Hague Tribunal Issues Verdict Against Charles Taylor

A special tribunal in The Hague has found former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty of aiding war crimes. Taylor armed fighters in neighboring Sierra Leone in return for "blood diamonds."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We now know the judgment against former Liberian President Charles Taylor. He was on trial before an international war crimes tribunal at the Hague, Netherlands. He faced almost a dozen charges of various war crimes, all stemming from his support of rebel fighters in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor was prosecuted trading weapons, ammunition and other assistance in exchange for so-called blood diamonds mined by slaves. NPR's Eric Westervelt has been following this story. He's on the line, once again.

Eric, what are the findings, at this point?

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Well, Steve, today the judge has found Charles Taylor guilty on the bulk of the war crimes against him. The presiding judge said that diamonds mined from Sierra Leone were delivered to Taylor in exchange for arms and ammunition. He said at another point, Taylor was found by the court to have received blood and conflict diamonds from the rebels, the RUF. He was found guilty, Steve, of aiding and abetting war crimes, including rape, murder, sexual slavery and other charges. The judge called Taylor's support for the Sierra Leone rebels sustained and significant.

INSKEEP: So he was effectively selling them arms. He was being paid in blood diamonds as he sold those arms. Did he play a larger role, according to the court, in sustaining this Sierra Leone rebellion, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed?

WESTERVELT: The court found that he did play a large role. But on some of the other charges, Steve, they found that there wasn't sufficient evidence that he was ordering and masterminding specific attacks and atrocities. But on the larger overall charges, he was found criminally responsible.

INSKEEP: And I want to understand a little bit better this rebellion that Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, supported, according to the court, in this neighboring nation. In the end, did this rebellion turn out to be more about business than anything else? There were diamonds to sell. There were arms to sell. There was a cut of everything to be taken.

WESTERVELT: I think that's true. I mean, this group, the Revolutionary United Front, did not have a clear plan to try to help Sierra Leone. They didn't really have a coherent ideology, Steve. They really ended up being about vicious brutality and terror. They were about power and diamonds. They chopped off limbs of civilians and enemy fighters. They tortured and killed and raped. They recruited child soldiers. I mean, Steve, the names of their operations sort of say it all. There was Operation No Living Thing and Operation Spare No Soul. They disemboweled people. It was a brutal, sort of, reign of terror that I think, in the end, yeah, was all about power and diamonds, importantly, in West Africa.

INSKEEP: So, a landmark case, here, Charles Taylor found guilty on the bulk of the charges against him at The Hague in the Netherlands. And Eric, what has the scene been like in the courtroom there?

WESTERVELT: Well, it was mostly quiet. The judge read the verdict for over two hours. Charles Taylor sat passively throughout most of it. He'll have a chance to speak at his sentencing next month. There are victims in the courtroom, we were able to see. And they sat listening to, really, every word, Steve. And I think for them, it's an important moment, certainly bittersweet, because it took so long. But I think they're happy that, finally, Charles Taylor has been held to account for some serious war crimes.

INSKEEP: And we should mention that in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the city was virtually shut down in anticipation of this verdict, fear of some kind of reaction. But it sounds like there in the courtroom, anyway, things were very dignified and very, very quiet as justice was handed down.

WESTERVELT: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Eric, thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt. He's at The Hague in the Netherlands, where Charles Taylor has now been convicted of war crimes.

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