A U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor of war crimes.
A U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court convicted former Liberian president Charles Taylor of war crimes on Thursday, the first African head of state to be found guilty by an international tribunal.
Taylor, 64, was charged with murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in which more than 50,000 people were killed. The court found him guilty of only some of the charges.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Taylor listened attentively and made notes as judge Richard Lussick started reading a summary of the verdict -- the first ever against a former head of state by a world court since the World War II Nuremberg trial.
In Freetown, people slowly started gathering to hear the verdict being issued at the Leidschendam court outside The Hague.
In a wing set aside for victims to watch the verdict, Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, former chairman of the Amputees Association, is the first seated. He has followed the trial from the start.
"We as victims expect that Taylor will be given 100 years or more in prison," he said, his prosthetic arms folded in his lap as he recounted how the rebels held him down on the root of a mango tree in the capital and cut off first the left, and then the right, just above the elbow.
The trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from the flamboyant Taylor, wrapped up in March 2011. If found guilty, Taylor could be sentenced in four to six weeks.
Prosecutors alleged that the RUF paid Taylor with illegally mined so-called blood diamonds worth millions, stuffed into mayonnaise jars.
During the trial, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court: "Charles Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled the RUF in a 10-year campaign of terror against the civil population of Sierra Leone."
As president of neighbouring Liberia, he acted as "chief, father and godfather to his proxy rebel forces in Sierra Leone," prosecutors added.
The former warlord has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts, dismissing the allegations as "lies" and claiming to be the victim of a plot by "powerful countries."
During Taylor's trial which began proper on June 4, 2007, some 94 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence. Taylor himself testified for 81 hours.
Campbell and actress Mia Farrow gave headline-grabbing evidence in August 2010 about a gift of "dirty" diamonds Taylor gave to Campbell at a charity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997.
Judges also heard gruesome testimony from victims of the Sierra Leone conflict, including a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.
Others said Taylor's fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from women's wombs and practised cannibalism, while children younger than 15 were enlisted to fight.
One witness said he was present when the Liberian leader ate human liver.
During his own testimony, which began in July 2009, Taylor called the trial a "sham" and denied allegations he ever ate human flesh.
Nigerian authorities arrested Taylor in March 2006 when he tried to flee from exile in Nigeria after stepping down as Liberian president three years earlier in a negotiated end to a civil war in his own country.
He was transferred to the SCSL in Freetown, but in June 2006 a UN Security Council resolution cleared the way for him to be transferred to The Hague, saying his presence in west Africa was an "impediment to stability and a threat to the peace."
The court, set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, has already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years after trials in Freetown.
Taylor judgment kicks off