In a landmark ruling, an international tribunal found former Liberian President Charles Taylor guilty Thursday of aiding and abetting war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone.
It was the first war crimes conviction of a former head of state by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders after World War II.
Prosecutors, however, failed to prove that Taylor had direct command over the rebels who committed the atrocities, said Justice Richard Lussick of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Taylor remained stoic throughout the reading of the verdict. Dressed in a charcoal gray suit , a white shirt and a burgundy tie, he stood quietly as the judge delivered the guilty verdict.
The mood was decidedly different in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, where, as one resident described it, every television set was on.
"Relief. Relief," said Jennifer Harold, national director of the charity World Vision. "Everybody is thrilled."
Harold said Taylor's conviction was a big psychological victory for his victims.
"People can be very cynical about justice," she said. "But now you have someone finally getting caught, finally getting justice."
A three-judge panel issued a unanimous decision that Taylor was "criminally responsible" for aiding and abetting crimes during a protracted and notoriously brutal civil war. He was accused of murder, rape, sexual slavery, conscripting children under the age of 15 and mining diamonds to pay for guns.
The former warlord maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to all 11 charges against him. A sentencing hearing is set for May 16.
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