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UN human rights chief welcomes court's guilty verdict in Charles Taylor trial

26 April 2012 – The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the guilty verdict handed down against former Liberian President Charles Taylor as a “major milestone in” the development of international justice.

“It is important to recognise that Taylor may appeal the verdict, and that his guilt is not fully established until the end of the judicial process,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a news release. “Nevertheless, whatever the final outcome, this is undoubtedly a historic moment in the development of international justice.”

“A former President, who once wielded immense influence in a neighbouring country where tens of thousands of people were killed, mutilated, raped, robbed and repeatedly displaced for years on end, has been arrested, tried in a fair and thorough international procedure, and has now been convicted of very serious crimes,” Ms. Pillay added.

Earlier on Thursday, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) handed down a guilty verdict against Mr. Taylor for planning, aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was on trial on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including pillage, slavery for forced marriage purposes, collective punishment and the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

The charges relate to Mr. Taylor's alleged support for two rebel groups – the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and the Revolutionary United Front – during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. He had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

“That is immensely significant, and a stark warning to other Heads of State who are committing similar crimes, or contemplating doing so,” she said. “This is the first time since Nuremberg that an international tribunal has reached judgment in the trial of a former Head of State.”

The High Commissioner noted that others leaders – namely Laurent Gbagbo and Radovan Karadžiæ – have also been charged with international crimes and are either already on trial or will be soon. As well, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has been indicted, while Slobodan Miloševiæ and Muammar Gaddafi were also at various stages of international proceedings at the time of their deaths.

“The days when tyrants and mass murderers could, even when they had been deposed, retire to a life of luxury in another land are over,” Pillay said. “And so they should be. Few things are more repugnant than seeing people with so much blood on their hands, living on stolen money with no prospect of their victims seeing justice carried out.”

Pillay noted that while the delivery of justice was of immense importance to victims, and a key part of the national healing process, reparations were also necessary for people to pick up their lives and move on.

“Just because their suffering is out of the headlines, it doesn't mean it is over,” she said. “Sierra Leoneans suffered so much during the terrible conflict that wracked their country for some ten years, and so many vicious crimes were committed. The victims, and their families, will continue to need help from the current Government and the international community for many years to come.”

The Taylor trial opened on 4 June 2007 in The Hague. It was adjourned immediately after the prosecution's opening statement when Mr. Taylor dismissed his defence team and requested new representation. Witness testimony commenced on 7 January 2008, and ended on 12 November 2010. Closing arguments took place in February and March 2011.

The Court heard live testimony from 94 prosecution witnesses, and received written statements from four additional witnesses. The defence presented 21 witnesses, with Mr. Taylor testifying in his defence.

The SCSL was set up jointly by the Sierra Leonean Government and the UN in 2002, with the mandate of trying those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and national law committed on Sierra Leonean territory since the end of November 1996.

Although the SCSL is headquartered in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor's trial took place in a chamber of the Court sitting in The Hague for security reasons.

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