He's the first head of state to be convicted of a war crime in an international court since the Nuremberg trials and while former Liberian President Charles Taylor's fate won't be as gruesome as that of the victims of the atrocities he supported, they're still pretty pleased with it. In Sierra Leone, where Taylor provided arms to the rebel Revolutionary United Front in exchange for diamonds mined with slave labor, crowds cheered on Thursday as news came in of his conviction on 11 counts of aiding and abetting war crimes.
The New York Times, which carries one of the more comprehensive accounts of Taylor's five-year trial and the Sierra Leone civil war that led to it, points out that the international tribunal that convicted Taylor carries no death penalty, and whatever sentence he receives will take place in a British prison. That stands in pretty sharp contrast to the description of the "calculated mutilation" Sierra Leone's rebel forces carried out against civilians, often by child soldiers, with the help of Taylor's weapons. Per The Times:
The conflict in Sierra Leone became notorious because of its gruesome tactics, including the calculated mutilation of thousands of civilians, the widespread use of drugged child soldiers and the mining of diamonds to pay for guns and ammunition. A new, sinister rebel vocabulary pointed to the horrors: applying “a smile” meant cutting off the upper and lower lips of a victim, giving “long sleeves” meant hacking off the hands and giving “short sleeves” meant cutting the arm above the elbow.
As the BBC noted, "the key point prosecutors had to prove in the trial was not whether Mr Taylor committed the acts himself, but whether he ordered, supported or condoned such acts." And they did. One human rights activist in Freetown told The Times, "I’m not sure it will bring closure to the victims." But given the poor track record of international justice against heads of state (think Slobodan Miolosevic, who died before he could be convicted of genocide), it's a hell of a lot better than nothing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.