The United States applauds today’s verdict of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the case of Charles Taylor. The conviction of Mr. Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone’s civil war in the 1990s sends a powerful message about accountability. Through the apprehension and successful trial of Mr. Taylor, the international community has kept faith with a signal that President Obama underscored in his remarks at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier this week: When it comes to war criminals, “we will not relent in bringing you to justice.”
While there is no way fully to redress the suffering and loss of those who were killed, tortured, raped, and enslaved in the service of Taylor’s criminal schemes, we are hopeful that today’s ruling will help to dissuade others who might follow in his footsteps. In becoming the first modern international tribunal to convict a head of state for international crimes committed while in office, the Special Court sent a clear signal that neither rank nor title will shield from justice those who perpetrate the most egregious of crimes.
Today’s ruling also marks an important landmark for the people of Sierra Leone and neighboring Liberia. We have already seen both countries making tremendous progress in transitioning beyond conflict by promoting reconciliation and building democratic institutions that serve the public good. By helping to assign responsibility for Taylor’s dark chapter in history where it belongs, the Special Court has only strengthened the foundation on which this forward-looking work can proceed.
President Obama has said before that history is on the side of those seeking to advance peace and prosperity for the benefit of all, and that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Charles Taylor was once considered a strong man. Today, fittingly, he is behind bars, and the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone are building the strong institutions and the bright future to which they so deservedly aspire.