Taylor verdict takes aim at Africa Big Man impunity

Sun Apr 22, 2012 2:52pm GMT

By Thomas Escritt and Simon Akam

THE HAGUE/FREETOWN (Reuters) - Begging outside a supermarket in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, Tamba Ngaujah has little doubt who was behind the Revolutionary United Front rebels who, 20 years ago, gave him "short sleeves".

"They put my arms on the sticks, took machetes, and cut them ... They only thing I can tell you about Charles Taylor: I heard from the RUF who amputated my hands that they were supported by Charles Taylor," 46-year-old Ngaujah said.

On Thursday, a special court in The Hague will give its verdict on just what level of responsibility former Liberian President Taylor had in these war atrocities. Taylor himself denies any responsibility.

In an 11-year conflict which by 2002 left over 50,000 dead and become a byword for gratuitous violence, "short sleeves" was the macabre tag used to distinguish amputations like Ngaujah's at the elbow from less drastic "long sleeve" cuts at the wrist.

Prosecutors allege Taylor, from his base in neighbouring Liberia, directed and armed the Sierra Leonian rebels and so bears responsibility on 11 counts including murder, mutilation, rape, enslavement, and recruitment of child soldiers.

Whether Taylor is found guilty or not, the verdict will be the first in a court of this kind against a former head of state on serious violations of international law.

Yugoslav ex-leader Slobodan Milosevic died in 2006 before the judgment was due in the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, also in The Hague

In 2009, Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has ordered his arrest on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide related to the conflict in Darfur. Bashir rejects the charges.   Continued...

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor awaits the start of the prosecution's closing arguments during his trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in Leidschendam February 8, 2011.   REUTERS/Jerry Lampen
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