched a rebellion in Liberia in 1989 in a bid to overthrow the decade-long dictatorship of Samuel Doe, a move which descended into bloody civil war.
He was elected president in 1997 but two years later war broke out anew and fighting only ended when he fled to Nigeria in 2003.
He remained there until March 2006 when Nigeria bowed to international calls to extradite him.
Taylor pleaded not guilty and during testimony in the court in 2009 called the charges against him "lies".
"This whole case is a case of deceit, deception, lies," Taylor said.
"I am not guilty of all of these charges, not even a minute part of the charges."
Nisbet added: "It is likely that Charles Taylor's defence team will launch an appeal."
The court, set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, has already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years after trials in the west African country's capital Freetown.
But no west African prisons are believed to be secure enough to hold the former strongman.
Taylor is likely to be sentenced in the coming weeks and Britain has offered to hold him in a secure prison.
The Dutch government said it would host the trial only if another country agreed to imprison him and in 2006 Britain's then-foreign secretary Margaret Beckett offered, saying it was proof of the "UK's commitment to international justice".
Liberia was originally formed from the resettlement of freed US slaves in 1822.
According to the CIA, Liberia's fragile governance structures allow rampant sex trafficking, forced labour, money laundering and arms dealing within its borders.
The CIA also says Liberia is a key trans-shipment point for Afghan heroin and South American cocaine being sent to the illicit European and US drug markets.