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Charles Taylor convicted of war crimes

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) [official website] on Thursday convicted [judgment summary, PDF; press release, PDF] former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. Trial Chamber II found unanimously that Taylor aided and abetted Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) forces. Taylor is the first head of state to be tried and convicted by an international tribunal. The verdict was welcomed by the Office of the Prosecutor [press release, PDF], the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [press release] and other members of the international community. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 16, and sentencing will take place May 30. The court may not impose the death penalty or a life sentence. Both the prosecution and the defense will have the opportunity to appeal within 14 days of the sentence.

In February Taylor's lawyers asked that the SCSL reopen the case [JURIST report] in light of new evidence, but the request was denied. The SCSL heard closing arguments [JURIST report] in March 2011. Closing arguments were originally set to begin a month earlier, but were postponed pending an appeals chamber decision to accept the defense's final written brief [JURIST reports]. The trial chamber originally disregarded the brief because it was 20 days late. Taylor has denied the charges [JURIST report] against him, which include murder, rape, sexual slavery and acts of terrorism stemming from from a "campaign to terrorize the civilian population" of Sierra Leone [JURIST news archive]. Taylor's defense lawyers opened their case [JURIST report] in July 2009 and have claimed that he could not have commanded rebel forces in Sierra Leone while acting as the president of Liberia. His trial continued after the court denied his motion for acquittal [JURIST report] in May 2009.

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