For the first time ever a former head of state has been convicted of rape and sexual violence during conflict. This took place last week when Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Sierra Leone.
- I think that many Liberians felt relieved after the verdict. Especially the political establishment, headed by president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who were active in the extradition of Taylor. If he had been declared not guilty and had returned to Liberia, there would have been a great risk of increased instability in the country. At the same time Charles Taylor has many supporters, who see him as the hero who liberated Liberia from former oppression. So far from everyone are celebrating, says Susanna Elmberger, coordinator for Liberia at the Swedish women- and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Crimes during the civil war in Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor was prosecuted in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, operating out of the Hague, on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 10-year-long civil war in Liberia’s neighbouring country Sierra Leone. Taylor was accused of backing rebels in Sierra Leone, as said in the verdict: ”by providing them with arms and ammunition, military personnel, operational support and moral support”. The war took 120 000 peoples’ lives and many more were severely maimed. Taylor was convicted on all counts, for aiding and abetting in, among other, murder, rape, slavery and the forced enlistment of child soldiers.
But he was not convicted of bearing the major responsibility for these crimes, a fact that may lead to strong reactions from the many people who suffered from the war. Judges say Taylor knew about the crimes rebel troops were committing, but prosecutors could not prove that he was actually commanding those troops.
The verdict is historical since it is the first time since the Nuremberg trials – held after the Second World War – that a former head of state is being convicted in an international court. It is also the first conviction that includes rape and sexual violence, since there were no prosecutions of these types of crimes in the Nuremberg trials. The legal process has taken nine years and Taylor has consistently claimed his innocence.
Charles Taylor’s sentence will be announced on May 30th.