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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012

Crime against humanity


The world should rejoice at the guilty verdict handed down last week by a United Nations-backed special court in The Hague against Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia.

Taylor was the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the post-World War II Nuremberg tribunals. The charges stemmed from his support for a rebel movement that unleashed mass atrocities throughout Sierra Leone during a civil war in the 1990s.

His prosecution began in 2006. Charges included crimes against humanity, murder, rape, slavery, and the use of child soldiers. Taylor will be sentenced May 30, but he will almost certainly appeal. He would serve his sentence, which cannot include death, in a British prison.

The prosecution encountered a common problem in countries as chaotic as Liberia and Sierra Leone: assembling a chain of evidence that linked Taylor directly to the appalling crimes perpetrated by people who answered to him. His appeal will be lodged on that basis.

As a friend and patron of Liberia, the United States wanted Taylor convicted and taken off the scene. Despite the case against him, he still has support in Liberia. At one point he was held in a prison in Massachusetts, from which he escaped. He claims the CIA helped him.

Other heads of state who inflict inhuman acts on their people now know that even in a world of diverse laws and cultures, they can face justice for the kind of atrocities that offend all humanity.

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