For the first time since 1946, an international court has convicted a head of state of war crimes—Charles Taylor, former Liberian President. President Taylor was found guilty of numerous charges on Thursday, including rape, murder, terror and the conscripting of child soldiers. The charges stem from his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war from 1991-2002. While the victory is certainly a significant one for human rights activists, Taylor has yet to face charges in his home country of Liberia.
In an article following the convictions, Liberian-born New York Times correspondent Helene Cooper recounted her family’s personal tales of horror involving rebel troops led by Taylor. Cooper wrote of the massacres that took place at workplaces and on roadsides, civilians taken hostage or killed based only on ethnicity. Her own sister was forced to send her child away, less the boy become another of Taylor’s child soldiers. After being separated from her son for 21 years, Cooper’s sister Eunice knows too well the weight of Taylor’s crimes.
While in the midst of the “Arab Spring” it is easy to forget the other regions that have fallen under the reign of vicious dictators and warlords. While Taylor’s conviction may not immediately improve the status of the West African nations he ravaged, it will hopefully help to restore the confidence of the citizens in their new government regimes.
For the international community, the conviction of a former dictator is viewed as nothing short of a victory, as many African nations continue to push for legitimate democracy. Taylor’s sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for May 16th, with the announcement of the sentence following two weeks later.