No head of state should rest easy – today a precedent has been set – Taylor-made justice will catch up with you in the end

Justice is a dish best served, even if it is lukewarm, and today it has been. History was made when international judges in The Hague found former Liberian president Charles Taylor guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war.

The Trial Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone had to sit in The Hague because of security concerns at home. They found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including terror, murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers, committed in Sierra Leone between 1996 and 2002.

The verdict comes ten years after the end of Sierra Leone’s horrific civil war which cost an estimated 50,000 lives and where amputation by machete, was a signature brutality. It was welcomed in the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone today where victims of amputation gathered in the courthouse to watch the verdict streamed by satellite.

Brima Abdulai Sheriff, Director of Amnesty International in Sierra Leone, spoke after he attended the televised pronouncement of the verdict in Freetown with hundreds of Sierra Leoneans. He said:

"There is no doubt that today's verdict sends an important message to high-ranking state officials; no matter who you are or what position you hold, you will be brought to justice for crimes.

“This verdict can also be seen as a reminder for Taylor’s home country Liberia that those responsible for the crimes committed during Liberia’s conflict must be brought to justice.”

Charles Taylor is the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II.

Taylor’s fate ends the fallacy that a serving head of state is immune from prosecution. Following his  indictment by the International Criminal Court, Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast were both indicted and it must send  a shudder down the spine of the likes of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.

This justice might not have been instant, but it was fair – both sides made their case, prosecution and defence. It is a victory for all the victims of Sierra Leone’s conflict, but it is also a victory of principle for those who have so resolutely stood by the virtues of international courtroom justice in preference to the mob justice meted out on the likes of Libya’s Gaddafi.

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