Taylor verdict historic - UN rights chief

2012-04-26 17:17

Geneva - High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the war crimes conviction of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor Thursday means tyrannical rulers can no longer retire on blood money.

"This is undoubtedly a historic moment in the development of international justice," Pillay said in a statement.

"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."

The Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Taylor, 64, of helping rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone wage a campaign of terror against the mineral-rich country's people during a decade-long civil war that killed 120 000.

Taylor was paid in so-called blood diamonds, illegally mined by Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, who were known for murdering and raping civilians and chopping off limbs with machetes.

After being overthrown in 2003 Taylor fled to Nigeria, which extradited him three years later under international pressure.

Pillay said the verdict was a "stark warning" to other heads of state.

"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," she 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."

Amensty International

"There is no doubt that today's verdict sends an important message to high-ranking state officials; no matter who you are or what position you hold, you will be brought to justice for crimes," said Brima Abdulai Sheriff, Amensty International's Sierra Leone head.

While the conviction by the Special Court for Sierra Leone would bring some measure of justice for victims, Taylor and the others sentenced by the court are just the "tip of the iceberg," said Sheriff.

"Thousands of persons suspected of criminal responsibility for incidences of unlawful killings, rape and sexual violence, mutilations and the use of children in Sierra Leone's armed conflict have never been investigated, much less prosecuted."

"Sadly, only a limited number of Sierra Leone's thousands of victims who bear the terrible scars of the conflict have received reparations, despite the Lome Peace Accord and the clear recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

The verdict by the court, sitting in Leidschendam in the Netherlands, can also be seen as a reminder for Taylor's home country Liberia that those responsible for the crimes committed during its own conflicts must be brought to justice, Amnesty said.

Human Rights Watch

"Powerful leaders like Charles Taylor have for too long lived comfortably above the law," said Elise Keppler, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch.

"Taylor's conviction sends a message to those in power that they can be held to account for grave crimes," she said.

"This judgement sends a clear message around the world: that political leaders who perpetrate atrocities to gain or to retain power can be held accountable."

Keppler added, "This is a victory for Sierra Leonean victims of Taylor's brutal crimes, and all those seeking justice when the worst abuses are committed."

She also pointed a finger at Liberia, saying, "The Liberian government's lack of progress in bringing prosecutions against those implicated in war crimes during its own armed conflict is hugely disappointing.

"Liberian victims of massacres, rape, and torture are every bit as deserving of justice as victims in Sierra Leone."


Read more on:    charles taylor  |  liberia  |  sierra leone  |  west africa
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