5-30-2012By Winny Chen
Crimes Against Humanity
Today an international tribunal sentenced former president of Liberia Charles Taylor to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and war crimes during Sierra Leone’s civil war, sending a strong message that enablers of mass atrocities can no longer hide from justice. They will face the same harsh consequences as any perpetrator who carries out attacks on civilians.
Taylor was a central figure in the Sierra Leone conflict, enabling the slaughter of an estimated 50,000 people. Beyond reportedly orchestrating atrocities, Taylor also traded Sierra Leone’s infamous “blood diamonds” providing rebels from the Revolutionary United Front with supplies of weapons, ammunition, and communications equipment. Using Taylor’s supplies, the rebels committed mass atrocities including abducting children, training them as child soldiers and ordering them to brutalize the civilian population.
Beyond just Taylor and those dealing in blood diamonds, another large group of enablers bear responsibility for supporting the vicious Sierra Leone rebels. For instance, as Human Rights First discussed last year, Slobodan Tesic evaded an international arms embargo to provide Taylor with “enough bullets to kill the entire population of Liberia.” Leonid Minin enjoyed a “close relationship” with Taylor and funneled hundreds of tons of weapons into the area. The notorious Viktor Bout also sold arms to Taylor in contravention of international sanctions.
Very few of these enablers have been brought to justice. Further, the legal vacuums they exploited in Sierra Leone still exist. Worldwide, enablers operate with impunity, sustaining atrocities, including some of the most abhorrent crimes of our time. The lessons from Sierra Leone should not be forgotten: these channels must be closed, and those who fuel atrocities held accountable.
The 64-year-old Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted since the Nuremberg trials, and he will spend the remainder of his life in jail. The judge presiding over today’s sentencing called Taylor’s crimes “some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”