The war crimes trial of former warlord of Liberia Charles Taylor concluded today at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor, who served as Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003, is the first former leader of an African country to be tried in an international court.
The trial has been ongoing for the past three years. Mr. Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is accused of arming Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) for ten years during the country’s civil war. More specifically, he faces charges of murder, rape and recruitment of child soldiers.
Further accusations of trading in “blood diamonds” for RUF rebels in exchange for weapons have also been made. “Blood (or conflict) diamonds” are precious gems that are generally mined with forced labour during situations of armed conflict in order to finance the war efforts of rebel groups.
Mr. Taylor has pled not guilty to all charges. His defence team has stated that he attempted to negotiate peace in Sierra Leone on the behalf of regional powers.
Sierra Leone’s civil war claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2002. During this time until today, the RUF became known for its violent campaigns against civilians, upon whom it inflicted limb amputation, rape and other forms of violence.
According to United Nations sources, 10,000 children are believed to have fought in Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war. According to the BBC, children were trained for about two to three months in RUF camps before they were sent out to fight. As part of an initiation ritual, child soldiers were told to kill or maim people who had attempted to flee the RUF’s attacks. Fear was instilled into them, as the children were told that if they attempted to escape or defied orders, they would be killed.
The 1999 Lomé Peace Agreement made provisions for a programme of demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of child soldiers. The number of children who entered the programme is 6,774.
Sierra Leone implemented a Child Rights Act in 2007. The Act increased the minimum age for military involvement to 18 years old. While there were some reports of child soldiers being recruited by one group in 2005, there were no reports of children under the age of 18 being recruited into armed forces in the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers’ Child Soldiers Global Report 2008.
Mr. Taylor’s trial, taking place in the Dutch city of The Hague, has received testimony from more than 100 witnesses, according to the BBC. Mr. Taylor was transferred to a United Nations detention facility in the city in 2006. There, he will wait out the judges’ deliberations. If convicted, Mr. Taylor will serve out a prison sentence in the United Kingdom.