LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands — Former Liberian President Charles Taylor on Thursday became the first head of state since World War II convicted by an international war crimes court, a legal landmark observers say sent a clear message to tyrants around the world that their days of impunity are numbered.
Taylor, 64, was found guilty on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for sending guns and bullets to Sierra Leone rebels in return for so-called blood diamonds mined by slave laborers and smuggled across the border.
The verdicts were hailed by prosecutors, victims and rights activists as a watershed moment in efforts to end impunity for leaders responsible for atrocities.
Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone said Taylor's aid played a crucial role in allowing the rebels to continue a bloody rampage during that West African nation's 11-year civil war that ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead. The rebels gained international notoriety for hacking off the limbs of their enemies and carving their groups' initials into opponents and even children they kidnapped and turned into killers.
The verdict "permanently locks in and solidifies the idea that heads of state are now accountable for what they do to their own people," said David Crane, the former prosecutor who indicted Taylor in 2003 and is now a professor of international law.