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Taylor verdict delivers 'powerful message'

27 April 2012, 10:23

Washington - The conviction of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor on Thursday sends a "powerful message" to all war criminals, the United States said, hailing the "enormous" historical milestone.

Taylor is expected to be jailed in Britain after he is sentenced on 30 May, ending five years of hearings at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

"The conviction of Mr Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990s sends a powerful message about accountability," White House spokesperson Jay Carney said in a statement, adding that the United States "applauds" the verdict.

"While there is no way fully to redress the suffering and loss of those who were killed, tortured, raped and enslaved in the service of Taylor's criminal schemes, we are hopeful that today's ruling will help to dissuade others who might follow in his footsteps."

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland noted that the trial carried "enormous historical and legal significance" as it was "the first of a powerful head of state to be brought to judgment before an international tribunal on charges of mass atrocities and serious violations of international humanitarian law".

She said the successful completion of the Special Court for Sierra Leone's work "remains a top US government priority".

Blood diamonds

The court convicted Taylor, aged 64, of helping rebels in Liberia's neighbour Sierra Leone to 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.

"Today's ruling also marks an important landmark for the people of Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia," Carney said.

"By helping to assign responsibility for Taylor's dark chapter in history where it belongs, the Special Court has only strengthened the foundation on which this forward-looking work can proceed."

The United States has been a strong supporter of post-war Liberia - founded by freed US slaves - with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton developing a close relationship with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state.

While supporting the Special Court, the United States is not a participant in the permanent International Criminal Court.

Former president George W Bush opposed the permanent court in The Hague, fearing it would unfairly target Americans, but President Barack Obama has backed working ties with it.



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